I briefly mentioned the Motherese project in passing during the previous post (having found out about them as one of the several support bands in the Schnellertollermeir tour). For various reasons – not least that they seemed to be bringing a specific and structured practical ethos to their live experience, one which voyaged above and beyond the music – I wanted to follow that up…
From what they themselves say, Motherese is/are “a band of mothers brought together especially for this year’s Women In Music Festival in Newcastle run by Jazz North East. The collaboration involves a core trio of composers and improvisers, using an exciting combination of pre-composed music, structured improvisation and free improvisation, loosely exploring the theme of parenthood. The core trio have several dates booked in various cities, and in each place, they will be joined by local musician mothers, whose impromptu contributions will be incorporated with flexibility, sensitivity and creativity; all necessary attributes for parents adapting and responding to their families’ ever-changing needs.
“The organic and spontaneous nature of the whole process, in terms of writing, developing and performing the work, reflects our experience of motherhood; we’ve felt very inspired and excited and energised, as well as a little lost and overwhelmed at times. We’re confident that the music will be interesting and challenging and exciting and beautiful and moving at times, and we hope folk will want to come and experience it.”
The group is led by Aby Vulliamy, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and constant collaborator across multiple disciplines. In addition to ongoing work with Stevie Jones’s brain-rattling acoustic music project Sound of Yell and Bill Well’s National Jazz Trio of Scotland, this includes experimental rock (via a teaming with Faust’s Hans Joachim Irmler), indie rock (Norman Blake, Aidan Moffat, assorted Belle & Sebastian spin-offs), old and new folk strains (via work with Bridget St John, Mary Hampton, Ali Roberts, Lucy Farrell, The Trembling Bells and Mike Heron) , orchestral music (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) and the jazz/improv field (Evan Parker, Matt Bourne, Maggie Nichols, Karen Mantler, John Tchicai and many others).
Though she can also play piano and musical saw, Aby concentrates on singing and playing viola for Motherese as well as handling the bulk of the composing, which is based around her recent musical explorations of the theme of motherhood. Aby also works as a music therapist, something which profoundly affects the working ethos of this new project. In addition to sharing the experience and challenges of motherhood, the two other core members of Motherese share sympathies or practical parallels (or both) with this latter strand of Aby’s work.
Singer/pianist Laura Cole has won plaudits as an established leader or co-leader of multiple bands in her own right. These include the Leeds-based Bennett Cole Orchestra and the London jazz-folk sextet Metamorphic (for which she’s also the main composer/arranger) and she also plays in Martin Archer’s percussion-heavy twelvetet Engine Room Favourites. However, she’s a past sufferer of both depression and Repetitive Strain Injury. Though recovered, she speak openly about both of these conditions and about their impact on her and (by extension) on other people, instead of submerging this part of her history under a brittle faux-professionalism.
The third member of the trio is Norwegian improvising singer Maria Jardardottir, who keeps herself busy with a frightening number of jazz and contemporary music projects. Performing as electro-acoustic solo project Melatonin, with singer-songwriter duo Caer Caradoc and with free improvisation trio Endenor, she’s also a member of the voice ensembles Røyst Trio and Curious Voice Duo (plus the former’s cross-arts collaboration project WoCalling) as well as a composer for the all-female nine-piece chamber ensemble evamigra. On top of this, Maria’s an Iyengar Yoga teacher interested in “the voice and body as one organic instrument for a natural, playful and raw expression of inner processes… serving the moment with openness, curiosity and a wish to share what is unspoken…”
All of these shared preoccupations throw up further questions and potential answers. Musicality and its wider implications, including its impact on health and wellbeing. The intricately interspersed and interstitial nature of how one simultaneously makes one’s way as striver and as parent. Interest in what a maternal perspective might add to the business of making music; and ideas of mutual support extending beyond simple musical gangs and artistic movements and into the fabric of a broader life. There’s nothing new about these ideas, but they’re often blurred into the background, If feminism, at its roots, is about shaping a better world by bringing constructive female perspectives into play, improving life for everyone, here – in the often oblivious, self-indulgent world of high-art music making – is an example of it in action.
It’s also true that similar initiatives exist up and down the country – I’ve seen similar things at the odd Ladyfest, and there’s probably one anywhere where there’s a community of inquisitive women whose explorations overlap health and music – but it’s rare and refreshing to see musicality of this strength brought to bear on one of them. Hopefully it might become less rare.
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So far, Motherese have three shows lined up:
Jazz North East present: “Women Make Music”:
Motherese + Jennifer Parry + Zoe Gilby Trio
Literary and Philosophical Society, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 1SE, England
Tuesday 8th March 2016, 8.00pm – more information
This debut gig feature Motherese in its core trio format, with Tynesider and experimental folk-jazz singer Zoë Gilby in support. Zoë blends a scat-bebop singing style drawn from voice pioneer Sheila Jordan with the 1970s art-pop and songwriter-folk methods of Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd, brings a clutch of original songs with her and also has a taste for transforming classic and challenging jazz compositions by the likes of Thelonious Monk into new songs by adding her own carefully thought-out lyrics. A musician who thrives on restlessness and change, Zoë’s albums and live shows have constantly seen her revise her approach, whether it’s by using loop technology to deliver a textured tribute to the versatility of the human voice, making herself part of a free-improv trio of relative strangers, or simply rejigging interpretations of the Great American songbook. For her WMM set, Zoe will be accompanied by her own Trio (featuring regular musical partners Mark Williams and Andy Champion).
Between the two groups, and adding yet another dimension to the evening, local artist Jennifer Parry will present a multimedia performance, manipulating pre-recorded vocals and projections to create a unique and shape-shifting environment.
Given the Motherese setup and working methods, it’s not impossible that Zoë and Jennifer may also augment the headliners for an expanded performance…
Supporting Swiss avant-rockers Schnellertollermeir on the Leeds leg of their Anglo-Irish tour, this gig sees Motherese augmented by Yorkshire-based guest vocalists Kari Bleivik (Maria’s Norwegian compatriot and colleague in Røyst Trio and WoCalling, as well as singer with Vehere and The Tommy Evans Orchestra, among others) and Stephanie Hladowski (who shuttles fluidly between pop, folk and reggae with a wide number of bands and projects – time allowing). A late addition to the bill is singer Cath Campbell, who’ll also be joining the Motherese huddle.
The Glasgow show – part of April’s Counterflows Festival – is a much less constrained event. Not simply a straightforward gig, it lets us see (and interact with) Motherese within the project’s full potential.
Counterflows Festival presents:
Motherese: Aby Vulliamy + Maria Jardardottir + Laura Cole + Nerea Bello
Glad Café Foundation & Bar, 1006A Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, G41 2HG, Scotland
Sunday 10th April 2016, 11.00am – free event – more information
At this gig, the group promise “a fun and accessible music workshop, with support from music therapist and trombonist George Murray plus some local guest musicians including Basque singer Nerea Bello (from post-punk folk improvisers Tattie Toes). Inviting volunteers from children and adults of all ages and abilities to ‘conduct’ the ensemble in whatever manner they like (anything from minimal eye movements to free-style dance), we will create a thrilling and intimate experience of interactive music-making, using instruments, body percussion and vocalisations.
The workshop explores concepts of ‘attunement’ (mirroring and tuning into the feelings behind actions and facial expressions) and cross-modal communication (eg translation from movement to sound and vice versa), both of which are powerful aspects of the instinctive relationship between a pre-verbal baby and parent. Activities will culminate in a ‘musical group self-portrait’, a vibrant and dynamic experience of spontaneous group expression, proving that whatever our age or ability, we are all inherently musical.”
If you’re interested in pursuing this deeper aspect of the project, three half-hour workshop sessions take place during the morning (the first one being at 11.30am) with the formal performance happening at 2.00pm.