Monday, November 23, 2009

Cultcha Vultcha

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: hhm, 0.
Reading: Graham Swift's rather lightweight novella' Saturday'
Hair day: Am addicted to plaiting the longest bits of my fringe and then releasing for 80's crimped look.

It's been a Superweek in terms of cultural shenanigans: I first took Andy to a Words on Monday event at King's Place, where we were treated to a brain-massage of verbosity from the esteemed panel of Simon Schama, Tony Benn, Polly Toynbee and Geoffrey Robinson QC, discoursing on the topic of 'The Art of Rhetoric'. It didn't really matter what they were saying in the end: the joy was in hearing of each of them launch forth in a probably more impressive manner than many of the politicians they were dissecting. Simon Schama was easily the most showy, his liquidy presenter's voice rolling loquaciously over such figures as FDR, Lincoln and Obama. Polly Toynbee was more measured, Geoffrey Robinson could have quite easily been lounging in an old leather armchair, swilling scotch in a thick-bottomed glass, such was his confidently relaxed, richly posh tones (well, he is used to the pressure of prosecuting war criminals) but Tony Benn knocked spots off them, impressive simply by his accumulated experience. The others weren't able to give anecdotes about what Winston said in 1942, or indeed give their initial 15-minute speech without notes, as he did, all with a voice that sounds like he's permanently sucking on a Werther's Original. A real pleasure.

juice had a trip to see jazz/soul legend Cleveland Watkiss celebrate his 50th birthday at the QEH. It was a shame not to see of his solo loop station work, but we still saw a taste of his more exploratory side, the best being a trio with Talvin Singh and kora player Tunde Jegede. Yesterday I caught another of my 'Beginning with Blobs' shows (which I did the 45-min soundtrack for), which has come a long way since the first performance. Andy and I then made our annual trip to the BBC Wildlife Photography exhibition, always an utter delight, both for marvelling at the natural world and for technical and aesthetic artistry. Highlights included a teenager's shot of a deer caught in a half-lit woodland canopy, and flocks of starlings made as abstract as charcoal flicks in the black and white category. The under-10s category is always unbelieveable, though their precociousness shines through in their blurbs which say things like: 'I took this unusual photo of a silverback gorilla eating an ostrich whilst on holiday in Uganda with my father; I was just trying to capture the beauty of the strangler fig trees when the gorilla just appeared from nowhere. I was in grave danger but the gorilla realised I was an unthreatening posh kid and carried on as normal'. I think I actually agreed with the winner this year: an incredible image of a Spanish wolf jumping over a gate, a startlingly unusual impression of a fairytale animal who looks like he's just gobbled Red Riding Hood.

Finally we caught the end of the London Phil's weekend celebration of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (the first time I heard his name was when I was a teenager at a composition course; my tutor said my work reminded him of Schnittke. At least I think that's what he said. Arf) at the QEH. He's described in Time Out this week as 'polystylistic' which is as near as dammit: the composer piles in all sorts of musical references (blues, Viennese waltzes, hymns) to a point of near-vulgarity. Still, vulgar or no, it was mostly pretty enjoyable, barring the first piece for solo viola and string orchestra, dull as dishwater. The strings were from the RCM, though all looked about 12; they remained for the rest of the first half, both for the Piano Concerto and Concerto Grosso 1. The concerto featured Boris Petrushansky, surely the Russian Jerry Lee Lewis of the 20th-century classical world, coming right off his stool on a couple of ferocious occasions. The concerto grosso starred a lovely bit of clunky prepared piano, and two violinists who were supposed to fizz with romantic tension; however, the leads lacked the necessary Brangelina vibe, though they did belt out some niftily mental Baroque flourishes. The Yellow Sound was a more convincing affair, fitting nicely alongside music-theatre works by Berio with a muttering cast of vocalists, unusual chamber ensemble and drifting soprano soloist messing about with lights. Though the Schnittke vulgarity couldn't hold be restrained, and the whole thing ended with a scream and rather doom-laden schlocky organ chords, like the finale to a Hammer Horror film. Love it!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fire Works!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7.5
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Watching: The marvellous, if hilariously over-animated, Andrew Marr's 'The Making of Modern Britain'
Hair Day: fashioning new occasional trademark hairstyle of two little plaits from fringe going over like a hairband. YES!

juice did possibly their most intimate gig ever in Thursday, gracing the extremely bijou preserved drawing room of the Handel House Museum. Trust me, if you've craved the experience of real juice-spit in your eye and the deafening screech of our herding calls actually making your inner ear spin like a top in a hurricane, you missed a treat! But it was a very evocative experience, singing in the ultra-crisp acoustic of the tiny wood-panelled chamber, though hopefully the setting didn't confuse any juice virgins in the audience into thinking we were going to trill pretty Baroque shingalings - our slightly more contemporary fare, guttural gruntings et al, are a leetle more 21st-century than early 18th...

Had a rather lovely weekend of Londonness, first of all at the Kingdom of The Fireworks, the Tower Hamlets Borough Council's annual all-out extravaganza, which they must surely blow most of their budget on ('Recycling? Fresh road markings? Pah, we'll just send a load of mega-rockets into the air!'). But it does draw the hugest and most beautifully mixed crowd of multi-ethnic families and East London Coolios to Victoria Park, and every year the show is sensational. They seem to have forgone the attempts at a pre-fireworks narrative (though their near life-size recreation of a burning Houses of Parliament, the crowd baying for more as it fell apart, lives long in the memory) now, and this year's show, entitled 'Great Balls of Fire' simply combined huge flaming jets which licked the sky with a preposterously over-the-top display, all set to '50s and '60s conflagration-themed tunes. Kudos for the heart-shaped bursts and the perfectly-timed halos to Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire'! The whole neck-craning affair is like a VJ-ed mash-up of the end-of-2001: A Space Odyssey and the Death Star explosion, with a load of kids waving triumphant plastic lightsabres for good measure. Fabulous.

On Sunday, Andy and I walked the grey, drizzly North Bank of the Thames before visiting the Ed Rushca exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. This retrospective of a 50-year career merging graphic design, American typography and abstract/not-so-abstract painting was a robust affair, fascinating in its exploration of words as images. I grappled with the ideas of words having no size, of trying (and failing) to extrapolate a word from its meaning, of how the typography is as inherently iconic as the meaning of the word it's wearing. His later work was generally not so engaging, apart from strange, ghostly images of wolves and Midwest churches done only in black with spraycans. Then to the Curzon to see Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, finally, which I've been desperate to see after catching her first feature, Red Road, in all its searingly thrilling glory. Her second film was no less blazing, a tenderly raw story of estate teen life laid bare, with little flares of beauty in the grime, and featuring a quite unsettlingly sexy turn from Michael Fassbender. Arnold is a massively talented writer-director, fiercely real and -I think - inherently female, and I can't wait to see what she does next. We finished off by stuffing our bellies full of heart-palpitatingly salty, oily pasta at our fave Italian, Ciao Bella in Bloomsbury, whilst the pianist played a jazz version of The Godfather theme just in case we thought were at a Japanese joint. Tee hee.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Watching: The most disturbing tongue in the world, courtesy of the geckos on BBC1's 'Life'
Hair Day: flyweight

Bookending a quite horrific gum infection (pain level from 0-10: THREE THOUSAND, plus added beating of breast and mangled wailing through a jaw that could only open 2 centimetres) was a lovely gig and some great work. Last midweek we went to the Efterklang/Britten Sinfonia-Jaga Jazzist show at the Barbican, for some hardcore Scandi-alt-rock action. Jaga Jazzist are a slightly flexible Norwegian collective who peddle avant-math chamber-rock; they're a dash of Belle Orchestre and a pinch of Bang on a Can, with flashes of zingy electronica. Almost all multi-instrumentalists, (you don't see many girls doubling up on flute, glock, voice and tuba), the 11 musicians went at it rather full-pelt the whole time, with not enough spaciousness and rather too much reverb for me, but it was nice to hear space disco with added bass clarinet. Efterklang, recreating their last album Performing Parades in collaboration with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra here in London with Britten Sinfonia, was an unbounded joy from beginning to end. Their brand of gently euphoric ensemble vocals, unusual chamber ensemble (often including things like clogs pattering percussively on the stage and little organ) and intricate orchestration made for a heart-melting experience. With the added effect of their innocently-bright pendant-adorned costumes, it was like being led into heaven by a load of blissfully happy Danish scout leaders.

With gum still throbbing, the juicettes drove to deepest darkest Kent for a couple of days of workshopping with our bestest artvocal chum, Mikhail, and assorted other lovely vocalists E.Laine, Ben, Conal and Amy. Mikhail is devising his 'exploded opera', Xenon: a fabulously imaginative idea in which the elements of his opera (video, installation, vocal performance, etc) are separated and performed at various East Kent venues and festivals next year. Mikhail had hired the most amazing barn for us to live and work in, a sort of 'James Bond Does Countryside' or, as Ben put it, like being on MTV Cribs. So we feasted well, watched the sheep hanging around like gum-chewing teenagers on street corners, and worked on various vocal/theatrical tasks Mikhail set us, before coming together on the last day with an artist and performer who will be reciting the Declaration of Human Rights. Great to have the time to explore new ways to improvise within juice too: it's rather luxurious to be paid to a) send a note round juice trying to make it sound like one person and b) tickle Anna whilst she's trying to sing 'Ave Maria'...ha.