Better Know Weisslich – Vol.10

“This feels like Weisslich 1”

–Louis d’Heudieres

We all agreed from the outset of preparing tomorrow’s 10th volume of Weisslich (tickets here) that we wanted to touch base with our roots, to the stuff that compelled us to start Weisslich in the small basement of Hundred Years Gallery. Shoestring (non-existent) budgets, awkward experiments with blending performance art and experimental music, the tried and tested histories of Fluxus, and 2 hour gigs prepared in no more than 2 hours before the show. Those are Weisslich’s roots. And we’re back!

So here’s what you can expect on Friday: a long-form exploration of the relationship between choreography and reading; a trio for breathers that permeates and echoes throughout the space; new and recent composed and scored music for trombone that pushes at extremes of aggression; idiosyncratic flute improvisation; a silent film that touches the heart, and a reconstruction of Phlegethon, Mark Reiner’s sonic and sculptural evocation of the Underworld’s river of fire.

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Teoma Naccarato & John MacCallum

Friday’s event has all the hallmarks of a Weisslich concert: striking and challenging performances, an eclectic programme that makes no sense on paper, cross-contamination, and a truly deep cut from the experimental music tradition.


When we decided to revisit our origins, we made two important decisions. The first was to invite a guest from another discipline to co-curate with us, and the second to find a space open to experimentation and where we could work over a longer period of time to devise site-sensitive performances.

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Teoma Naccarato & Louis d’Heudieres; credit: Dimitri Djuric

We partnered with choreographer Teoma Naccarato who has brought in a wide range of perspectives, influences, and not least, interesting artists who are working to make and draw connections with musical practices of sound making and ensemble performance. Prior to working with Teoma, one thread that has tied together Weisslich’s work is a consistent questioning of conceptions of music, often presenting work that expands the capacities and applications of composition. Similarly, Teoma’s practice takes an expanded perspective on choreography and how working from related traditions reveals new ways of experiencing and, in some cases, organising reality. Regularly collaborating with composer John MacCallum, her work investigates the materiality of the body, zooming in on the sensations of internal organs—specifically the heart and lungs—through the appropriation of biomedical technologies. Over the course of our collaborative curation for this event, the boundaries of our respective conceptions of choreography and music making have come into question.

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Lotte van Gelder; credit: Dimitri Djuric

Another key influence in the curatorial process has been the sharing of rehearsal and performance space between all of the artists over the course of a week. We are working at East London’s Guest Projects. The first time we went to see the space in April we met another group of artists who were working there in preparation of a visual art exhibition. In speaking to them about their residency, we could sense the enthusiasm that they felt working there. Maybe this is because the space is artist led, or the fact that the owner of the space hand selects submitted proposals, or even that the space is offered to residents for a period of a month or a week free of any financial burdens. Whatever it is, it is great to work somewhere that cares about and supports what the artists who work there do. The space is conducive and permissive of experimentation. And most importantly we are allowed to take risks. (Try finding another venue in London that will allow you to set open fire in their space!)

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Test of Phlegethon

For those of you who have been with us from the beginning, we hope you share our feeling of coming home. And for those that are just joining us, welcome.

– Weisslich (Teoma, Michael, Louis, David)

Better Know A Weisslich – Wordplay with Antonia Barnett-McIntosh and Emma Bennett

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Do you remember that time in the mid-noughties when everyone kept on saying stuff like “I just went to the shop avec Mike” and “wheres the pie? Dans le fridge”? … No? These kinds of phrases were pretty widespread for a time where I grew up, so I know for a fact that at least some middle class teenagers in East Anglia said them. I even think that, at its height, this particular brand of Franglais was so widespread that it could have probably been classed as some sort of proto-cryptolect. Or maybe it was a politically motivated attempt at subverting the trend of globalisation that has led to “le weekend” and “le hamburger” being French language staples. Having left East Anglia in 2006, I have no idea what happened to what I will helpfully call English Franglais. Did it develop to include both words and expressions – “I would plutôt go to the pub, as I could drink you under the table fingers in the nose“, for example? Did it spread and merge with other styles of Franglais emanating from Quebec or Guernsey? Did it die in 2009 with the Camden-born synthpop band Ou est le swimming pool?

Having moved from France to the UK in the mid-nineties, I grew up in a bi-lingual household. For a while, we all had to re-learn cultural identities and boundaries, not to mention learning a new language (my mum was already fluent but my sister and I weren’t). As a result, mis-translations, fumbled attempts at pronouncing both English and French words, mistakes and mispronunciations were the rules that governed communication. It wasn’t uncommon, for example, for one of us to try conjugate a verb and instead produce a pretty-sounding piece of nonsense.

My linguistically slippery upbringing is perhaps why I immediately connected with Accent, a work by multidisciplinary artists Antonia Barnett-McIntosh and Emma Bennett. It is a piece in which the two performers, mic’d up and stood at podiums, talk to/with/at/over each other. Making their cultural origins manifest (one is British, the other from New Zealand), before distorting and commenting upon them, the melodies, rhythms and timbres of their voices are exposed and transfigured, as they listen to each other speak and imitate each other’s utterances.

Their interaction takes a variety of forms, from remarking on each other’s accents in detached mock-criticism to simply repeating the noise that just happened across from the podium. Words and phrases are reiterated rhythmically, like a weird song that you could imagine kids singing in a playground of a parallel universe, creating a space in which meaning and sound jostle for prime position. With the simplest of processes, the artists lay bare the sonic/semantic dichotomy inherent in all spoken language. Repetition and rhythm become tools to split this duality wide open and stitch it together again, leading us into downward spirals of monosyllabic absurdity before we re-emerge with a halting, piercing line of semantic clarity, only to plunge into more sonic (semantic) ping-pong.

Language is a theme that crops up repeatedly in Emma’s work. In an earlier piece entitled Untitled (Speech), performed as part of the Bristol Art Weekender 2014, she assumes the role of a public speech-giver, putting herself in a situation where producing a speech seems to be both a circumstantial necessity (she is standing on a raised box, and giving the speech to what is presumably a receptive public) and a physical improbability. She speaks, or at least, tries to:

One. I speak; king. One. There is one, speech – I am – learning? Today? Which will be me – saying – THE GREATEST – I don’t know: of, our, nation. I! Five score, have been… Speaking – … (a) of the place/of-we-stand today, … and: proclamation.

Her delivery is meticulously intonated to give fragments of projected confidence and poise that make her seem oblivious to the fact her sentences make little sense. However, listening carefully between the garbled half-phrases, we start to glimpse a message. With flashes of poignant wit and humour, Emma dissects subjects such as politics and the art market, all the while dissecting her own delivery – and indeed the very idea of her own piece – as she stumbles circuitously along her course. Like Accent, Untitled (Speech) is a delicate balancing act between absurdity and meaning. Dangling the idea of communicable meaning in front of us – like a tempting carrot –, it flirts with the idea that language is doomed to solipsism, whilst striving to signify and comment on this state of affairs.

At home as much with notated musical composition as with music for film or multidisciplinary artistic collaboration, Antonia’s versatile output straddles several themes, of which language is one. She recently produced a group of works exploring the theme of rest as part of the Hubbub group at the Wellcome collection. One of these pieces, Breath, was featured in Weisslich Vol. 8. Another, earpiece, is a brilliant addition to the body of work that has recently been created exploring how we ‘hear our own ears’, to paraphrase Antonia. In a piece where “the participant becomes the instrument, performer and audience all at once”, audience members are invited to perform scored actions that include blocking, scratching, and tapping their ears as they listen to sounds played at ear height on speakers. Yet another of Antonia’s projects, A Few Pointers, sees her and artist Leena Kangaskoski re-negotiate simple relationships between a thing, its image, and its sound. Field recordings and images are starkly laid on top of each other, associating and dissociating their respective subjects in a figurative slideshow. As with many of her works (including, as mentioned above, Accent), the simplicity of the process lets the content of the work take centre-stage and speak directly to the audience. It’s a feature that endears me to Antonia’s work, and one of the reasons I wanted to program her in this concert.

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For Weisslich Vol. 9, Emma and Antonia are making a new version of Accent. Will it be entirely in Franglais? Will it feature rapping? We don’t know. But you can expect to be both challenged and entertained, talked to and sung to, persuaded and lullabied, by these two fascinating artists.

–Louis d’Heudieres


Antonia Barnett-McIntosh and Emma Bennett will be playing WEISSLICH Vol. 9 along with Ensemble Pamplemousse and Robert Blatt on 13 January 2017 at The Wonder Inn, 29 Shudehill, Manchester and 14 January 2017 at STYX, 5 Ashley Road, Tottenham, London. Both events open doors at 7:30pm and performances start at 8:00pm.

Advance tickets are now on sale:
13.01.2017 – MANCHESTER
14.01.2017 – LONDON

Better Know A Weisslich: Ben Zucker

When he invented the word musicking in 1998, Christopher Small wanted to put the emphasis on music’s existence as a sonic and social activity. Music is a verb, not a noun, as he famously put it. Although it is meant for anyone and everyone who makes music, in whatever form, there are certain people who seem to particularly warrant Christopher Small’s need for the verb to music by the sheer virtue of how much music they just do. Ben Zucker is one of those people. He is a musician. He musics. In fact, he musics on pretty much everything – trombone, trumpet, keyboards, percussion, voice, objects. Sometimes he musics in the way that most musicking happens in the world: without writing anything down, spontaneously, expressively. And sometimes he musics in a way that has characterised Western music for centuries: with some form of writing. Dots on staves, text, graphics, drawings, or a mixture of all of these are all part of his musicking, as are improvisations, songs, ambient radio broadcasts, and conceptual sound poems.

It’s musicking of the last sort that we’ll do on Saturday, where we perform his piece for four speakers (human speakers, that is), neither/n/nor/n. What drew me to this piece first and foremost was its conceptual rigour. I have a real soft spot for pieces that are clear about what they’re going to do conceptually and then just do it. In this “non-dialectic for speakers”, passages from Roland Barthes’s Elements of Semiology and Kenneth Goldsmith’s “I Love Speech” are subjected to a radical hollowing out. They are shorn of all vowels – and many consonants –, leaving a dotting of odd noisy consonants standing like trees after a forest fire. These form the basis for the performers’ mouth shapes, which are to be sustained and sonified for unnaturally long times (like taking the attack of a sound sample and stretching it out). Attack becomes decay. Consonants become vowels.

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First page of the score for neither/n/nor/n. Dots represent sustaining sounds, lines represent silences

 

Given the source material, what ensues is a rich interplay of semantic irony and sonic minimalism. Barthes’s text is analytical in nature, describing broadly what language and speech are. In Ben’s setting of them, these declarations lose all meaning, becoming, to keep using Barthian terms, signifiers that no longer have a signified. And yet the score leaves the original order of the text intact, having simply plucked letters out of it. It’s not so much that we don’t speak the text at all, but rather that we only speak its skeleton. There is no flesh, muscle or blood, but if we listen very hard, we may still recognise bone. Goldsmith’s text is more acutely relevant. The last sentence, “in order to proceed, we need to employ a strategy of opposites – unboring boring, uncreative writing, valueless speech – all methods of disorientation used in order to re-imagine our normative relationship to language”, could almost be a description of the piece itself. The fact that this is so makes neither/n/nor/n a piece that wrestles with its own identity. It struggles to self-describe, erasing its own meaning as it produces it.

For the curious amongst you, the Barthes text is here (paragraph I.1.4), and the Goldsmith text is here.

And for those who like their musicking to be more straightforwardly musical, Ben has plenty of that too. One of my favourites that I come back to often is Strokes/Stokes, an open score realised beautifully in this recording by the Wesleyan University Orchestra.

 

Worth checking out too is his two-part ambient improvisation on synths for WESU radio:

 

I could go on – there is far too much musicking in Ben’s universe to be covered here. (His website does have a lot more stuff for those interested). Come and experience it live this Saturday 23rd at the Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, 8pm.

–Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: Lilian Beidler

Freelance artist Lilian Beidler’s work is hard to categorise; it seems to shift medium, format, and subject with every piece, representing a multitude of strands in her artistic and personal thinking. It is perhaps fitting that this is so, given the diversity of her formal education – she has degrees in Music and Media Arts, Contemporary Arts Practice, and Performance Making from Bern University of the Arts in Switzerland and Goldsmiths University, London. A look through a few of her recent pieces gives us: a video diary advent calendar (Countdown to Arabic), a participatory piece for audience, mp3 players and loudspeakers (PAVILION), a custom-made electronic musical instrument (Voicestrument), and a physical performance piece (running). The picture that emerges is that of an artist constantly searching for new modes of expression, never shying away from putting herself or others at the centre of them.

Lilian’s world is characterised by a hyper-awareness of the media that shape our experiences and a willingness to explore their emotional, social and personal connotations. In Voicestrument (2015), the microphone, joystick and electrical cable are all seen and engaged with as objects possessing a latent eroticism. A BDSM threesome between human, space and technology, where voice is modulated by computer according to the acoustics of the room. In PAVILION (2015), members of the audience interact socially through recorded sound bites. The social groupings and de-groupings they form are entirely mediated by samples they trigger with mp3 players, which reveal stories of people working on campus at Goldsmiths (where the first performance took place) as they are played back over loudspeakers. The piece then evolves as a shifting play of identities, as the participants apprehend and redefine the relationships they have to the people on the soundtrack, the other people in the room, and the (virtual) relationships the people on the soundtrack have with each other.

Running (2014) is a piece in which gestures of frustration, exhaustion and anger interrupt each other. (For the curious, here is an interview about this piece between Lilian and previous WEISSLICH contributor Cathy van Eck). Turning her movement into sound, Lilian runs with increasing urgency around a space in which electronic nodes activated on each wall create long, sustained tones. Eventually, she stands in the middle of the space and, with a ritualistic slowness, smashes a plate onto the floor. The sustained chord stops and she starts running again, this time having to contend with the shards she’s just made on the floor. It’s a Sisyphean myth of a piece, the performer trapped in an infinity loop of her own making. A wave of frustration is stopped by a moment of anger, making the next inevitable wave more difficult still, and on it goes. It reminds me of the kind of mental torture you perform on yourself, mid-argument, just after you’ve rashly said something horrible to someone else. The anger has a poisonous quality; it makes arguing so much harder, and you desperately wish you hadn’t said it, but you did, and part of it felt good, and now you’ve got to deal with it. The more you think about how much you’ve hurt the other person, the worse it seems, and the worse it seems, the more you wish you could do something about it. Come to think of it, situations like those do sometimes end up with plates getting smashed.

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Lilian performing running in Columbus, Ohio, 2013

 

Countdown to Arabic is an advent calendar in Youtube video format where Lilian learns Arabic for 24 days, from 1st to 24th December 2015. It’s an explicitly political response to our refugee-fearing climate, in which, for Lilian, “it is urgent to create a superior humanitarian arch that canopies both a Christian tradition and studying the language of the Koran”. Instead of counting down to Christmas, she counts down to what we in the Christian West have been repeatedly told to fear by our media. It’s an idea that could come across as heavy-handed and overbearingly political, but instead, she documents her learning with a lightness of touch and a charm that infuses the whole project with a sense of genuine fun. What emerges is a thought that runs so counter to our mainstream politics (at least in the UK, but I’d venture to say also in Switzerland, France and many other European countries) it seems radical to even write it down: it’s fun to connect with people from other cultures, it’s fun to learn a new language and break cultural divides, it’s fun to try to understand ‘the other’. In Countdown to Arabic, Lilian sees the human being as a subject capable of language-learning, and by extension, relationship-building. By turning herself into the vessel through which potential cultural understanding can occur, she makes a piece that is much more profound than an initial look at the videos would suggest. Through the seemingly mundane tasks of trying to pronounce ع (‘ayn), studiously copying down the alphabet, or practising with her cat, we feel compelled to see through the artifice of linguistic divide. I’ll leave you with the final episode, Day 24, where Lilian discovers that there are 14 different ways to say ‘love’ in Arabic:

 

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Lilian is making a new work for Weisslich Vol. 8, this Saturday 23rd July at 8pm, Hundred Years Gallery.

–Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: Neil Luck

A man stands on stage and struggles to get a word out of his mouth, impeded, it seems, by his own need to burp. Every time he does manage the odd garbled sentence, a series of clown-like vocal and instrumental bursts forcefully prevent him from delivering what we have been promised is a punchline. This goes on for five minutes, a frustrated, stuttering routine of stifled exertion, maintaining our full attention right up until that final punchline neither disappoints or satisfies us, but rather keeps us guessing as to what exactly it is we have just witnessed. It can only be Neil Luck, whose music could probably be described with equal success as absurd stand-up comedy, conceptual game show poetry, free jazz circus entertainment, or post-ironic commercial radio art.

His recent piece Via Gut was one of my absolute highlights of the London Contemporary Music Festival in December 2015.

According to the website, Via Gut is “a monologue-cum-variety act about the future. Based on a rigorously pataphysical premise, Via Gut poses a hypothesis about the future of human evolution and the nature of communication, told through an allegory of the human digestive system”. The sonification – and choreography – of bodily functions is a constant theme throughout, and the piece’s handling of it stoops as much to the utterly banal as it reaches up to the loftily existential, reminding us that we mortal humans all have to eat and shit, after all. The potential tactlessness one can imagine arising from such a piece is embraced so wholeheartedly that the audience is forced through and beyond it, having to accept its guttural playfulness as an aesthetic truth. It’s a piece about a gut as much as it is a piece happening in a gut.

Members of the artist collective squib-box and experimental group of musicians ARCO (in this case, Tom Jackson on clarinet, Benedict Taylor on viola, Federico Reuben on electronics, and Adam de la Cour as tap dancer, sock puppeteer, balloon modeller, jazz guitarist and scat vocalist), who are long-term collaborators with Neil, often provide the squealing messy textures that accompany his protagonist, narrator, or game show host. The close relationships such a collaboration fosters is evident in the way the group performs together – everyone is on board for throwing themselves in head first into whatever the piece requires, no matter how extreme (I heard of a piece in which one of the members’ colonoscopies was projected onto a screen whilst another made themselves physically sick through overeating, all of this, wonderfully, taking place in a restaurant). The kinds of things asked of the performers – such as de la Cour’s balloon modelling, squirming, and general ridiculousness (writing for the Quietus, Leo Chadburn described him as a ‘tap dancing arsehole’, admittedly making reference to the fact that he represented a literal part of the human digestive system) – are only possible with the kind of trust that builds up over time. As a result, the group has a coherence to them, a ‘tightness’, which gives their performances a crucially unapologetic quality, no matter how deranged or silly the material.

Looking at squib-box’s roster of affiliated artists you’ll find everything from Michael Finnissy to Kindenfarten, “an ensemble concerned with exploring the liminal space between new complexity, noise music, and children’s entertainment”, via acclaimed singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan and Benny C, a “traditionally made up whiteface (grotesque) clown”. This kind of breadth (of influence and output) is evident in Neil’s individual work too, perhaps the most valuable characteristics of which is his eternal willingness to take risks (aesthetically, or just with his own body). You never know what will happen at one of Neil’s (or squib-box’s or ARCO’s) gigs, and indeed we have no idea what to expect for WEISSLICH on 23rd. Based on what we’ve seen though, we can’t wait to find out.

Better Know A Weisslich: Ben Jameson

The first time I saw Ben Jameson perform was at the new music series Kammer Klang, at Dalston’s Cafe Oto, in 2014. He performed Jacob TV’s Grab It, a piece in which a soloist (originally written for tenor sax, this version was for electric guitar) battles with an almost violently loud soundtrack made of emotionally charged vocal samples from life-sentenced prisoners. The text is blurted out thick and fast, making a forceful and frenetic duet that thrusts itself into the ears and onto the eyes.

Until recently, little did I know how significant Ben’s identity as a guitarist was to his compositional practice. He frequently draws upon the pop, rock, metal and folk traditions in which that instrument has come to play such an important role; some of the titles of his pieces include “Power Chord Study (after Black Sabbath)”, “Two Captain Beefheart Arrangements” and “Song for Pete Seeger”.

The intersection of genres, with all of their attendant social and cultural layers, is also a subject of Ben’s academic writing. In a recent article he wrote for the journal Tempo, he tackles issues surrounding the electric guitar’s social and cultural status in Tristan Murail’s Vampyr (1984), which, he suggests, has more in common with contemporary virtuosic rock of 80’s than the composer is perhaps aware. Whether we like it or not, playing something on an electric guitar which resembles a rock or metal riff has cultural weight, and engages with issues germane to rock and metal, whether they be radical freedom, masculinity, or power. Rather than shy away from these issues, Ben tackles them head on. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Ben Jameson”

Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton

As I write this I have just come back from a rehearsal for my latest piece, Laughter Studies 2, with Alice Purton. During the rehearsal of the piece, in which we both listen to manipulated sounds on headphones and react to them in real time, she asks “How do you want me to act? Do I stay sad or go back to neutral for those 2 seconds?” It’s a small but important detail in the piece, one which, admittedly, I hadn’t thought about, and it instantly reminds me of one of the reasons I love making music with really good performers – to have those types of interactions which provide a totally fresh perspective on your work, making you see things that you didn’t see before.

Alice is the dream performer to work with. Whether playing cello strings or other objects, singing, making declamatory statements on stage, or unrolling sellotape in a huge hall, she’s someone who cuts through all the bullshit and wants to get to the essence of the piece – what it’s doing, how it’s doing it, and why she should care. Which, in turn, makes you care when she performs. Working with her, there is always an element of collaboration, even if I’ve been a Composer with a capital C and written everything down (or, in this case, recorded everything in sound), there are ideas concerning what we’re supposed to be thinking about when we do this, whether we should look at each other here or not, and what that might mean; ideas that end up affecting the piece creatively and aesthetically. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton”

WEISSLICH 4 – Composer/Artist Interviews

Tomorrow at 8pm, WEISSLICH returns to Hundred Years Gallery to present the first concert of our 2015-16 season. Beforehand we asked each of the six featured participants to respond to a few prompts about their contributions. Read on for responses to the following:

[1] What’s one thing you would like the audience to know about your piece / thing?

[2] Tell us an anecdote that relates to your piece / thing.

[3] It’s Halloween and you’ve turned into a werewolf! Who would you have replace your slot at WEISSLICH?


Robert Blatt – All Together Now
[1] Sitting still is optional.

[2] Florida is a region known for sinkholes, which are mostly naturally occurring collapses of surface sediment into often large underground cavities formed by the dissolution of limestone. They can emerge suddenly, and some people have been swallowed alive by these geological events. I moved to Miami a little over a year ago, and not long after arriving, I started to feel tremors shaking my house. I became concerned. Was the earth about to eat me?

I soon found out that Miami is a region with a very low probability of sinkhole formation of any substantial size; however, living in the outskirts of the city, I happen to reside not far from a quarry. Periodically the miners find it necessary to blow up the bedrock. Their blast schedule is even posted online. It turns out the sinkhole I was worried about my house collapsing into was fiction. I was merely feeling the formation of a different type of hole in the limestone, but in this case caused by the use of dynamite.

[3] Guillaume de Machaut


Eleanor Cully – new work
[1] This is my first solo performance of my own music.

[2] ppppppp

[3] My friend and flautist Marta Buzow, whom I am staying with at the weekend. We used to play together every week in the brilliant New Noise ensemble at Brunel University and she taught me in my final year there.


Beavan Flanagan – No sweeter sound than my own name
[1] It’s about a person, it’s about an object, it’s about a person being an object.

[2] It was pointed out to me that the piece had certain scatological undertones. I personally think this was a reflection of the people who thought this more than of the piece itself :-)

[3] Gary Numan (on one condition: he wouldn’t be permitted to perform any of his music from the mid 90s onwards)


David Pocknee – Cipher For The Lighthouse Twins
[1] It was premiered last month in Miami by Inlets Ensemble.

[2] I swear the printer was laughing over the phone when they confirmed my order for this piece was ready.

[3] Trond Reinholdtsen or Parkinson Saunders. 


Leo Svirsky – singer-songlewieser medley
[1] I’ll be doing a “singer-songleweiser medley” with songs and miniatures from Michael Pisaro, Christian Wolff, and Antoine Beuger, with some liberties taken in the Wolff songs.

[2] When he came to the Hague, Christian Wolff told me that Cardew’s only political song that really made it into the working class repertory was the “Bethanienlied”, a protest song against a free clinic being turned into a center for contemporary art by the city of Berlin. Cardew organized a concert with Christian Wolff, and Frederic Rzewski which the working class audience was pretty bored with, except for one point where Cardew performed his variations on the Bethanienlied. The audience sang along with the theme, and booed when the first variation came (instead of the second verse).

[3] Jeromos Kamphuis, even though he’s a vampire.


Jennifer Walshe – THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS
[1] Skateboarding is a supremely beautiful art which makes cities more interesting, more liveable and tells us things about space we couldn’t know otherwise. Skaters are urban dowsers of texture, angle and energy flows; to be able to witness what they do is a privilege and we should support them. Long Live South Bank.

[2] Anton Lukoszevieze had a birthday coming up, and it was a number which ends in “0”. He joked he would like a piece as a gift, something “which will make me feel I’m not getting old, like about skateboarding.” I was reading a book about skateboarders and their use of urban space at the time, and had already been thinking of doing something about skating.

[3] Tony Hawk


We look forward to having you along tomorrow!

– WEISSLICH

Better Know A Weisslich: Jennifer Walshe’s THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

For those already initiated to contemporary music, Jennifer Walshe needs no introduction. She has performed in and written for the most prestigious and well-known international music festivals (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Donaueschinger Musiktagen, to list a few), and has enjoyed a fruitful and varied international career as a composer and vocalist for well over a decade.

For the upcoming concert on Saturday 31st, I have been learning a piece by her called THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE. It’s one I’ve wanted to perform ever since my composition tutor made me aware of it a couple of years ago (love at first sight, you might say). This is because, first of all, I had never seen a score with pictures of people skateboarding on it before (come to think of it, I haven’t seen one since). Second of all, I had never seen a score that was printed on/as a T-shirt. This was a score that went beyond the realms of simple instruction-giving and made a case for being appreciated in itself as a piece of visual, material, and conceptual art.

Then, there’s what the score actually asks you to do. Something that much of Jennifer Walshe’s work explores is a “method-acting” style approach to composing, where the performer inhabits the piece day in day out, in character, as it were. (She recently wrote an opera where the protagonist is a female boxer, in which singer Laura Jayne Bowler actually learned to box with ex-professional Cathy “The Bitch” Brown). The piece reaches beyond the usual confines of the concert hall and practice room, and becomes a part of your life.

In THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS, the performer is first and foremost asked to “learn to skateboard, however primitively”. This is an activity that I had naively thought would be quite straightforward. It’s not. The first reason why is that, and I know this sounds obvious, the ground rolls underneath you. For a while, gone is that well-loved stability where you are master of your movement. You are a servant to the flow of your board. You’re rolling, bro. All the time. The first step, then, is to get used to moving in what feels like fast forward. (Actual skaters, those for whom the synergy between human and board has reached levels of natural effortlessness, will of course not see this type of movement as fast – if you skate for long enough I’d imagine you might see walking as unbearably slow. But this is a total beginner’s perspective, and I hope I’m not alone in feeling like the first time you try to skateboard, the speed and lack of control is a tiny bit scary. I guess overcoming it is part of the appeal.)

The second reason is that the activity itself requires you to engage differently with the environment around you. An incline is no longer just an incline; it’s an opportunity. A strip of smooth tarmac has a certain feel; a cobbled alley isn’t going to be particularly pleasant; wood is fast, rubber is slow, grass is an injury-safe sanctuary for practising ollies. You go around spotting these different zones where different types of movement and behaviour are possible, earmarking that spot for speed, or that one for smoothness, or that one for attempting a trick. Without wanting to sound too grandiose, skateboarding changes your perception of life.

Examine and meditate on optimum skating environments […] Go for a walk and imagine being able to skate everything you see […] Contemplate the ability of skate-boarding to articulate space, find new paths through architecture, fresh uses for it. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

I had played the roller-skating video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on the PC, a game in which you go around skating everything around you, no matter how impossible it would really be (ridiculous jumps between ledges at great heights, no chance of dying or breaking bones, a skateboard that starts moving automatically like it has a 5L engine – it’s a game after all), and, well, this was like playing that, but in real life. Slower, and in your head rather than on a screen, but real nevertheless. It’s like playing your environment. The function of everything changes – houses are no longer spaces for people to live in, they are objects of certain roughness lying at a certain angle, connecting to other objects with different roughnesses which lie at different angles, which themselves are only a jump and a 1080 away from more objects lying at equally different angles… I spent several days wandering around my neighbourhood doing exactly what the score describes – interacting with every single ledge, fence, bench, or wall, making occasional videos, often to the amusement of bystanders (one of whom stopped and asked me whether there was anything wrong with the handrails on some public steps, presumably assuming that I was some sort of vigilante inspector for rails, ledges and fences). Encircled by high-rise flats, lining a busy road with moving traffic, a public playground, replete with ping-pong tables, see-saws, round metal gyrating chairs and bicycle parking racks, became a sea of potential.

Compose an imaginary path you would like to skate. This path should push and force you to limits, be rich, beautiful, complicated and stylish, and incorporate some tricks. This path is limited only by your imagination. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

Reading this sentence made me remember why I became a musician in the first place: to let my imagination run wild. I’m reminded here of an interview with the author Jonathan Franzen where he says “I think it is what the serious writer is needed for now: to assert the right to imagine.” I can think of few musicians who would disagree if we replaced ‘writer’ with ‘composer’ or ‘performer’. Maybe it’s just worth remembering that you also have the power to unlock that right for others – something all music should aspire to do.

–Louis d’Heudieres

Better Know A Weisslich: David Pocknee

Political activism, text score calendars, and reconquering musical complexity for the untrained performer are all part of WEISSLICH co-curator David Pocknee‘s unapologetically eccentric output. In a random order, here are some of the things that I love about his work.

The New Fordist Organisation, a group of composers and artists of which David is a part, who apply the principles of industrialised mass-production to artistic creation. Three of my favourite things that David contributed to their exhibition at GEMAK, The Hague, in 2013 (although the many wonderful things they create deserve to be explored in full) include:

a computer-driven method for composition, which lets you improvise an orchestral piece with a MIDI controller and simultaneously writes the score. Efficiency is maximised to the point where you can produce a 10 minute orchestral work in 20 minutes.

An efficiency-saving method for painting which uses a computer to analyse an image and break it up into individual brush strokes of different colours. Any untrained painter can then reproduce the image by copying the brush stroke he or she is told to apply by the computer, which projects these onto the canvas.

An efficiency-saving method for showing untrained performers how to play the piano by transferring the notes of a musical score into a sequence of lights which is projected onto the keys of a piano, showing the performer which key to press at which time.

What I especially like about these works is that they walk the tight-rope between irony and po-faced seriousness beautifully, something which comes back again and again in David’s work. Yes, the whole thing can be read as a critique of (post-)industrial capitalism, but the works the New Fordist Organisation creates in the process are so formally and conceptually interesting that could just as well be appreciated in and of themselves. So you go between these two poles, unsure as to whether the pieces should be seen only as criticisms or whether you are meant to enjoy the sounds/shapes/movements/words they make. Also, check out their beautifully produced exhibition catalogue.

Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012) is best described as a concert hall work of musico-political activism. In this piece, the instrumentation and musical material reflects the fact that between 2009 and 2012, Asko|Schönberg ensemble received the fifth highest amount of state funding amongst Dutch ensembles, and, in 2011, spent more than half of their concerts performing one piece, Kurt Weill’s Threepeny Opera. The piece does what so much music wants to do but shies away from: talk explicitly about what is necessary for musical practitioners to receive state subsidies for art and culture, a process which, as is made evident in the piece, is too often embroiled in

appealing to the only criteria that modern western-european governments think is a judge of quality: profitability and popularity. – David Pocknee, Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012)

The performance comes complete with diagrams showing the flow of public subsidy for the arts in the Netherlands.

On a similar theme is Economics (2010), a piece saturated in socio-political irony where the performers throw money on each other’s scores to dictate how and what they play. The score notes that

It is probably best to make a note of how much money you put into the piece before starting. This prevents fights. Players can ask the audience for money. This is a form of public subsidy. – David Pocknee, Economics (2010)

A wonderfully raucous recording can be heard below, where one performer in particular is being pretty heavily invested in.

The first time I got to know David in flesh and blood was through the Text Score A Day project, which had him brushing each tooth with an individual toothbrush, finding all the possible permutations of four plastic cups, and shouting at an imaginary dog to ‘drop it’ for an unadvisedly long period of time, at the first WEISSLICH concert in 2014. The Text Score A Day project involved one text score comprising no more than 140 characters being tweeted each day, every day, for one year between 2012-2013, on the Twitter account @textscoreaday. True to text score tradition, some are thought experiments, provocations, statements, meditations, temptations, fantasies or witticisms as much as (or as well as) instructions to action. The project has now been turned into an online calendar which will renew itself for all eternity. You can see what today’s text score is here.

As well as making concert hall music, art installations, and online text score libraries, David writes essays and publishes journals, tackling subjects as diverse as sadomasochism, virtuosity, human sexuality or indeed public funding and sub-prime culture. You’ll most likely find some strand of conceptual thinking in his piece for the upcoming concert. What I’ve given you here is really the tip of the iceberg as far as his output is concerned, so for the curious amongst you who want to open the pandora’s box that is his brain, I strongly recommend visiting his website: http://www.davidpocknee.com/

-Louis d’Heudieres