Monday, January 31, 2011

Sexy Thermals

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 1
Reading: J.G.Ballard's dystopian novella High-Rise
Hair Day: rock 'n' roll
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 6: masses of clouds and blue sky

Have had a quite bonkers week of workshops and gigs and things, beginning up at Anna-juicette's temporary new home in the coun'ryside east of York. Juice gave a seminar and a composers' workshop at York University, in the latter being as versatile as attempting bars of 26/16, reversing words and growling on inbreaths - yowza. I dashed down to London to whip the Wigmore Hall Young Producers into shape (their curated concert in April is finally starting to take shape) then bounced straight back up to Leeds for a marathon day getting College of Music students to write (at least one of) us a vocal piece in 6 hours. They were nothing if not eclectic, with Berio-ish solos about bananas, me bashing my chest like a gorilla, African chants, loops, belting opera versus croony blues, and much more. Having performed them at the end of the day, I then hot-footed it to Santiago's for Leeds' premier cutting-edge jazz night, The Spin Off, to do a lonnngg late set (flippin' jazzers!) with Metamorphic, after which I was so tired I practically curled up on stage and conked out. 

Instead I had 3 hours' sleep and shivered on the train down to London at dawn under Metamorphic's Chris' big coat, and hooked up with juice again in Brighton for the final leg of Mikhail's 'exploded opera' project Xenon: recording a video. So it was back into my least-favourite-looking version of myself (the  besuited, hair-slicked-down office worker; for Anna and Sarah, it's a cool androgynous look, for me it's more an ugly NERDBOY) for a few hours in front of a dollying camera. When 'it's a wrap!' was finally called, my hair was spiked up so quick I probably looked like I'd jammed my finger in the nearest socket. Hur hur.
Finally on Saturday, juice and recorder quintet Consortium 5 gave the world premiere of Luke Styles' new piece for us, A Stratagem For Light, a 12-movement beastie with some exhilarating moments, particularly when all five 'corder gals were on the sopraninos, giving it some stratospheric welly along with us shrieking blue murder, and later the sound of five bass and sub-bass recorders bubbling away like a load of brooding bitterns. The downside was that Grosvenor Church was so cold that the bottom half of my body went completely numb and I gained an involuntary tremor that hopefully came across as a slightly spasmodic vibrato. Time to find sexy thermals, I reckon...

In With The Po-Lice

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 3
Reading: J.G.Ballard's dystopian novella High-Rise
Hair Day: have been fashioning a super quiff of late
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 6: The spire of St Giles' Church, Camberwell

For all the dissing of my newish hood in the edgy-coolness battle of South vs East, we have discovered a some fun new places recently. House is a community cafĂ© on Camberwell Church Street selling doorstopper sandwiches and leaf teas, and though the paintings in the gallery downstairs were rather lite (slightly abstracted London skylines in oil are a bit South-Bank-touristsville) it’s a lovely space in which to make things happen! Round the corner on Denmark Hill is a more upmarket commercial gallery, GX, whose besuited, betanned salesman were a bit too try-hard, but hell, it’s always flattering to be treated as if you’re quite easily able to snap up a £3,000 mixed media (coral, oil and spun silver in the next exhibition) piece. Instead, we loped around the amazing basement space looking at the exclusive silkscreen prints and dreaming about buying a John Hoyland, whose noisy, splattery abstracts we both love.
On Saturday night we headed to grubbiest Deptford for the launch of new avant-garde music collective and netlabel squib-box. It was held at the Deptford Old Police Station, whose boys in blue have moved next door, leaving it  to flower into an artspace, set of studios, and, er, cells. Having been only recently abandoned, and with cheap fittings and ceiling panels hanging askew, it felt like nothing less than being on the set of Life on Mars.
squib-box, replete with manifestos reclaiming 'radical thought in music' presented nothing less than a supremely eclectic affair: we first happened upon a sort of electro-chamber improv with a frisson of medical torture porn about it (a hooded Neil Luck abusing the guitarist with various tubes up his nose, etc); Fiona Bevan twinkle-voiced her way through a few acoustic numbers, an accordionist did some contemporary numbers, and there was some anguished shouting and loudspeaker stuff down the corridor , sort of Monty Python-meets-Dada-meets a terrifying futuro-dictatorship. In slightly baffling (but cheering!) style, the whole thing finished with the freak-out voodoo blues of Dave Migden and the Dirty Words, a budget Nick Cave with flecks of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. In between acts, Andy and I toured the cells (one with videos of people covering Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, another covered in Claudia Molitor's discreet 'sticker scores'), imagining we'd just been done for carjacking or abusing the filth. We finished the night by feeling very old chatting to excitable youngsters in the Amersham Arms about spectacles and shaved-side-of-heads haircuts, but at least feeling smug that they'd never heard of the Deptford Old Police Station, thus ranking us as, ooo, at least ten points cooler. In your FACES, kids!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Extreme Assault Course in Creative Insanity

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 4.5
Reading: Helen Castor 's non-fiction book on the women who 'ruled' England before Elizabeth I, She-Wolves
Hair Day: newly chopped by motorbike-riding Greek alpha male in Mayfair
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 5: The Shard, a proper beanstalk right there

2011 has begun as an Extreme Assault Course in Creative Insanity! First off I had to clamber over my choral commission for the ABCD 25th anniversary conference, knocking it out in a week. Having called it 'SHOUTsong' for ages, I struggled with trying to get right the balance of shouty/body percussion messiness with the expectations of the commissioners, but once I changed the title to 'The Earth Hath Voice' it all fell into place. Having next trampled a couple of ineffectual carols underfoot, I now look ahead to the spiky edges of a new juice piece (the clever way of making myself write music: put the title in a programme before you've written it!) and a looming choral commission I won for City Chorus (beating 107 others, oh yes!), which will be all about the noise of London, so I expect I'll be wafting flaneur-like about the city, taking in all clamour soon enough.

At the weekend I rugby-tackled (hhm, think I'll leave this theme now) some ABCD-ers over prosecco and gnocchi at their South East dinner, where I met impish 80-year-old composer Betty Roe (who I overheard saying to her daughter drily, 'I just come here to let people know I'm not dead') amongst others. It's the sort of occasion where I forget that I agonise over my emerging wrinkles every morning, as everyone thinks I'm ten years younger. We had to double-take when Andy, after explaining his profession, basically got an 'and is that what you want to do when you grow up?' in return. Ho ho.

I took Sarah-juicette to 'War Horse' for her birthday this week, to see our friend Eammon O'Dwyer do an excellent turn as the Songman, singing lovely folk songs in a strident, slightly giggle-making Devonshire accent. On the way back to South London we bumped into the male three-fifths of the Camberwell Composers' Collective, so joined them for hot ciders in The Hermit's Cave, Camberwell's artily scruffy pub. I'm missing Bethnal Green's edge-of-everything scenester-vibe, but it was at least gratifying to enjoy a villagey end-of-evening in SE5, albeit a quite high-art one including mentions of Berio's 'Folksongs' and unpronounceable Austrian composers I'd never heard of...

Anna has now become the Northern Contingent of juice, having moved to York, but that certainly doesn't mean the fun stops! We're up to our ears in preparation for our visit to Austin, Texas in March, hopefully stopping by New York for a gig first if we can get it together. Our album should come out on Nonclassical in May, so there's lots of mixing/remixing/artwork to be done there. I've also now started at Handel House properly (and have started another blog for it!!!), am preparing to run an experimental folk choir for half a term, am keeping Wigmore Hall's Young Producers going, and am looking forward to seeing both DOLLYman's EP and Metamorphic's album out there. Oh yeah, and listen again here to You Are Wolf, on Late Junction this week, at 1 hour 30 mins! 

Phew. Methinks that my fingers are getting a wee bit messy in these here pies...