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.”

Putting the black in the Union Jack

My interview with Bishi Bhattacharya is printed in the new issue of New Internationalist (May 2012 cover date). In it, Bishi speaks not only about her musical journey – from a background steeped in a classical Indian tradition to more recent studies of the harmonic works and vocal techniques of 20th-century avant-garde leaders such as Ligeti, Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk – but the minimal representation of women of colour in British pop. She cites works by Michael Bracewell (England Is Mine) and Sukdev Sandhu (London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined A City), but the work of Paul Gilroy (There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack) is not far behind.

Bishi’s new single, ‘Albion Voice’ is released today. It’s a brilliantly articulate reframing of Englishness within a global cultural remit: Bishi’s got a big, far-reaching voice and the song’s pop-folk feel also features her on sitar. She and her musical team, which includes composers Neil Kaczor and Matthew Harden plus politician Tony Benn and the Kronos Quartet, astutely reference the folk music excursions of earlier musicians like Robbie Basho and John Fahey, both guitarists whose tunings turned eastwards in their modalities. That today is also St George’s Day is no coincidence, for Bishi is quite rightly laying claim to an English heritage as an inclusive ideal.

‘Albion Voice’ is one smart pop record, and it’s followed by Bishi’s second album of the same name on 28 May – just in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Those of a certain age will remember the Sex Pistols’ antics for the 1977 Jubilee. This one is a sight more savvy – and musical.

Albion Voice is out now on Gryphon Records. 

Laurie Anderson: Sounds from a Room

A small boat – actually a David Kohn/Fiona Banner-wrought replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat that Joseph Conrad sailed up the Congo river in 1890 – is presently moored on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank. Into this one-roomed boat, Artangel have been installing various artists in its Room for London series. This weekend, it was Laurie Anderson’s turn to take up residence for a couple of nights.

Photo © Charles Hosea

Sounds from a Room was her response to the panorama before her and the Thames below. Her one-hour appearance was video-relayed over to the Royal Festival Hall, where we watched a live-relay on screen and looked at the same traffic on Waterloo Bridge, once removed, that Anderson was seeing. Anderson’s slot was to some extent unscripted – interesting, considering the tight control of her conventional performances. We had a series of free associations on books (Moby-Dick; Geoff Dyer’s Zona; and a memoir written by a Second World War code-breaker), piracy (for this, she was visited by a Kiss FM founder who remembered the station’s illegal days); and a couple of songs – “In the Air” from United States I-IV and from Homeland, “The Beginning of Memory”.

The latter piece takes its opening motif from Aristophanes’ The Birds and I’d first hear it in Athens in a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Then, swallows and bats had flown over Anderson as twilight fell. Yesterday, gulls and pigeons flew close to our windows on the RFH’s sixth floor, as if bringing messages from the boat to us.