Friday, September 29, 2006

behold! The DOLLYman!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity acheived in last 24 hours: 0
Hair day: fringe pinned back Gwen Stefani-style except much less dramatic

Have been absorbing lovely cultural stuff in all colours of the rainbow recently. Buddy Cat and I finally saw the Kandinsky exhibition at the Tate; it was such a unabashed orgy of colours and shapes I felt slightly drunk after about the 3rd roo. Still, it was fascinating to see the progression from charming early Russian folk art-inspired stuff to the later works which boiled down the previously-painted villagescapes to abstract forms. I'd have loved to have seen what came next: the exhibition stopped with 20 years of painting left in the man; that said, I'd have been drooling and giggling on the floor had I been exposed to much more.

Last weekend I jollied up to my second home to grace the premiere of my whopping 'dusksongs: music for Compline' in York Minster. I was soooo pleased with it - with hefty candelabras fatly dripping wax in the reverberant round of Chapter House, it couldn't help but be hauntingly atmospheric, but happily all the notes seemed to work too! It ended up being a major piece, lasting 45 minutes, comprising prayers, hymns, responses etc which mashed up English, Latin, a bit of Scottish Gaelic and a touch of Ancient Greek. Absolutely all credit to Paul Gameson and The Ebor Singers, whose commission granted me a lovely rich summer of writing (like, for money!), and who did an ace job. They'll be recording it next month.

I am now an online reviewer for spnm, meaning I get sent the odd CD to critique and get free tickets to gigs I would like to go to anyway! Reviewing can be a tricky job for someone who is compelled to be nice to everyone at all times even when she doesn't want to due to an over-developed fear of confrontation. So naturally I'm slightly terrified that the artists of the CDs I've written about so far will see the more negative comments and track me down and pummel me to a pleading, take-it-all-back pulp.

Still, it won't be a problem when writing about last night at the Barbican, which over two weeks celebrates the work of just-turning-70 Steve Reich. This inaugural gig forged collaborations between dance and Reich's music, and mostly was fabulously successful. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker showcased two audacious piece based on some of his most hardcore work, the incredibly minimal 'Piano Phase' and 'Violin Phase'. With the adept use of lighting and a screen, the music was inately reflected in the limited, pirouetting gestures of the dancers, who wheeled and spun so frequently I'm amazed they didn't spiral off the stage and into the adoring audience. Less convincing was the new commission by Richard Alston, with ever-changing, mildly playful dancing from a large ensemble; that said, Reich's 'Proverb' seemed a rather dull piece, so no love lost there. Andy joined me in time to see the most visceral, soulful work, by the omnipresent Amran Khan (fresh from collaborations with the likes of Sylvie Guillem and Anthony Gormley). Three lithe, lovely men clad in Kathak-inspired dress danced funkily and energetically all over the stage to a great new work by Reich for vibes, pianos and strings. The sublime moment came when the dancers 'conducted' the music in exaggerated moves and had the real conductor join them; it was so refreshing to see the man at the helm's movements not just as a mad hand-waving to keep time but rather a series of beautiful gestures. The whole piece was completely fantastic, and left me weeping and hopping up and down with excitement.

Phew. I don't have a single night free for the next two weeks what with gigs, juice rehearsals, more Reich-reviewing and gigs, and now rehearsals with newly-formed composer's collective/band DOLLYman. We saw the name scratched into a train window and thought it a hilarious mixture of creepy and cute. Mostly creepy. Of course, I've now discovered that Dollyman is also a Negril-based reggae star. Perhaps people rolling up to our debut gig supporting juice at the Redgate Gallery on October 28th will be rather disappointed to hear avant-jazz/classical/rock played by string bass, basset clarinet and melodica. Ho ho.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Hair day: Newly-chopped by meek chap with afro at Vision in the silly heart of Shoho. Not as anarchic as before, but Andy informs me I look slightly less like a militant lesbian with this look.

Well, I'm facing 7 packed weeks of school madness (with a few juice gigs, some research for Music Orbit - new music networking organisation run by composer Colin Riley - and proposals for composer-in-residence posts thrown in for good measure) on the flipside of a sausage and mash-fuelled sleep tonight. Ugh. Well, I have to earn proper money in order to rent my lovely basement flat in Bethnal Green somehow, I suppose.

Still, I made the most of my last weekend of freedom by ploughing the culturally-fertile fields of London town. This began with a visit to the inexplicably-named Wormhole Saloon IV, a night of sound and art at Whitechapel Gallery (I’d popped into my local big gallery earlier in the day to see the splashy, slightly daft paintings of Albert Oehlen). We were there to support visual partner-in-crime Harry's quirky film work in collaboration with baffling sound-art DJ Ash Sargent. But before that we had to wade through all manner of ludicrously pretentious artwank nonsense in the packed bar and surrounding rooms. Now, remember, I am a fairly avant-garde-minded kinda gal, and can take all sorts of challenging mixed media installations involving living rooms being recreated in galleries and music sampling insect sounds and text projected onto icebergs. But a man in his underpants steadfastly fixing lollipop sticks to his head with a gluegun is silly. Two bellowing opera singers, a trombonist and a flautist trying to make their music (timed with stopwatches) heard in a rammed, steamy bar full of massive-specced, angular-haired East Londoners who loudly ignore them is silly. A girl who invites you to ink-stamp her seated, utterly naked form with words like 'choice', 'vulnerable' and 'communication' is not only silly but incredibly Yoko Ono and thus incredibly over. It wasn't a club night, wasn't dedicated enough to performance to be a live music night, and the brain-melting wall of industrial noise generated by bowing kitchen implements meant it wasn't just a bar either. Whilst I may have bumped into Enrico and Eric of excellent music producers 'no-signal' and star-spotted the maverick avant-folk urchin Leafcutter John and his musician buddy Simon Bookish, it was all just too silly, and we were all grateful to fall out of the gallery and have some beers on scummy Whitechapel Road outside Indo instead. There was even a bit of an fight (or a 'frac-art' as my friend Cat wittily coined it) after DJ Ash had accidentally left a little strip-light on as the next film in the auditorium took over, meaning lots of shouting (obviously the effect was ruined) from the stalls and a few too many arch words in the doorway later. Crumbs.

Aaanyway, Andy and I ignored London for most of Saturday, stapling ourselves to the sofa for a diet of toast, tea, biscuits and football but roused ourselves to get to Dalston for a decent Vietnamese in an unprepossessing old bathhouse and drinks in the super-lovely pub the Talbot. Alas, the completely brill-looking Dalston Jazz Café was stuffed to the gills and we sloped home.

Today, we caught the tail-end of the Tour of Britain at the Mall (ie, stood around, then cheered for the two seconds in which 30 cyclists buzzed past in a flash of neon pink and yellow, adverts on two wheels with all the sponsorship logos plastered all over them) and popped into the ICA for refreshments and an extremely brief glance at the Surprise, Surprise exhibition. The concept is that artists, all hefty names (Hirst, Chapman, Gursky, Ofili), show something very unlike their known body of work, to turn expectations on their heads, and challenge the audience into viewing the work based simply on the content rather than with a name attached. I did find myself wondering who's was who's (information was only put in the accompanying brochure, not beside the works), but there's a lesson to be learnt as to why we haven't seen these pieces before. It is because they are, frankly, a bit rubbish.

Rather more fun was the Passion for Paint exhibition at the doughty old National Gallery. I'm not a fan of pre-1900 stuff generally, but could still see the appeal of grand renaissance works amidst the swathes of paint in the more modern stuff from Bacon et al. My favourites were both produced only last year: there was a very cool, vibrantly metallic homage to Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and best of all, a brilliant, funkily colourful work by a Taiwanese artist, which was practically 3D in its layered, holographic colours, with hints of traditional Taiwan art and graphic novel imagery.

Art lecture over. But hey, this weekend, along with many other epiphanies like walking towards the Gherkin through Whitechapel Market whilst a helicopter takes off from the Royal Hospital, makes me not take London for granted. I love that Ken has put up his 'We are Londoners' signs. Of course, living in this bulging city comes with the paranoia of terrorist threats, the muck, the constant rush to be somewhere, but that's what comes from being here, in the centre of the damn world.

Right, back to school…..

And the mass* is finished! Go in peace etc, ho ho.

* The evening mass I have been writing for the Ebor Singers in York Minster next month, that is…