Better Know A Weisslich: Antonia Barnett-McIntosh & Ilze Ikse

“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.

–Michael Baldwin

Better Know A Weisslich: G Douglas Barrett

The ideas of a “cannon” and a “canon of works” have one thing in common: to use either seems pretty outdated. However, it would seem churlish to ignore the popularity of a particular work and its prevalence in concerts, even if we baulk from referring to it as a “classic” – a word which, whether referring to a musical work or a car, seems designed for middle-aged white men. One work which has become a frequent feature of concerts of experimental music is G Douglas Barrett’s A Few Silence (Location, Date, Time of Performance), a work which would classify as being over-played, if it wasn’t for the paucity of experimental music concerts and, more importantly, the way in which its construction is so contingent upon environment, performer, and instrument that each iteration reveals a new type of richness. A Few Silence engages with several recurrent aspects of Barrett’s work – transcription and the grid.

A Few Silence asks the performers to textually transcribe the environmental sounds over a five minute period and then to play their transcriptions using a pre-selected set of musical instruments or objects. The work forces the performers to articulate the nature of their listening, transcription and playing in a way which necessitates the insertion of multiple perceptual, imaginative and material grids between the original sound and its re-creation, resulting in an abstracted version of the original which foregrounds the traces of its cognitive and physiological journey. In the same way that a No-Input Mixer tells us how a particular mixer hears and “speaks” through the articulation of silence, Barrett’s piece uses the “silence” of environmental sound to show how a performer hears, how they describe that hearing, and how they interpret that description.

The idea of the grid comes back in his Derivation series of works, in which this abstraction is fed back into itself in a way that spirals each consecutive iteration further and further from its origination. Each work in the Derivation collection of works is a transcription of the previous one in the series, like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, each foregrounding its mode of listening and mode of transcription. a quantization of a quantization of a quantization…

Much like David Kant’s Happy Valley Band ( series of works, in which the disparity between human and machine listening is highlighted through performances of computerized transcriptions of popular song, here the aim seems to be to crowbar the act of transcription from any pretence of a faithful replication of “reality” and instead use the resulting void as a space for creativity.

Which brings us to the work being performed at Weisslich 6 and 7 A Few Marlenes (Where Have All The Flowers Gone), here, once again, the grid re-asserts its presence; Marlene Dietrich quantized and filtered through the physiology of three different performers. Film asks us to fill in and interpolate the movement between the 41.67 milliseconds that lie between each frame of a movie run at 24 frames per second. Here that grid is increased and orchestrated, and somewhere in that gap something else occurs.


Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands

Music stands evoke, well, music. To evoke music is to evoke a wide and connotative range of social, cultural, political, and aesthetic associations. Music stands complicate, they: conceal, render actions opaque and subservient, trigger imagination (and make the mind’s eye anxious to glimpse beyond the veil), assert status, are practical, signify practice and rehearsal (and if your experience with practicing was anything like mine, music stands can also signify immense frustration!), suggest reenactment and repeatability even when challenged, focus the gaze of those who chose to stare at them, imply reading or review, separate, distance, and otherise, can (but do not necessarily) turn performers into musicians (or performers into actors playing musician), indicate something like duration (especially when placed in a row of ten!), induce ways of listening and codes of conduct, populate a scenography… the list could go on.

[an exaggerated representation of Andy Ingamells’ Long Piece. Photo credit: 840 concert series]

From conception, the WEISSLICH series has worked to extend and blend experimental music practices into and alongside performance art practices. And while, on the one hand, music stands are a familiar object within experimental music contexts, on the other hand, in more purely performance-focused work, music stands are less common. Music stands have the ability to instate barriers between performer and audience, creating a division that runs contrary to what I regard as a commonly held (if not misguided and/or illusory) tenant of performance art, namely, its experiential immediacy. As curators, this tension leaves the music stand in an uncomfortable position; it is something that we often discuss when thinking about the work we programme, and thus far we have maintained an equally ambivalent (at best), and, quite candidly, uneasy relationship with music stands.

Regulars at our events will note that we have used music stands in the past, and because of the blurry space that our concerts occupy, we do not take a dogmatic position with regards to inclusion or dismissal of this object. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands”

Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz

Recently I have started telling people that there is a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre about a virus which lives in the vocal chords of humans and is transmitted to others via the host speaking a specific language. This is not a Jean-Paul Sartre story, in fact, it is the plot to the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. All this is to say that you don’t need a dead French philosopher to present a good idea, and that, much like this piece of writing attempts to do, sometimes approaching big ideas from oblique angles can illuminate facets that would otherwise be unseen. In her bigger, collaborative music-theatre works, Solomiya Moroz frequently does this – tackling big concepts with surreality, absurdity and a studied childishness (like being told about linguistic parasites by a man named “Skull Face”). In Short Wave Apocalypse or the Box, a collaboration with Eva Aukes, Marko Ivic and Margherita Bergamo, concepts of digitization and militarization in the work of Paul Virilio are combined with the caped adventures of superheroes and phone sex. The result marries recurrent aspects of Solomiya’s work – gestural controllers, theatre and multimedia – in a parade of increasingly bizarre theatrical, choreographic and musical episodes that points to the material from a distance, through a mist of dada-ed abstraction.

Superheroes and the Apocalypse teaser from Solomiya Moroz on Vimeo.

As well as her work as a composer, Solomiya works as an improvisor, flautist and electronic musician, frequently performing her own work and that of others. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz”

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: Samuel Stoll

Continuing the Better Know A Weisslich series inaugurated prior to Weisslich 4, we return to introduce Weisslich 5’s two featured artists: Samuel Stoll and Alice Purton.

First up is Samuel, a hornist and performer currently based in Berlin who will be performing Georgy Dorokhov’s counter-exposition-I, Stephen Crowe’s Tenvelopes, and a piece that him and I collaboratively developed titled Buzzed.

At every turn, Samuel is a surprising, versatile, and fascinating musician. Be it his eclectic repertoire, his unencumbered performance installations, or the extensive list of collaborators he has worked with, one gets the sense that Samuel is constantly renewing himself through his artistic practice. Searching the internet for ‘Samuel Stoll hornist’ can lead you down a rabbit hole of performances including, but not limited to: a man getting wet with his horns as he wades through a fountain, an archive of a man opening mysterious envelopes as prompted by a disembodied voice, a dazzling feat of gymnastics located between embrouchure and French horn mouthpiece, and this (which I still don’t really have words for).

Following something of a similar journey across Samuel’s wide-ranging output is precisely how I initially became aware of Samuel. One day, I had noticed that a new recording of Ray Evanoff’s Negotiating the Absolute Location of Buoyancy (that dazzling feat of gymnastics mentioned above) had surfaced. Captivated by the dexterity exhibited in Samuel’s performance of the piece, it wasn’t long before I was deep into a clickhole. On the other side, I was certain that I wanted to know more about this musician. The excitement that leapt across in his performances, the audacity and eschewal of modesty, a daring embrace of vulnerability in performance, all tempered by a palpable virtuosity combined to form an extremely attractive and rejuvenating personality.

So, I sent him an email, and off on another musical journey I went.

In a way that mirrors how I came to know Samuel – through the documentation of his performances – and also facilitates long-distance collaboration, we established a practice of exchanging media. This involves sending back and forth packages variably containing video and audio recordings of us musicking, text scores, suggestions for ways of listening to and looking at what we send to each other, and so on. These artefacts of performance/exchange in turn inform how we understand each other’s musical sensibilities, and in part constitute compositional material for finalised pieces emerging out of our collaboration.

Although I have since meet Samuel in person multiple times now, my feeling is that our relationship is somehow irrevocably conditioned by a type of digital logic. More fundamental though – our relationship is primarily performative. And so, as a way of giving potential audiences a taste for how Samuel and I work together and understand each other, as well as offering something like an insight into the piece that we have collaboratively developed, I present the following montage/teaser made up of some of the media that Samuel and I have exchanged with each other.

-Michael Baldwin

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.

[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!