Jocelyn Pook and Andrew Poppy: post-post-minimalism

It’s no news that the boundaries surrounding musical traditions have always been porous so it’s still surprising when composers who’ve come out of classical training schools – Jocelyn Pook or Andrew Poppy, to take the two examples at hand – generate headlines for being anything other than “purely” classical musicians. Composers listen to music – and the speed of modern communication means that the flow of imaginative information between genres is rapid  – even if the charts and genres themselves can’t keep up with changes. (Witness the way Pook’s mid-1990s album, Deluge, was judged by some crazy chart maker to be neither classical or contemporary.)

Andrew Poppy (© Henrik Knudsen)

Pook and Poppy are both composers who’ve worked widely in music. All types of music, all types of theatre, all types of ensembles. (Pook’s Electra Strings and Poppy’s Lost Jockey have left a lasting legacy.) They are also both musicians au fait with the augmented instrumentation that digital technology offers. Poppy’s latest album/performance work Shiny Floor, Shiny Ceiling is a song cycle of sorts, featuring (among others) his former ZTT colleague Claudia Brücken, lyric tenor James Gilchrist and mezzo Margaret Cameron. What Poppy calls an “opera entertainment” for voices, a dancer and master of ceremonies (the composer himself) is a confident exploration of both staging and performance. Scored for strings, keyboards and guitars, Poppy’s intimate and indefinably scary cabaret songs have a strong presence, none more so than on the title song, with its rising panic so skillfullly voiced by Gilchrist.

Jocelyn Pook (© Hugo Glendinning)

DESH (“homeland”) comprises of music that Pook wrote originally for dancer Akram Khan’s extraordinary solo show which traces his hugely personal trajectory between his British and Bengali heritage. On stage, Pook’s beautiful writing for strings, found sounds and voices (stalwarts mezzo Melanie Pappenheim and Natacha Atlas are joined by Jeremy Schonfield, an academic specialising in the Jewish liturgical tradition) sweep over the dance and at times seem to be a power-drive to Khan’s dance itself. Considering that music and dance are so enmeshed, there is always the consideration that the music by itself will equate to something lacking. Not a bit of it. Pook’s DESH (as opposed to Khan’s DESH) is consummate piece of work that stands strongly by itself. Moreover, Pook’s personal sonic homeland comes into view with its settings for various liturgical texts, both Christian and Jewish; Glass-y argpeggios and, best of all, its haunting, rolling strings.  It’s truly music that you wish will never stop.

Shiny Floor, Shiny Ceiling is released on 7 November 2012 (Field Radio Discs). It will be performed at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, London, 8-10 November. and

DESH is released on 3 December 2012 (Pook Music). Jocelyn Pook’s Hearing Voices, a new commission for the BBC Concert Orchestra, receives its premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, that evening. and