We all agreed from the outset of preparing tomorrow’s 10th volume of Weisslich 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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
As part of WEISSLICH Vol. 9 on 13th and 14th January 2017, the New York-based supergroup of experimental performer-composers, Ensemble Pamplemousse, will be presenting a new hour-long set of music in Manchester and London, composed and performed by their members, marking the first time they have ever played in the UK.
Formed in 2003, the pamplemousses are David Broome (keys), Natacha Diels (flutes), Andrew Greenwald (drums), Bryan Jacobs (electronics), Jessie Marino (cello), and newest member Weston Olencki (trombone). In the ensemble’s characteristically hyperbolic language, they self-define their fruit-rooted namesake (pamplemousse is the French word for grapefruit) accordingly:
(pãpl?’musjee z) (singular: pamplemousse) 1. n. an oblate spheroid 2. v. the act of dissecting and conceiving acoustic blueprints 3. adj. juicy and sweet and tender and tart 4. v. aggregating sonic possibilities into shapes of resonance, clusters of glitch, skitters of hyperaction, and masses of absurdity 5. q. Whodipousse?
Much like the grapefruit, there are several benefits, as well as side effects, of experiencing Ensemble Pamplemousse live.
1) Energy Boosting / David Listening to David’s previously composed work is like getting a shot of Vitamin C (and a little something extra) straight into the bloodstream. It’s instantaneously exhilarating, and won’t let go. For someone who has a hyperactive mind, this music is moving along at just the right pace! For the concerts in January, David has facilitated the creation of a piece titled 🗿🎀🐛🗯 (which, for the emoji illiterate, David translates to: “Moai Bow-Tie Caterpillar Shout”). David writes that this piece is “a collaboratively written piece by Ensemble Pamplemousse. David started the process by cutting and pasting material for flute, piano and electronics from previously composed pieces by Bryan and Natacha. The piece was then sent to Andrew, who composed a cello part and then sent all the material to Weston, who wrote himself a trombone part to fit into the mix.”
2) Dream Enhancing / Natacha Natacha has been writing a series of neurotic and fairytale-like “nightmares,” many of which Ensemble Pamplemousse has been experiencing since 2012, that, in her own words, “explode the minute gestures executed by performers through choreography, repetition, and counterpoint.” For January’s concerts, Natacha will be presenting her fourth nightmare in which the identity of their drummer Andrew is fractured and splintered into multiple personalities that seep into an infected set of auxiliary performers (Jessie and David) who are subjected into being “bizarre click tracks” and who are all ultimately accompanied by disco lights. Talk about vivid!
3) Pulpy Fulfillment / Andrew For the last five years Andrew has been reworking a series of compositions under the title A Thing is a Hole in a Thing it is Not that are derived from meticulously notated transcriptions of complex improvisations. Each reworking is a manifestly different execution of the same idea. More fundamentally though, as a sonic experience, these pieces are extra pulpy. At every turn, there’s the possibility getting an earful of semi-thawed icey, condensed, and gritty goodness that slushes its way to and through the cochlea as a cluster of vibrations. Set in counterpoise with flickering sustained tones that allow time to process the condensed juices, the slush of compressed information melts into a fulfilling musical liquid. And, gulp!, a hole is created, into which another icey pact of pulp comes to fill. Our audience will experience the fourth reworking of this series in January.
4) Unparalleled Precision / Bryan Many of Bryan’s pieces of music exhibit a laser-cut rhythmic precision, with crisp breaks and interlocking between members of the ensemble that often unfold at a dizzyingly manic pace. This is music that the computers responsible for high-frequency algorithmic micro-trading on the stock market listen to. Yes, experience Ensemble Pamplemousse and you too can make multiple, highly volatile trading decisions and transactions in the blink of an eye, or is it ear … who’s keeping track (no one, that’s who)! Bryan’s January surprise includes a new version of Organic Synthesis Vol. 1 for two groups of mechanically-controlled slide whistles that face-off with cello, percussion, and trombone.
5) Organised Absurdity / Jessie Jessie’s work in general sets the absurdity of everyday activities into tightly controlled and organised musical structures, with examples ranging from an early morning radio broadcast of nonchalant DJ’s eventually encompassed in an all engulfing brightness of noise, the mechanical processing of foodstuffs, all the way to a rhythmically anticipated yet totally unexpected appearance of Boyz II Men’s I’ll Make Love to You. This is work that casts a musical sensibility across those Kafka-esq mundanities of life such as: getting the right tone for that email to a colleague who doesn’t quite understand your fabulous sense of humor, those endless handshakes in that unfortunately not hypothetical business job you never wanted, or those hundreds of wrench turns during an emergency plumbing visit. We haven’t the slightest idea what Jessie will be doing in January, and we like it that way!
6) A Sense of Familial Belonging Before writing this listicle, I wrote Jessie to ask some questions about the ensemble and how everybody gets along with each other. I wanted to know how they work with each other, what the day to day grind is like. During our correspondence, Jessie communicated to me that, fundamentally, Ensemble Pamplemousse is built on friendship. With her permission, I am sharing what she wrote about their ensemble because I think that it exemplifies the conditions necessary for such individual and idiosyncratic musical art to be created, and is part of what makes me so happy to be able to share their work with audiences in Manchester and London through the WEISSLICH platform:
“We are an ensemble that has always worked together first as friends. We never adopted the ensemble model that substitutes other players in when someone can’t make the gig. If one person can’t make the gig, we don’t do the gig (or we play pieces written for a specific subset of the group).
“Friendship is, for all of us, crucial and undeniable – we book shows, go on tours, eat breakfast and keep trying to find ways of being together within a creative and lively atmosphere. We are a support system, a family, a band, and a critical audience. It’s the only way we want to make music, it’s the only way we know how.”
Pamplemousse have made some incredible trailers throughout their 13 year run of music making, and their newest one in particular is something truly spectacular to behold. However, I think that the following trailer for a 2015 concert at Jack Theater in New York is a perfect illustration of the friendship that ties together these diverse personalities and gives prospective audience members a taste for how this ensemble operates:
Come reap the benefits of a fresh slice of Ensemble Pamplemousse.
Nobody likes being put into a box – there’s something existentially horrifying receiving an email entitled something like “thought you might find this interesting” with a link to a website or article, only to find the sender was right – I do find it interesting! – am I that predictable? I think if I ever wrote an autobiography it would consist solely of the links contained in these types of emails – a portrait of how other people perceive me.
So there’s something similarly scary about Jennifer Walshe’s New Discipline moniker, most comprehensively laid out in the May 2016 issue of Musiktexte (http://musiktexte.de/MusikTexte-149/en). Walshe says:
“The New Discipline” is a term I’ve adopted over the last year. The term functions as a way for me to connect compositions which have a wide range of disparate interests but all share the common concern of being rooted in the physical, theatrical and visual, as well as musical; pieces which often invoke the extra-musical, which activate the non-cochlear. In performance, these are works in which the ear, the eye and the brain are expected to be active and engaged. Works in which we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies.”
However, if one ignores the fear of being so easily categorizable, one of the great things about this type of genre-coining and artist-grouping, is that by putting everything in one place, it allows you to find out about people whose work you really should already be familiar with – for me, one of those people was Kara Feely.
But wait – full disclosure – I’ve never seen any of Feely’s work live and as Walshe points out, in this type of work “we understand that there are people on the stage, and that these people are/have bodies” – and Feely’s work seems to demand this live experience. This is one of the reasons we wanted to programme it, as well as there being something palpably exciting about some of the concepts and ideologies that occur in Object Collection’s vast output of operas that they’ve been creating since 2005 e.g. their latest opera It’s All True which consists of cut-up transcriptions of between-song “random bits of noise and chit-chat” taken from over 1000 hours of live concert recordings of a single post-hardcore band and “none of the songs”:
Wait, let me back up a bit more – I think I actually first came across Kara Feely’s work in the 2015 Experimental Music Yearbook (http://www.experimentalmusicyearbook.com/I-DIDN-T-REALLY-PREPARE-FOR-THIS-BUT-PROBABLY-THAT-IS-BEST) where the score of her piece I DIDN’T REALLY PREPARE FOR THIS BUT PROBABLY THAT IS BEST was featured. Not that I want to let facts get in the way of a good story. There was something beautiful about the thinking behind this piece – simple focused actions, layered over the top of each other, with an implicit tension built into the actions, as the score asked performers to :
“execute an everyday, mundane, household activity that is difficult to do quietly, as quietly as possible. The task can be executed very slowly, or repeated, in order to fill the time. The goal is to make as little noise as possible, but still execute the task.”
Kara Feely’s I DIDN’T REALLY PREPARE FOR THIS BUT PROBABLY THAT IS BEST
In a lot of ways it seems that the video above doesn’t seem to quite do the work justice as, in her essay in Musiktexte, Feely talks about the role of visual saturation and the agency of watching:
“Object Collection pieces are frequently an unrelenting, diffuse mass of sweaty actors moving furniture, rummaging through piles of debris, and looking impenetrably at the audience; musicians counting off on the side, ping pong balls in one hand, an instrument in the other; and lots and lots (and lots) of stuff. What is an audience member supposed to do when there’s too much to watch? I’ve always found this situation comforting, because when there is too much to watch, you get to choose what to watch. Getting to choose what to watch gives you agency, and thereby actives
how you watch. Nobody is going to process the piece in the same way, because nobody is going to be watching the same thing.”
Weirdly, this echoes some of Ferneyhough’s thinking behind the density of his own music (although probably with less ping pong balls), and perhaps explains why there are so few Object Collection videos online – video reduces viewing agency, it shows you how and where to watch, reducing the chaos.
Two of the works being performed at Weisslich tonight – New Names Not New Things (2011) and HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE FIRES OF BROOKLYN (2012) – were included in Object Collection‘s New York Girls performance (http://www.objectcollection.us/projects/new-york-girls/ performance) and along with the work Map Piece I’ll be excited to finally experience this work with real bodies in a real space.
One of the fears I have when writing these blogs about the performers and composers we program, is the fear of misrepresenting them. So, what is below might have nothing to do with the way Charlie Sdraulig views his work but it’s some of the things I think about when I experience it. Ultimately, you should check it out yourself and make up your own mind.
In computer game design, there is an idea called “systemic narrative”, a term used to describe narrative events which emerge spontaneously from the interactions of independent game mechanics. This is most often found in open-world “sandbox” games. In his discussion of “systemic narrative” on the youtube channel “Game Maker’s Toolkit” https://www.youtube.com/user/McBacon1337/featured, writer Mark Brown discusses the emergent properties of interlocking systems in the game Far Cry 3 and 4, describing it thus
“In Far Cry 4, it’s not uncommon to see an enemy fighter tangle with a tiger, or an eagle carrying off a pig, but they’re not completely scripted sequences, just the byproduct of systems allowed to interact with one another… Ubisoft calls the game an “anecdote factory” …” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyMndWpihTM
One could perhaps see Charlie Sdraulig’s pieces as similar “anecdote factories”, in which rules and systems of interactions are set up to govern the interaction of the performers. This approach could be traced back to earlier precedents such as Christian Wolff’s For Pianist /Duo For Pianists I & II, or seen in James Saunders’ recent music. But the difference in Sdraulig’s music is the reduced sphere of action in which these interactions take place. His work for Distractfold Ensemble, binary presents, on the surface, an almost undifferentiated plane of white noise. Yet within this, a whole flurry of interactional activity occurs in the relationship between the performers. At different moments, each player is asked to check on the relationship between their own action and that of another player, adjusting their playing accordingly e.g. in the violin part on page two, the player is asked the question:
Of the other players also in position one, whose volume level is closest to mine?
Listen to that player’s rate of pitch change
Is the sound changing pitch more often than mine?
Yes => Gradually increase your finger pressure.
No => Gradually lower your finger pressure.
This is a process I have referred to elsewhere as “parameter mapping” – the mapping of data from one parameter (velocity of pitch) onto another (finger pressure). Here a simple question re-orients the player’s listening and the relationship between themselves and the whole.
While this might be perceived as abandoning a certain amount of control to the whims of environmental sound, what better anecdotes are there than those that arise spontaneously from the world around us?
Charlie will be performing his new work emulator (2015-16) for sensor augmented cymbal and electronics at Weisslich Vol 8 on 23rd July 2016, 8pm at Hundred Years Gallery.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Lilian is making a new work for Weisslich Vol. 8, this Saturday 23rd July at 8pm, Hundred Years Gallery.
“This first thing that we do when we come out of [the] womb is we take a breath. And the last thing that we do when we die is the breath runs out of our body.
“And then there’s this gap. There’s this kind of fascinating pause that comes at the end of an inhale, and it’s this space where everything drops away. When you’re giving it attention it’s very subtle, but it’s a moment of actual liberation. It’s not when you are gripped in the inhale at the end of it, but it’s more that gap that opens up just before the breath that is given.”
– Joan Halifax
Life—that space between the inhalation of birth and exhalation of death—is such a gap, an expanded gap filled with many such infinitesimally shorter gaps, what Evan Thompson describes as “hinge[s] … where the mind and body swing back and forth.”
* * *
Composer Antonia Barnett-McIntosh and flautist Ilze Ikse have come together to form life out of breath in the collaboratively developed piece Breath for alto flute. Breath was commissioned by Hubbub, inaugural residents of The Hub at Wellcome Collection, an interdisciplinary research project aimed at transforming how we as humans understand rest. In a musical context, a breath can be understood as musical rest, a moment of repose. Inversely, breathlessness can both take form from and as exhaustion. Breath is (nearly) all breath; Ilze is required to, as Antonia states, “utilise each in- and out-breath in the creation of sound,” thereby rendering her and her performance breathless, without musical rest, always intensely alive.
* * *
It starts with a breath in.
Ilze breathes in.
I breathe in.
When I listen to Breath I breathe. I breathe with Ilze, not simply alongside, but at the same time, for the same duration, and in the same direction. I switch between breathing through my nose here, my mouth there, exploring what it means to remain relaxed, sometimes switching between different ventilation circuitry responsible for the circulation of shared air, sometimes, somewhere, unsure whether or not I am breathing through mouth or nose. The physicality of both bodies becomes emphatically sonified; I merge into the form of Breath, which is essentially a life form, a living form: Ilze’s breath and body. I am stretched; breaths in Breath are not natural, they are extended and exhausting, sometimes uneven and strained. Other times, unrestrained, they swell, they compel and propel me forward, excite my spectral inhales and exhales. Nevertheless, breathing abides by a rhythmic logic, in is followed by out is followed by in is followed by out, and so forth; breaths reassuringly comfort even while their limits are pushed. They are a guide through, and glue to, the extraordinarily diverse range of sounds coaxed out of the instrumental prosthesis, an instrumentalised lung. Sounds that modulate and colour my sensation of breathing, an upper harmonic that gently brushes up against a slight whistle passing through my nasal cavity, a deeply hollowed breeze that tugs my lips an inch wider ajar. Sounds that flicker on the threshold of stability, that imbue my voice with a silent, resonating Barthian ‘grain’ — “tas sadalās, krakšķ, glāsta, skrāpē, griež: tā ir ekstāze.”
My mouth and nose become breathing ears. They act as hinges where mind and body swing back and forth. They turn listening into mutually exhaustive rest. They feel and hear carnal being as musical being.
This is how I listen to Breath.
* * *
Film of Ilze Ikse performing Breath
* * *
Come listen to Ilze Ikse perform Breath live on the 23rd of July at the Hundred Years Gallery, 8pm, as part of the 8th volume of WEISSLICH.
A transcription, a representation, and a poetic response of/to Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 2:
* * *
…uh, someone splashing into a pool
uh, someone making bubble sounds
uh, uhmmuhm, applause, crowd clapping
aaa baby, uhm some church bells really kind of slow and long
aaan then there’s this kind of synth sound
someone blowing bubbles into water, kind of, an, uh, electronic buzz
really high pitched bubbles
someone crumpling a piece of paper, uhm rain
uh, a kind of filtered rain
falling on the roof
tennis, someone coughing, uh…
slightly lower pitched
um, someone doing a pump
um, water dribbling?
someone panting, kind of breathing really heavily
oh! it’s a hair dryer or like a vacuum-cleaner, or like a, a machine or something
it’s quite loud
it’s getting louder
oh, filter sweep
oh!! tennis again!
church bells uh, out in the street
uhhh, and then, uh there’s a kind of, uh, low drone, uhm it’s somebody talking I think
uhm, uh, another pump going
uh, some mout(h)—
white noise getting louder
white noise getting louder
few suds in the background
* * *
* * *
uh, hmm, I can’t swim
and the glare of bubbles eluded me as a child
pop pop pop, one exaggerated step away from Community and applause, take a bow
too familiar to be generalised, yes, church was slow and long
I’m told that old men become obsessed with their synths
they start making impossible spheres underwater, frying their boards, catching the waves
pip pip pip
metaphorically trashing their receipts, calming, fixating
and then fascinating, or wait, is that the right order?
um, asthmatics dread a courting with April showers, speaking ahem, croup, personally
or maybe candidly, whatever that might mean Robert Ashley
£5.97 friction fictions found online
splip splop or glarble gibpt dropp?
gnashgnawgrumble and grump, whew!
OH! wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, err, veeeeeeeeeeeee, or maybe cheeeeeee?
does that mean come closer?
what a, a scent
the world turns, or moves, vibrates, can you feel the vibrations man?
err, peddle faster, repetition — effort can never be misplaced
wait! I was abou—
plip plip plip
wonder how my brother is keeping?
* * *
As part of WEISSLICH 7, Michael Baldwin and Andy Ingamells perform Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 2.
There are three films which I really like, all of which have, on paper, terrible premises:
Phone Booth (2002) – Colin Farrell in a phone booth for an hour and a half.
Buried (2010) – Ryan Reynolds in a box for an hour and a half.
Locke (2013) – Tom Hardy in a car for an hour and a half.
Yet all of these are fantastic films due, primarily, to the way in which their verbal description and the experience of that concept are fundamentally different things.
Perhaps one could add to that list the following performance:
The Ticklish Subject (2013) – Andy Ingamells is tickled for an hour and a half.
Sol LeWitt claims in his “Sentences On Conceptual Art” that “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” He is wrong.
People often talk about “conceptual” art work as if reading the description of a work is the same as experiencing it; as if someone’s detailed first-hand description of being attacked by a shark is the same as being attacked by a shark.
And a loosened concept of authorial ownership allows me to claim that the last shark attack was actually a work of art by myself. Or Andy Ingamells.
At its best, Andy’s work joyfully shows the beauty in the most banal ideas through a finessed execution. Take, for instance, his recent Composing music for 11 minutes dressed in 18th Century costume (2015) for ensemble and video, in which that act of composing becomes the sounding result, the process of writing resonating through the ensemble as they echo the construction of the notation in realtime.
Here, as in the best of his work, Ingamells directs us outwards towards several historical markers, the “18th Century costume” of the title worn by the composer and the musical material, and the contrast of candlelight with the harsh blue iridescence of the laptop, creating an historical anomaly.
Other times, the idea is so simple that only the most inept execution could kill it, such as his much seen Solo(2010), which combines pornography, masturbation and slide whistles to a sublime degree.
music which doesn’t take itself too seriously
“music” which doesn’t take itself too seriously
music which doesn’t take itself too “seriously”
“music” which doesn’t take itself too “seriously”.
Andy Ingamells does a bit of all four.
Much like the work of the squib-box group of artists, Andy’s work plays at the corners of visual art, music, and comedy – a trend perhaps most obvious in his Packaged Pleasure (2015), a 27-minute video combining many of his works into a hilarious meditation on vanity and narcissism.
Included in this work are extracts of several previous works worthy of mention: His Bowmanship, Tape Piece and a realisation of @textscoreaday’s #180: “Run 10km to a concert hall & immediately go onstage. The piece finishes when your breathing has returned to normal.” He was one of the contributors to the @textscoreaday project and performed the première of this work which involved him running 10km to a concert in Huddersfield with 3 bike horns in his mouth.
As part of WEISSLICH 7, Andy will be performing Bowmanship, Shh, and Tape Piece.