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June 2019 – assorted upcoming London gigs – Block4 and Lynda Beckett’s multi-media recorder concert (15th), Arch Garrison, Charles Bullen and Kavus Torabi play Clapham Library (15th); cellotronics-and-percussion improv with BirdWorld at Wigmore Hall (18th June); North Sea Radio Orchestra, John Greaves, Annie Barbazza and others reinvent Robert Wyatt in ‘Folly Bololey’ (27th)

11 Jun

Classical/experimental recorder quartet Block4 (featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land on a variety of instruments from bass to sopranino) are offering a mingled kids’ workshop and multi-media live concert – ‘The Art Of Sound’ – this coming Saturday down in Lewisham. Exploring links between music and visual art, the ‘Stargazing’ concert is a live collaboration with line artist Lynda Beckett, who’ll be creating spontaneous artwork (pursuing “sensual, the rhythmic and the non-binary” via line art in which “the glitch and the eternal return are welcome”) during the course of the show.

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: 'The Art of Sound' - 15th June 2019

While I’ve not got much info in terms of a programme, the music will be in keeping with Block4’s wide-spanning approach to genre, which in the past has mixed Renaissance and Baroque music with reinterpretations of Jimi Hendrix, “contemporary consort” ideas involving electronics, and more. It will include a new piece by Andrew Crossley, a composer whose inspirations include Zen Buddhism and a sheaf of hybrid forms of criticism (so expect something with plenty of silences and digressions, perhaps). Here’s an earlier electro-acoustic minimalist piece which Andrew wrote for sub-great bass recorder (travelling from borderline-subliminal low register to a resonant temple-horn call and back again), along with a couple of examples from Block4’s existing repertoire.

 

The workshop, taking place in the morning, ties in with the concept – allowing kids (from six-year-olds upwards) to “explore music performance, composition, drawing, and (to) creat(e) their own unique work of art to take home.” Best to book early for that one.

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Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi, 15th June 2019The timing of the Block4 events also gives you time to slip across London (from the south-east to the south-west) on the same day, in order to take in one of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival gigs taking place in the atrium at Clapham Library. Back in April, they hosted the Peter Blegvad Quintet. This month, even as Craig Fortnam limbers up his North Sea Radio Orchestra for an upcoming Café Oto show, he and fellow NSRO-er James Larcombe slip on their guise as the Arch Garrison duo and head down Clapham-wards.

Arch Garrison take the implied baroque in folk baroque and draw it fully out into the light. Craig’s amplified gut-strung fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing has as much Spanish classical to it as it does bullish John Martyn counterpoint (though he’ll more readily cite African-Arabic inspirations like Ali Farka Touré), while James’ dextrous post-classical work on vintage-sounding monosynths makes joyously assured connections between chapel organ studies, progtronic flourishes and psychedelic sound webbings. The Garrison have sometimes been compared to Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, and draw from Tim Smith’s eccentric, unlikely folk wellspring, but they don’t sound like anyone nearly as much as they sound like themselves. The songs, sung in Craig’s soft demotic Wyatt-esque sprawl, start with a lone walking man and travel downwards into conceptual strata of history, geography, familial relationships, art and ageing.



 
There will also be sidestepping solo support sets from Gong/Knifeworld expostulator Kavus Torabi (continuing to mine the unsettled psychedelic angst of his dark-sun guitar-and-harmonium solo EP ‘Solar Divination’ and a related upcoming solo album) and from Charles Bullen, one of the triumvirate behind Camberwell proto-punk experimentalists This Heat during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (and, more recently, behind the band’s recently-retired latter-day reimagining This Is Not This Heat). I’ve no idea whether Charles will be singing; whether he’ll be playing along with guitar, viola, a mess of programmed samples or his clarinet: whether and how the music will connect to This Heat’s experimental jazz-prog collage polemics, the pocket-dub work he explored with Lifetones or the bright and mellow synth-rock sparkle of his Circadian Rhythms project; or even whether he’s going to be starting anew with a completely fresh slate. Anticipate anything.

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North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019

Returning to Craig Fortnam – and indeed, to Robert Wyatt – his North Sea Radio Orchestra concert is on 27th June. It’s the live British debut of the NSRO’s ‘Folly Bololey‘ project, which also incorporates Henry Cow bassist/art-rock chansonnier John Greaves and rising prog/art-ensemble singer Annie Barbazza.

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019‘Folly Bololey’ has been around in one shape or form for half a decade, being played at arts concert and Rock In Opposition events in continental Europe, but has only just now crossed the Channel to be performed in Britain. Gently picking up, re-arranging and re-performing various Wyatt works (centring on a complete performance of the ‘Rock Bottom’ song cycle), it sets Wyatt’s flowing, unspooling songs of love, grief, plaintive nonsense and recovery against the pastoral raincloud tug of NSRO’s alt.crossover sensibilities. The results are an interesting blending of Wyatt’s mouth-music jazzing and his deliquescing, playfully vulnerable search for meaningfulness against NSRO’s own softly-yielding Anglo-pastoral formalism (which in turn echoes the open-to-all concert music of another Fortnam forebear, David Bedford).

With Craig acting as master of ceremonies on guitar and Farfisa organ, rounding out the ensemble are NSRO reed and cello regulars Nicky Baigent, Luke Crookes and Harry Escott plus Greaves band member Laurent Valero on strings and recorders and William D. Drake (the former Cardiacs keyboard wizard who turned into a touchingly surreal, avuncular chamber-folkster). Handling the tuned and untuned percussion are Gong drummer Cheb Nettles and vibraphonist Tommaso Franguelli (from Piacenza percussion group Tempus Fugit).


 
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On Tuesday 18th, cello/electronics/percussion duo BirdWorld are playing an informal set at the Wigmore Hall’s Bechstein Bar. (When I last touched on them here, they were playing the Frome Festival three years back – too long ago.)

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

Migrating between twin home-bases of London and Oslo, BirdWorld are cellist/effects twiddler Gregor Riddell and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira. For a while, guitarist Alex Stuart was also in the picture; but it’s always been about the core duo, who met in Canada, discussed electronic/acoustic blendings and built from there. Aspects of improvisation, jazz, field recordings and cross-cultural music – plus experimental rock and classical and a battery of kalimbas – wing lightly in and out of their work, which has included film scoring and radio work; and (as of this year) their five-year-delayed debut EP ‘TING TAR TID’, released (in keeping with BirdWorld’s folkloric leanings) on the vernal equinox.


 
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All dates:

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: ‘The Art Of Sound’
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, 346 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13 6LE, England
Saturday 15th June 2019 – children’s workshop 10.00am, concert 3.00pm
(concert free for under-18 year olds) – information here

Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi
Clapham Library, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

BirdWorld
Bechstein Bar @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 6.15pm
– information here and here

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza play ‘Folly Bololey’ (Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

June 2019 – upcoming experimental/eclectic gigs – post-classical noise/audio-visualists Ariadne play New York and tour Europe (7th, 12th-28th various) with all manner of contributions from Carl Stone, Dasychira, Salaċ, Lazy Bones, Wolf Scarers, Julia Dyck, Anna Peaker, Ideal, Java Java Wetware, Sound Situation and Ariel Kalma

3 Jun

Long past the point when its cultural context receded into antiquity, mediaeval plainsong remains a ready grab for musicians seeking to bridge classical ideas with (in the broadest sense) pop ones. It’s easy to recall the Gregorian chants stapled to dance loops and succubus exotica pioneered by Enigma at the start of the ‘90s, in the wake of which waddled a million chillout chant albums: though to pick some more inspiring examples from past ‘Misfit City’ coverage, there’s also the post-plague requiem of Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Deluge’ and the acapella-versus-disintegrating-granular-noise of Soaring On Their Pinions.

Perhaps plainsong’s draw is in its sparseness, its directness – the way in which its emphasis on a soloist (or at least a monophonic group line) initially seems like a direct personal meditation or plea, a kind of ecclesiastic monastic blues. It could also be the way in which that sense of vulnerability mixes with a sense of ancient history (the early steps of Christianity, with the classical Hebrew and Greek temple music sources still evident, unobscured by the later agglutinating harmonies of the Renaissance). Or, to be a little more cynical, maybe it’s just that that same sparseness and built-in antique provenance has made it an easier cold sell to an audience in the age of recordings.


 
Ariadne could probably provide a better and more interesting explanation than I can. They’ve certainly got the background to enable them to understand it – electronicist/visual specialist Benjamin Forest and fellow electronicist and mezzo-soprano Christine Papania first formed an allegiance at the music school of the University of Indiana: and Christine also explores various strands of classical in her solo voiceloop project Lanx as well as singing for the Manhattan Chorale. Since around 2015, Ariadne have been investigating and altering plainsong and its relations in a succession of albums, EPs, concerts and installations.

Their 2015 album ‘Tsalal’ was based around Hebrew texts and was about plummeting into darkness, physical and psychological; the same year’s ‘Ex Tempore’ was a psalmic “dialogue between the physical and the ethereal in a languished and dense atmosphere.” Their newest work, ‘Stabat Mater’ is a “twenty-movement cycle of audio/visual ecstatic visions, heavily inspired by the visions of female Christian mystics Hildegard von Bingen and Teresa of Ávila.” The latters’ writings are rearranged and transmuted for the sung texts, with a third source coming via text from the surrealist poet Aase Berg.

Hildegard’s work, of course, has regularly blended in nicely with contemporary concerns of spirituality, pain and the female perspective: only last year her work was programmed in underground New York/London arthouse concerts by Daisy Press and Filthy Lucre, juxtaposed against Bowie, Byrne, Charlie Looker’s anguished hard-rock analyses of toxic masculinity and fascism, and the morbid queer romanticism of Claude Vivier… all of which I’m sure is just the tip of an associative iceberg. Hildegard’s ecstasies were paralleled by the rather more masochistic ones of Teresa (who also suffered a particularly grotesque fate-of-a-saint post-death postscript as her corpse was gradually disassembled and traded about by quarrelling groups of nuns, dukes, Popes and priests for open mercantile advantage).

As for Aase, still very much alive, she’s an often-bewildering overturner of expectations with a marked disdain for the “patriarchal… male sexuality” restrictions which she sees applying to standard chronology (“time passes and things have to happen and there has to be a narrative”). Her own work upends this in favour of polymathic siftings of “science, math, probability, string theory, etc.” in weird-fiction settings of post-environmental catastrophes and reconstructed worlds in which standard human perspectives are slipping away, being superseded or disintegrated by impassive, inevitable processes of change. Notably, Aase has also worked as a translator for the horror-struck, pessimistic fantasy texts of H.P. Lovecraft which, though they have an empurpled baroque verbosity which her texts avoid, often operate in similarly blasted philosophical territories.

 
While I’m sure that Ariadne too are paying plenty of attention to all of this, text is secondary to what they’re putting it through sonically. While experimenting with eerie pitchshifting, reverberation and sound chopping, their earlier work backgrounded it in favour of the traditional purity of Christine’s voice. Now they’re bolder, more assured and disruptive: while delivering perverse auto-destructive lyrics like “put my fist through my mouth and pull the roots out of the ground”, Christine’s voice retains its classical beauty but also negotiates its way through a far more confrontational path of distortions, subversions, doppelganger mockings and simple sequences of compline giving ways to gorgeous vomitations like a hopelessly poisoned Kate Bush. The electronically-generated sound, too, keeps its previous haunted/spinning chapterhouse atmosphere while rearing up like a briar thicket destroying a pathway, with distressing organic splatters, acidic treble rills, liquid-sword shatterwhooshes and nightmare distortion-belfry sounds breaking things up; plus vocal capture/turns like the obscene Pachucho squelch that chokes through Burning Sphere.

Like the last-act works of Scott Walker, though, ‘Stabat Mater’ manages to be disturbing and ear-opening without relying on shock-schlock. It hints at and flickeringly reveals dysfunction, confusion and horror without quashing or sneering at the beauty, structure or aspiration of the source materials. Benjamin’s video work, too, makes mesmerically beautiful optical scapes out of disruption, data corruption, trippy fetish hints and perspective explosions.

 
An upcoming Ariadne tour takes ‘Staber Mater’ around selected spots in America and Europe – as well as assorted arts centres, venues include an avant-garde-sympathetic bar at home in New York; an accommodating church crypt in Bristol with a patience for the heretical; a preserved grand Tudor chamber in London; and the marine guts of a permanently harbour-bound Hamburg merchant ship.

That New York hometown concert is taking place at metal/experimental hangout bar Saint Vitus, accompanied by Ideal and Dasychira (with records spun by DJ Clone). Dasychira is a platform for some brilliantly inventive experimental dance music from transplanted, intriguingly alienated South African sound artist Adrian Martens. Adrian explores and celebrates his own psychological vulnerability and resilience via industrial detonations and scatters of mbira chops, alarming darkwave pop interjections and bursts of monastic chorale. Scurrying underneath are thematic undertows of insect regeneration, building new lives from nothing. He debuted with 2017’s ‘Immolated’ EP, while last year saw the ‘Razor Leaf’ single and the ‘Haptics’ EP consolidate his work. The gig’s worth attending for his sake alone. As to whom Ideal are, I’m less sure. I’m assuming that they’re not these German New Wavers from 1982, but within the ever-refreshing and surprising Brooklyn ferment, I probably shouldn’t assume anything.



 
In Bristol, there’ll be slots featuring a pair of duos from the town’s Avon Terror Corps underground label, whose artists draw their loose inspirations and guidelines from“”medieval visions of the future, breakcore, ‘Westworld’ (the original film), industrial, the psychogeography of Castlemead, the legacy of shoegaze, the legend of Goram and Vincent, the total destruction of “deconstructed club”…” Both are best judged by their contributions to the ‘Avon Is Dead’ compilation, which amasses sundry ATC cloud uploads from 2018.

Salaċ – bewildering, serious-playful aural occultists – create long-spooling jump-cut soundscape ceremonials, the outcome of their “sculpting séances of sound with tape machines.” These are aggressive dirtbass rumbles, spasms of object-rolling across metal sheets, complaining recitations of disassociation, punctuated by watertank booms, data-screech waterfalls and a certain amount of dry psycho-geographist’s humour (as in fucked-up cheesy drum machine beats they occasionally summon up and put through the soiling chamber). So far, it’s best to judge Bokeh Edwards and Jade Hybou, a.k.a. “esoterrorists” Java Java Wetware by their track Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – a fragmentary aural story via a dreamy harmonica-assisted trudge through ruined domes and shattered glass, set further off-kilter by lapping folk soprano vocals and ending with secretive whispers and a handful of reverb-muffled gunshots.



 
In Manchester, support acts include obscure local psych/alt.folker and “veteran astral wanderer” Lazy Bones. Whether solo meanderer or journeying band, he/they have been at it for at least a decade and a half, coming up with “gentle melodies hid(ing) strange shadows, hidden yearnings and the promise of the transcendental” with a “whimsical ’70s edge” following the lysergic thicketry of Cope, Barrett and Jansch: some of it may be found on this cobwebbed MySpace site, if you can find your way in. Working in a similar vein (but easier to track down) is the bouzouki-driven power pop and stoner beat of The Peace Pipers, enthusiastic ’60s hippy-punk throwbacks with a taste for dressing up and dancing down the garden paths of The Move, early Pink Floyd and Dave Mason. The evening’s real wildcard is sometime ILL member Sadie Noble, a.k.a. Nummo Twin: generator of woody, baffling dream pop and abstracted yet covertly clever chucking-mud-at-the-wall collages of glitchy electronics, woodworking noises, and half-heard vocal mumbles.





 
The Todmorden show features raffishly arty tenor sax duo Wolf Scarers (Simon Prince and Keith Jafrate) and thrumming audio-visualizer Anna Peaker. With printmaking, DJing and gig promotion as part of her activity alongside the sound and graphics designer (and with an eye on branching out into dressmaking and ceramics.) Anna is an impressive DIY/do-anything character. Across her artwork she takes inspiration from Yorkshire weaving mills, witchcraft, old record sleeves and film posters; from ancient pathways and the millennia-spanning architectural layers of her base in Leeds. By itself, her music is skirling Yorkshire-Germanic variations on assorted psychedelic-chapel organ drones, billowing in and out of focus and sometimes including autoharp and field recordings – for the full effect, though, it’s tied into the cascade of her live visuals.

With Wolf Scarers, Simon and Keith blow a free-brewed stewing of various ingredients and inspirations from the multiple genres each has played individually (and sidestepping the temptations to baffle the acoustic tones any further with computer processing). The results range from “gentle meditations that almost become chamber music across to full-blown shout-ups in the true tenor sax tradition, via, possibly, messed-up marching band funk and deconstructed jazz strut.” Larger Wolfscaring lineups are rolled out when the music necessitates, but on this occasion it’ll be the core duo at work.


 
In Berlin, Ariadne are slotting in at the bottom of a mixed bill in the Kiezsalon series run by Michael Rosen. At the top is American sampling-and-computer-music pioneer Carl Stone, whose 1970s loops and repurposing of library records drew a kind of academic-based parallel to hip hop’s turntablism, and who’s subsequently kept pace with technological collaging possibilities while maintaining an accessible sense of found/captured/manipulated melody, plus a continually expanding taste for incorporating suggestions and content from other cultures’ music (in particular Asian cultures) and a disarmingly bonkers vocal quality. In the middle is French wind instrumentalist/synthesist Ariel Kalma, who’s been dwelling on the borderlines of process music, Paris experimentalism, New Age and electrophonic minimalism since the mid-‘70s.



 
Over at Prague’s Punctum venue, the first of two listed support acts is the acousmatic Sound Situation trio: domestic New Music exponents with electronicist Michal Rataj (electronics), Jan Trojan (more electronics, plate-bashing) and Ivan Boreš (prepared guitar) Veterans of academic music and live improv, as definition they spit out a host of word associations as definition: “sound design, freshly baked bottle in the fridge, movie soundtracks, radio art, pieces of sheet metal, flamenco, sirens, spectral transformations, Kvok!, teaching at the university… Ostrava new music days, abandoned sea beach, Contempuls, Noise Assault Agency Budweiss, BERG Orchestra, Gride”.

 
Unpick and reassemble that little lot if you wish; but note that Punctum have spent far less time expounding on who second Prague support Julia Dyck might be. To be frank, they’ve spent no time at all on it so far… but evidence points towards it being this woman. If so, you can expect to see or hear anything pulled from a bewildering, inspiring rack of potential directions and from a mind seething with forma drawn from feminist/queer/gender theory, from technological awareness and from Julia’s formidable polymathic curiosity about the world. It might be radiophonics, or synth minimalism, or voice-and-fx constructions, or ambient noise; it might be ideas drawing from her time as radio producer, writer and broadcast media artiste; or general conceptual experiments like the miked-up fruit-and-body performance she recorded for a batch of film festivals earlier in the year.

There are a few tasters below – the krautrock-in-the-frying-pan of Passenger, the ambient goo of Changes Made – but there’s too much to Julia to summarise in a paragraph or two or a handful of audio clips. Even briefly looking into what she does is like cracking an eggshell and finding an expansive, challenging pocket universe within, which then maps inexorably back onto your own and changes it behind your back.

 
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Full tour dates and details are still being assembled, but here are the ones I know about so far:

 

  • Saint Vitus Bar, 1120 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York City, NY 11222, USA – Friday 7th June 2019 (with Ideal and Dasychira) – information here, here, here and here
  • Blah Blah, via Po 21, 10124 Torino, Italy – Wednesday 12th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Le Brin de Zinc, 3 ZA Route de la Peysse, Chambery, 73000 Barberaz, France – Thursday 13th June 2019, 8.30pm – information here
  • St Paul’s Church Southville, 2 Southville Road (junction with Coronation Road), Bristol, BS3 1DG, England – Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm (with Salaċ + Java Java Wetware) – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ, England – Sunday 16th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Wolf Scarers + Anna Peaker) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester, M1 1BE, England – 17th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Lazy Bones + The Peace Pipers + Nummo Twin) – information here
  • Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Muziekcentrum Kinky Star, Vlasmarkt 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium – Wednesday 19th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • MS Stubnitz, HafenCity, Kirchenpauerkai 26, Umfahrung Versmannstraße, Baakenhafen/Baakenhöft, 20457 Hamburg, Germany – Friday 21st June 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Komplex, Zietenstr. 32, 09130 Chemnitz, Germany – 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Punctum, Krásova 27, Žižkov, 13000 Prague, Czech Republic – Sunday 23rd June 2019, 7.00pm (with Michal Rataj/Ivan Boreš/Jan Trojan + Julia Dyck) – information here and here
  • Wolskie Centrum Cultury, Wolskie Centrum Kultury, ul. Obozowa 85, 01-425 Warszawa, Poland – Monday 24th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Kiezsalon, Greifswalder Strasse 23a, 10407 Berlin, Germany – Wednesday 26th June 2019, 8.00pm (with Carl Stone + Ariel Kalma) – information here and here
  • Macao, Viale Molise 68, 20137 Milan, Italy – 28th June 2019, time t.b.c.

 

January 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Marianne Schuppe’s ‘slow songs, nosongs’ (9th January)

5 Jan

I’ve got to admit, I like a complicated song. Blame all of that prog I grew up listening to; blame my interest in Sondheim and Flanders & Swann; or my time in choirs singing extended classical pieces… but whether it’s a case of stretching the lyrical format with streams of words or internal rhymes or of massing the music with variations, countermelodies or sundry intrusions, I like songs which develop quickly and boldly into something more extensive than a couple of riffs, a chorus and a bit of moon-in-june.

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Encountering the kind of song which works at the other extreme, though, can be a real head-turner… and if it’s done right, it takes my breath away. The Swiss singer-composer Marianne Schuppe has been making a name for herself with this kind of song, this kind of singing, for about two decades now. It’s not the only thing she does (she’s a member of the Wandelweiser group of avant-garde composers, contributing instrumental and noise work, and she improvises with a variety of other musicians including Alfred Zimmerlin), but this particular aspect of her work stands out in its uncluttered boldness, its Zenlike simplicity and focus on only the necessary elements.

If you’re approaching this from a pop or avant-pop context, you could draw some comparisons with the more hovering, trepidatious interludes in modern-day Scott Walker, with Nico’s work on ‘The Marble Index’, or with the song whispers of Anja Garbarek’s ‘Smiling & Waving’. Aficionados of classical music could probably pick closer analogies – I could cite some aspects of Eleanor Armer‘s songcraft, for example – and a significant part of Marianne’s reputation comes from her dips into the indeterminate end of contemporary classical, making interpretations of the elusive, protracted song-murmurs of Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi (with their minimal pitching, silences and opportunity to make every pared phrase count).

Yet for the most part Marianne’s own songs seem to bud out of the air spontaneously, any motivations or influences hidden within the moment. She’s stated that her prime interest as a composer-performer is “the voice’s ability to move between pure sound and words”; and while for many experimental vocalisers this is an excuse for splurging, showy explosions of babbling glossolalia, for her it’s an opportunity to slow liminal skating, shading almost imperceptibly between a lone, literally meaningful word and a lacuna of non-literal meaningful noise-tone, all within a low, minimal enclosure of soprano range like a deliquescing icicle. Marianne accompanies herself by placing an acoustic lute flat on a table top (a la Keith Rowe) and extracting notes from it via “uber-bows” – homemade bastard cousins of EBows, those hand-held electro-magnetic note inducers which add those sustained whooping tones to certain spacier rock songs (from Fade Away And Radiate, The Unforgettable Fire and Don’t Fear The Reaper to… oh, yes, R.E.M.’s Ebow The Letter) or the bookending humming halos to John Cage’s harp work ‘Postcard From Heaven’.

The sparse tonal wellings which result sound nothing like string plucks, and nothing like the accompaniments to a John Dowland lute lay. They’re amorphous bodies of tone, forced up like the first emergence of spring-waters, or the work of sine-tone generators. It’s a peculiar, unexpected use of an instrument with such an extensive body of associated work and history: like a kind of musical exorcism or automatic writing exercise, dipping below the surface of how the instrument functions in order to access a different expectation-disrupting voice. As for the songwords, they’re strange passes at impressions and impulses which might, if looked at too closely, disappear under the weight of logic. As text, they’re almost white-on-white – fragments of stories and encounters involving sunhats and deer, or studies of fingers – minimal anchors to latch onto slivers of ideas which Marianne can follow uninterrupted and undistracted, and let go whenever she sees fit.

 
Marianne’s slot next week at Café Oto showcases – or, more accurately, liberates – songs of these kind from two of her recent albums: 2015’s ‘slow songs’ and its 2018 cousin ‘nosongs’. In terms of vision and artistic platforming it ought to be very much an Oto show, although perhaps the venue’s friendly, expansive, post-industrial intellectual feel isn’t the perfect match. Ideally, these songs belong in the smallest, quietest space possible. A welcoming cellar somewhere, accessed by a winding symbolic stair; and with a silent, attentive, deep-listening audience hand-cupping songs and singer in a cell of absolute attention.

Marianne Schuppe: ‘slow songs, nosongs’
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

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If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

September 2018 – women singing (in London, mostly, and Cambridge) – Ana Silvera (15th), Susanna Wallumrød (27th), Hear Her Sounds evening with The Butterfly Wheel, Mary-Grace Dineen and Imogen Bliss (19th)

4 Sep

In Cambridge on, the 15th, there’s a repeat performance for Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ song cycle, following its appearance at the South Bank Centre back in July, where Ana was bolstered by a Kate Church/Alice Williamsondance film, a folk-jazz string trio, piano, percussion and the multi-instrumental/singing skills of Listenpony’s Josephine Stephenson. The Cambridge show’s stripped down (just Ana and Josephine this time, and perhaps the dance film) but should still deliver. Beautifully crafted and sung, it’s an Anglo-Portuguese meditation and discussion of familial bereavement (Ana’s mother and brother) and of the shifting landscapes of migration. Originally conceived to have a choral sound and scape, it draws “on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.”

The last time around, I suggested that it was “a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive. What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterized narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes (Ana) sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.”




 

In London on the 27th, Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød plays her only British show of 2018. Originally – during the mid-Noughties – her ghostly, questioning, sighing vocal originally fronted The Magical Orchestra’s Nordic-jazz/ambient-pop reinventions of assorted pop, country and rock standards. Since then she’s moved on to other collaborations – with holy-meditative jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen; with boundary-running song experimentalist Jenny Hval; and in particular with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi (who’s contributed to three of her seven solo albums). Along with violinist Sarah-Jane Summers and accordionist Frode Haltli, Giovanna will be performing at this London concert, which showcases Susanna’s newest album ‘Go Dig My Grave’.

Post-Magical Orchestra, Susanna’s kept up her role as re-interpreter. While the majority of her solo albums (up to and including 2016’s consummate ‘Triangle’), have featured her own songs, her ongoing work is littered with cool-toned covers, reworkings, reframings. Songs by Sandy Denny, Thin Lizzy, ABBA, Prince, Nico, Will Oldham and others were cultivated on 2008’s ‘Flower Of Evil’; while her 2011 collaboration with Giovanna and fellow baroque/Early Music musicians Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman provided parallel takes on Nick Drake, Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ builds on this inquisitive, restaging impetus, with Susanna’s original pieces cheek-by-jowl with her takes on “Charles Baudelaire to Joy Division, English folk to American blues, a seventeenth-century lament by Purcell to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day” , all blended with “echoes of traditional music, baroque classics and dark ambient sounds.” It’s a project of timeshifts: or, more accurately, of superimposed time, in which songs and stylings of different eras interpenetrate and merge in spellbinding manner.



 
Dates:

  • Ana Silvera: ‘Oracles’ – The Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Susanna Wallumrød: ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – Rich Mix, 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

In between – on 19th September, in London – there’s the second in Hoxton’s ongoing ‘Hear Her Sounds’ evenings; a semi-acoustic live event in a small space, with cocktails, vegan snacks, all-female lineups and organisers/initiators The Butterfly Wheel as regulars, aimed at supporting emerging female musicans. (The first one slipped my attention back in July. That was a shame, featuring as it did Margot Weidemann’s desert-sparse psych-folk project Daisy Oracle and the “twist(ing) song structure(s), striking hallucinatory lyrics, and unexpected radiophonic sounds” of former Joanna And The Wolf frontwoman Johanna Glaza.)

Alongside the Wheel-ers, mandolinist/singer/loop-stationeer Imogen Bliss played support at The Mantis Opera’s August gig last month at Paper Dress. Now, as then, you can expect to hear her weaving together songs from the East and the West: delivering slender, sparkling arrangements of old pop hits from hither and yon, plus original songs and layered one-woman folk chorales with Romani, Armenian and Balkan origins.

A few examples are below, along with a couple from by billmate Mary-Grace Dineen. A south-east Londoner, Goldsmiths graduate and sometimes session multi-instrumentalist, Mary’s output as singer-songwriter seems to vary between zippy, polyrhythmic jazz-coustica reminiscent of Eva Abraham, Roberta Flack (or, more recently, Gabriela Eva) and sour-sweet Lauryn Hill-esque pop-reggae. Her lyrics betray restlessness, compassion and a conversational impatience with the unresponsive and the inert. It seems she’s been quiet for a few years; now she’s coming out to play again.


 

As for The Butterfly Wheel, they’ll be bringing their Gothic romance, their ritual chant and their vocal flair. Previously I’ve sniped a bit about the duo’s showy, overtly flowery mysticism; their self-hype, their claims of originality and experimentalism despite a transparent debt to Early Music-toting Goth-tinged forebears like Dead Can Dance or Miranda Sex Garden. But when the hype is done, and they get down to business, they do bring a new flavour to that ripe old stew.

Reading beneath the lush electrophonic drones and the climbing priestess incantations, you can draw that personal touch out of their songs like long strands of myth-soaked twine – those places where they’ve taken old bronze-age stories, boiled them down to their most archetypal juices and then infused a latterday consciousness, an active female note of resistance, a little #TimesUp and sky-father toppling amidst the bones and sinews. When I hear that peeping through, I’m sorry that I bitched…



 
The Butterfly Wheel and MOVI present:
Hear Her Sounds: An Evening of Live Female-Led Music featuring The Butterfly Wheel + Mary-Grace Dineen + Imogen Bliss
Matters of Vinyl Importance, 163 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6pJ, England
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

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