About Louise Gray

Writer and researcher on experimental music for The Wire and many other publications; chapter on post-1945 female composers and technology to be published soon in the Cambridge Companion to Women Composers (CUP). Lecturer in Sound Arts at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

Forced Entertainment ride again: 24-hour Quizoola! coming to the Barbican

© Hugo Glendinning

© Hugo Glendinning

Forced Entertainment, a performance company that is no stranger to durational work, is embarking on one of its longest sessions for a long time in April when it stages a 24-hour version of Quizoola! A question and answer-based show that was first staged as a 45-minute work in 1996 at the ICA,  Quizoola! takes interrogation to new levels. It’s playful, it’s nasty, it’s theatrical waterboarding without the water.

The original versions of Quizoola! used a loose script of 2,000 questions. For the Barbican event, Forced Entertainment has asked the public to send in some new questions of their own devising. I’ve sent mine in: If you had five minutes left to live, would you use Twitter or Facebook to record your last message?  Describe nuclear fission for a child of five. What is the plague? Would you work in a call centre? Give three delaying tactics. I wonder if any of them will make it into the performance. Here’s the address to send your own questions in to: http://www.forcedentertainment.com/page/3102/24-hour-Quizoola

In the meantime, here’s an interview I did with Tim Etchells, co-founder of Forced Entertainment, in 2000, just prior to a seven-hour Quizoola! being staged. I remember that we were diverted by a discussion about performance art and the first series of Big Brother on TV. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/its-only-a-game-show–and-then-some-638355.html

Tickets http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=14164

Hearing Voices: Jocelyn Pook

From The Arts Desk: http://www.artsdesk.com

Update: Jocelyn Pook wins the BASCA composer award 2012 for her DESH music.

The British composer discusses her unsettling, intimate and deeply personal new song cycle. Interview by Louise Gray.

The world premiere of Hearing Voice is up on BBC Radio 3’s iPlayer website for a week.

via Hearing Voices: Jocelyn Pook | Classical music reviews, news.

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. http://www.andrewpoppy.co.uk and http://www.jacksonslane.org.uk

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. http://www.jocelynpook.com and http://ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/music/classical/tickets/h7steria-69123

Citizen of the world

Lucy + Jorge ORTA: Antarctica World Passport (2012), one in a series of 30,000

Here’s my new passport to the continent of Antarctica, a continent which, by the 1959 Antarctica treaty, is established as a common territory open to “all peaceful peoples and and to cultural and scientific cooperation”.

It’s a lovely, well-made thing, one in a series of 30,000 created by artist duo Lucy + Jorge ORTA for the Festival of the World, one of the satellite events surrounding the London 2012 Olympics. It was easy to change citizenship: a quick visit to a photobooth (20p a go) and then to the nearby Antarctica desk where my name was written down. Whether or not it’s an ORTA internationalist response to the nationalism of the Olympics (I’d like to think so), it’s very much in keeping with the artists’ humane and social art, which has embraced suits of clothes that zip together, turn into tents and, as part of their latest Antarctica project, a flag of many flags, in which existing national flags are blurred into a coloured velocity of a single image. The flags fluttered over the buildings of the Southbank for the duration of Festival of the World.

Going off at a tangent, I’m reminded too of Laibach’s Volk (Mute Records) from 2006, an album in which the Slovenian pranksters naughtily appropriated, cut-up, and generally doctored over a dozen national anthems from around the world. What the band calls “perfect pop” in the service and the interrogation of power. One could say that ORTA have employed perfect design to do much the same thing.

“One of the high points of 20th-century art” – Brian Eno

In July 1995, Brian Eno told The Wire‘s Paul Schütze that Donna Summer’s “State of Independence” was “one of the high points of 20th-century art”. He’d just been to the local record shop to buy the extended mix of the Quincy Jones-produced single. I understand him. “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You, Baby”, Summer’s breathy je t’aimes for the disco generation sold in their millions, but those songs were more about Giorgio Moroder than they were about her voice and artistry. “State of Independence” started life inauspiciously as one written by Vangelis and Jon Anderson in 1981, but Summer’s original 1982 cover took the song into a different territory altogether. Fuelled by a massive choir that Jones had assembled and a numinous backing track, in Summer’s hands the song became a rocket to an earthly heaven. It’s the gospel equivalent of a Verdi chorus.

The lyrics weren’t Summer’s (and let’s face it, they’re hardly poetry), but she imbued them with a resonance that was political, social and – at  a time when Aids was emerging – humane. It’s an anthem of communal ecstasy that prefigures the chemical one, and all the more joyous for it. (And on a tangent regarding finding community on the dancefloor, something I’m thinking about as next month’s anniversary of Shoom!, Danny and Jenni Rampling’s late 1980s groundbreaking club takes place, I hope that the song makes an appearance there.)

In praise of Pauline Oliveros

Anne Hilde Neset, co-founder of Electra; Ana da Silva; Pauline Oliveros; Anat Ben-David; Louise Gray

Getting Pauline Oliveros open for Her Noise’s current Tate Modern programme – Feminisms and the Sonic – (organised by Electra and Tate Modern) was a real coup. Here’s an artist whose work has stretched from the start of concrète and electronic music to the present. Oliveros played a new solo work for a Roland V-accordion, Listening for Life/Death Energies, and delivered a keynote speech on a series of younger women composers, each with her own way of making her own noise. A performance of Oliveros’ extraordinary 1970 piece for ensemble – To Valerie Solanas and  Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation – was played on the bridge of the Turbine Hall.

Oliveros spoke about her decision at the age of 16 to become a composer, one taken at a time when gender conformity in music was high (earlier, she’d mentioned that in infant classes, drums were taken away from girls to replaced with more ‘feminine’ instruments like a recorder!). The growth of the women’s movement in the early 1970s gave her a new direction: “I had harboured such desires to live beyond gendered roles for a long time,” she said. And she spoke of her introduction to electronic music via four-hour Sunday morning concerts broadcast on KPFA in the Bay Area. They were weekly epiphanies: “Electronic sounds expressed my inner listening.”