Partly for the sake of broadening ‘Misfit City’s music coverage – and partly because it makes me feel a little more involved in music – I’ve decided to start covering music crowdfunding campaigns which interest me. As I’m generally short of ready cash, I was late to the music pledge phenomenon as it grew, although I found it potentially fascinating when I did encounter it (see my wide-eyed response to some of Kickstarter’s more cultish implications in the middle of this review). Increasingly it’s a vision of the future – or at the very least, the future of the honest hustle – as the music industry continues to crumble and narrow down to a point where more and more of the interesting music is forced to turn self-propelled and troubadour, travelling hopefully to an unknown audience whom it’ll eventually all but know by name.
Before I get too lost in the theory, though, here are two campaigns which currently interest me:
The first is the Kickstarter campaign for the ‘Look, Stranger’ project by Utter:Jazz Collective, set up by Jazzberries singer Ruthie Culver. This is a ferment of Benjamin Britten’s music, W.H. Auden’s verse, the voices of Ruthie and several of Britain’s greatest stage actors, and the transformative flood of twenty-first century jazz. Sounds risky (the options for falling into camp or cuteness are legion) but the caliber of the people involved suggests that they’ll pull it off with flair. Ruthie’s a singer whose explorations have taken her from opera to chanson, Sondheim to cabaret, poetry to swing. Between them the Utter:Jazz instrumentalists – double bassist Jonny Gee, reeds player Mick Foster, pianist/trombonist Dan Hewson and drummer Andrea Trillo – have covered jazz, baroque music, contemporary classical music, opera, tango, pop and salsa; have worked with a swathe of bandleaders and situation-starters including Herbie Hancock, Ravi Shankar, Nigel Kennedy and Jarvis Cocker, and have tried everything from classical stand-up and serious education to writing their own string quartets.
At time of posting Utter:Jazz are four days into their five-week campaign, and are 3% of the way towards their £8,000 goal. Here’s what Ruthie has to say about the project:
“Over the past year, my band and I have been through through a mind-boggling process of musical experimentation and harmonic analysis with twelve songs by Benjamin Britten, re-interpreting them through all the technicolour grooves and vibrant influences of 21st century jazz, including swing, samba, funk and blues… We chose Britten (whose centenary is this year) because his harmonies and melodies are delicious – something to get your teeth into – modern and beautiful. The song lyrics are satirical, romantic and witty, and all written by WH Auden (who wrote ‘Stop all the Clocks’, made famous in Four Weddings and a Funeral).
“I invited a few actors we’ve met over the years to read some Auden between the songs when we tour the project – they all said yes! Simon Russell Beale, Samuel West, Roger Lloyd Pack or Sir Derek Jacobi (one per gig) will be joining me and my brilliant quartet of world-class musicians. We have 18 performances lined up (details below) between July & November 2013, at festivals and theatres up and down the country including Northumberland, Devon, Yorkshire, Cumbria, Sussex, Suffolk, Hampshire, Herefordshire and London.”
The second crowdfunder I’m going to mention is the PledgeMusic campaign for the orchestral version of Todmorden 513, a long-form piece composed by Markus Reuter. Markus is best known for his work with centrozoon and his contributions to various King Crimson spinoffs (The Crimson ProjeKCt, Stick Men) but his work ranges beyond art-rock and explores a spectrum of ambient music, pop, systems work and contemporary classical composition.
Originally a recording for treated touch guitar and small ensemble, Todmorden 513 has now been arranged for full orchestra by Thomas Blomster who, once upon a time, was half of Pale Boy (and was responsible for the superb arrangements on their only album) but now runs the Youth Orchestra of the Rockies. The piece has recently been performed and recorded by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra, with Thomas as conductor.
Here’s a little more on the piece:
“Todmorden 513 is a unique contemporary composition of an hours duration for orchestra. It is 513 measures long and is a Concerto for Orchestra, with each of the 50 string, woodwind, brass, and percussion musicians performing an individual solo part. These solo parts are in turn each a part of a trio or quartet, all joining together to form the orchestra. The Colorado Chamber Orchestra is very excited to present this enigmatic, mysterious, genre-bending music.”
And here’s some more background on the original Todmorden 513 in its small ensemble form:
“Employing violins, viola, cello, guitars, organ, glockenspiel, synthesisers and electronics, these instruments mesh together, in ensembles of varying size, creating a kind of gauzy web through which development takes place. Texturally its often like those wispy moments in the orchestral music of Debussy or Messiaen, combined with the tolling crawl of Feldman’s Coptic Light, but proceeding to its own rules. This is a truly stunning piece of music.” – Joshua Meggitt, Cyclic Defrost
“Markus Reuter’s Todmorden 513 is a complex work of algorithmic composition of an hour’s duration. Given Reuter’s linguistic background, one might think that the title is an exercise in existential dread in German as “Tod” means “death” and “morden” means “to murder” – forming a truly grim portmanteau. However, the title’s sourcing is actually of a small town in northern England, northeast of Manchester. 513 refers to its construction: it is a continuous movement and sequence of five hundred and thirteen harmonies and triads generated by a combinatorial compositional technique of Reuter’s own design. The notes of each harmony or triad is then fed back into the same algorithm, resulting in a progression of chords and note clusters of highly varied density, ranging from simple two note harmonies to dense twelve note chords spread across several octaves. Starting on an A flat, the sequences of pitches form a kind of melodic or thematic line throughout. The rhythms of the performing instrumental trios and quartets were derived from the chord sequences themselves, which were looped across the whole piece, mapped to the notes of each chord, then mixed together. From there it was split into three or four independent voices respectively. The result is a shifting set of harmonic densities — at times quite spare — ranging from a harmony of two instruments to other moments of thick and lush instrumentation.” – Henry Warwick (original liner notes for ensemble recording)
The difference between this and the Utter: Jazz campaign is that Markus’ project is technically complete – orchestrated, recorded, mastered and now moving towards release. However, that’s not the end of the story and any further pledging and involvement will help it move further into the next (and arguably more tortuous) phase of promotion and outreach to people who want to hear it (even if they don’t know it yet). Another incentive for involvement is that 5 % over goal will be donated to the Youth Orchestra of the Rockies. It’s a little late in the day, but there’s still an opportunity to get involved in this.
There’ll be more crowdfunders along as I find them…