Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kerry Goes Underground

I had the launch for my Art on the Underground project, working with artist Ruth Ewan and a load of pesky youngsters at Hackney's Laburnam Boat Club, at the Museum of Childhood last week, meaning I could cast a dewily nostalgic eye at my old manor just behind it. (I still love you, Mulberry House!) The mini-concept album that I created from the spoken word/songs/field recordings of the LBC-ers, or as it was rather nicely called by Culture24, 'an a cappella scrapbook', is available online and I guess the pillarbox red posters will be around soon, meaning my name will be all over the tube network, hurrah! Do bend your ear to these marvellous kids here and share it around if you like it!

Next up at the weekend was the Association of British Choral Directors' Convention in Birmingham, where the National Youth Choir of Great Britain premiered my ABCD 25th anniversary commission, The Earth Hath Voice, in Birmingham Town Hall. It was a fairly meaty concert, with Ars Nova and the spookily good (like a load of super-poised high priestesses. With uncanny intonation.) Cantamus packing out the first half - the latter's Judith Bingham piece, Lace-making, being a big highlight. The NYC did a fine job on my piece in the second half, and it seemed to go down pretty well with the audience. Mike Brewer, I think, put everyone else's pieces to shame with their wonderfully funky, boisterous joyfulness. Though of course nothing is more exciting than having Eric Whitacre gracing the Convention with his blonde-maned presence, and ripples went through the choral delegate audience, turning everyone into a bunch of tittering maiden aunts as he swept on, looking like some sort of glamorous, sharp-suited Hollywood star compared to all of us pasty, snaggle-toothed Brits, hur hur. I'm utterly fascinated by his success: what other choral composer is also a) signed to the Storm Model Agency and b) gives keynote speeches to the UN Leaders' Programme, for goodness' sakes!! I was very sad not to get a chance to meet him and if nothing else, have some sort of Fabulous Choral Composers' Hair-Off Smackdown, in which obviously I would win the 'Edgy Quiff Award' but he would wipe me out with the 'Mr Glossy Locks' and the 'Hair-Tosser of 2011' gongs. Ah ha ha.

Still, I DID get spend time with an actual friend who is, some might say, MORE famous than Eric: Paul Mealor, erstwhile Composer To The Royals, who was there to give a talk about rewriting his music into Ubi Caritas for the Royal Wedding. Paul used to hold court in the postgrad room at York, bestowing all sorts of useful compositional advice and plenty of giggles back in the day, and it was a real pleasure to see him again, and have a few buckets of white wine in the hotel bar with the ABCD-ers. He fed me drops of juicy gossip about all his composer friends, hanging out at the Classical BRITS, popping over to America, and all the other things he does now that he is MAD famous, and was as entertaining as ever. What a star!

Two cultural things of late: Twombly and Poussin at the Dulwich Picture Gallery - I much preferred Cy's solo show at the Tate, though it was lovely to spend time sitting in the company of the big splodgy beasts in his Quattro Stagioni; and Ralph Fiennes in The Tempest, a treat from Andy, who somehow managed to suppress his fear that I would throw myself onto the stage in wilting ardour. Actually, Ralph is a bit old and terrifying now, but it was still great to see him live (I saw him do Richard II many moons ago), even if he looked a little uncomfortable in Prospero's cape, especially when he had to groove to his sprites' fairly awful crooning. Ha ha.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Swimming Pool Poems 2

Here's the second instalment of poems written in France:

August 15th 2011

holding your breath in the water

fish fold through the light
dark fingers and pale hands
in falling hair
and there’s a sound

bird-rattle and tongue-click
a crackle of some unfathomable energy

the sea is trying to speak

a pearled stuttering so close
it is just for you, inching into your skull
an ancient almost-song

you hear of seaquakes, millennia ago
of rifts, wide as half the earth
and changing everything
of the moon, undancing tyrant
of the long ice-darkness
of whales which throb like hearts
of love-letters in phospherence to the sky
of battles with rain
of ships, cradled like trinkets
and of you, caught in its throat
the one it sings to and the one
who stops it singing

August 15th 2011

the sun slips into a moon-skin

the sun slips into a moon-skin
feigning a frown
and assuming a mottled brow
he loudly mopes ‘I despair of sin’
and steals away

(he does this many times
throughout the day)

August 17th 2011

on my back, nightswimming no. 1

it is impossible to tell
which are night-moths
and which are stars

August 18th 2011

on my back, nightswimming no. 2

Pinned to the water
at precise points along the bone,
and strung with threads (whisper-thin
but trembling with the night’s strength)
that disappear into the impossible above,
my fingers are uncurled one by one,
my arms drawn out and up in a slow
gymnast’s bow, my spine tautened
with a tension at the crown, my feet
tugged by the toes, one by one,
and my legs pulled apart by the heels,
and I am pinioned into their
perfect puppet-star.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Swimming Pool Poems 1

I wrote a little collection of poems whilst in France, with a diet of one a day, written whilst sitting on a sun lounger and occasionally hurling myself into the pool. Here's the first instalment:

August 8th 2011


after the pen-lift
it is still
veining out
into its Antarctica

August 9th 2011

les orangers
for Rob and Theresa

in a heart-light blue gaze

under trees
bunched with bees and berries

in a garden
of throat-pink songbursts

August 10th 2011

Portrait of Andy Reading ‘Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power’ by Robert Dallek (On A Lilo)

you drift on words
which form in wind and water
spooling phrases slip off
and over each other, lithe as eels

lit for a second
they flit in parallel
darning themselves
into their new wet world

with each new page
the word-eels congregate
their liquid tussle making
a dark door beneath you

August 12th 2011

Early Evening Swim, Antibes

on your back, you’re a sweet self-crucifixion in salt

the church sucks its bells like boiled sweets
shadows long for their beginnings
the horizon wells up, more water than mountain

you leave a shape as if you have lain there all night

August 13th 2011

Love Song To A Sun-Umbrella By A Mistaken Bee

oh Bright ZigZag GianteSS
GoddeSS of bloodberry and polkadot
I lovelorn fumble in your SkirtS
you taste –

August 13th 2011

Dream No. 1:

A barn owl asks for milk
with his pebble-clack beak:
I steal it from a newsagents
and let him drink, my fingers
in his ruff, airy as whisked egg-whites

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sexy Beast(s) en France

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Listening: TSF Jazz, France's bonzer jazz radio station - jingle: 'cent percent jazz' (said in soothing lady's voice)
What I can see from my window no. 15: Brixton Town Hall

I have returned, daisy-fresh, from a recuperative holiday in the sun-deluged sud de France, just up from Antibes. The days were beautifully reduced to the simplest of things as we fattened on sleep, swimming, food, books and writing, centred around our pool, which had views of the Alpes and glittered in a sort of turquoise leopardskin vibe. It was like playing out scenes from 'Sexy Beast' (without Ben Kingsley barking 'NO! NO! NO! at us), French artfilm 'Swimming Pool' (without the murder, waspishness and swimming-trunked erections) and English artfilm 'Archipelago' (without the insufferable middle-classness. No, wait...). Art-tasks included learning Chopin preludes on the electric piano whilst drinking gin and tonics, writing most of a new DOLLYman song (about badger-death, naturally), and penning a poem a day - the full collection to follow in some other blogs I think!
 Swim-activities became creative and competitive, lilo-surfing being the most hilarious (and brief: 2 seconds before hurtling in was the record), and keepy-uppy reaching new levels of masterful complexity. Chess pieces wound their way to death or victory on the sun-baked poolside, making long shadows on the grass; ping-pong and the sport of aged Frenchmen, petanque, was won resoundingly by the boys (Andy and Matt) whilst I sulked into my rose. We got stuck into David Simon's latest masterwork: 'Treme', simply a televisual dream, being basically a more relaxed  'The Wire' but with sousaphone. Best quotes: 'You got a gig? LIFE is a gig' and 'Why did my marriage fail? I married
a musician, thats why'. See it!
We did make it out a few times - to Biot's cutesome village, teetering on top of a steep hill (including watching a hokey blues-rock lot in in outdoor amphitheatre on a warm night - would have preferred avant-garde skronk-step, obviously); along the coast to Monte Carlo (ghastly, wreathed in a murky humid fog that was probably the rich hoi polloi's every waking thought), Eze (Neitzsche's old hood, bakingly hot) and Villefranche-Sur-Mer (sea-swimming!); and to Antibes' old town, where I overcame my fear of being nibbled on by shoals of peckish fish by swimming goggles-down in the sea to watch the equivalent of 'Finding Nemo' rainbowing around me. The best extra-villa experience was given to us by our wondrous host, Matt, who took us to a fabulous restaurant where the owners, friends of Picasso, have a private gallery that you they will unlock the doors to, just for you; so we had a post-prandial, exclusive saunter through the cellar displaying a cornucopia of cubist paintings, op-art, 80s sculpture, and much more. It was like they'd been slumbering in the basement and had roused themselves awake, to be on display, just for us.
Whilst we were doing 'Sexy Beast' et al, I was sightly expecting to come back to a dystopian city that was part 'Attack the Block' and part '28 Days Later', with London's hooded yout' pitted against teams of multi-ethnic shopkeepers and super-hipsters. It was horrible to watch on the news (especially when you're trying to translate - badly - from French) and I hated being away for those few days. Glad to come back to a civilised and sedate-ish neighbourhood for my big bro's wedding; London IS the best, no matter what.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

She Must Have Something Heavy Inside...*

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 3
Listening/Watching: Many, many compositions by young whippersnappers / High & low art combination of Dudamel  and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra on the BBC Proms. And 'Con Air'. Ahem.
Hair Day: flopsy, mopsy
What I can see from my window no. 14: dark sunsetty rain

Phew, what a monster week! I went a did a You Are Wolf set at the Cambridge Folk Festival, having a lovely time on the Den Stage for emerging folkies. I was a bit baffled by the relative lack of traditional music in favour of boys and girls with guitars blathering mundanities, and the whole festival was so massively uncool that Andy and I felt like the most avant-garde of super-hipsters in the company of a load of middle-class fortysomethings bearing nothing more dangerous than a canvas chair and a ruddy complexion. Now I have just returned, zombie-like and bleeding from the ears from the third Sound and Music Summer School, meaning another high-energy, all-powerful turn from me as Key Tutor for the Composing For Voice group. It was a stellar year for my crew, a charming bunch of composers aged 15-18 who were keen to learn, creative and happy-go-lucky to an almost embarrassing level (when they started doing body percussion and harmony versions of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' in the canteen on the last night, like a particularly surreal and horrific episode of 'Glee'). We had a range of pieces getting teenage angst out in the form of Britten-esque Wilfred Owen settings, Faure-esque Bukowski settings, snippets of Martin Luther King and T.S. Eliot and Norse epic poetry; some body-slappin' looping gubbins (as is my wont); and two very fun pieces of vocal theatre, one by a highly talented BBC Young Composer of the Year. These were all performed with extreme brio and gumption by an A-Team of Sarah-juicette, Laura Moody and Matt 'DOLLYman' Dibble. The other tutor groups came and wrote some one-word miniatures, our favourites choices of words being 'pumpkin', 'regicide' and 'futrit' (a stoat in the Aberdeenshire dialect of Doric!).

The week was marked up a notch by being put up in the local Hilton, complete with kidney-shaped (and practically sized) pool and mini-spa, meaning I could squeeze in power-dips and plan my next teaching moves whilst hyperventilating in the steam room. In an effort to avoid the Official World's Worst Catering Ever (raw jacket potatoes and stricken jelly being the most disturbing examples), I spent time with ace staff musicians in Watford's greatest curry house, Bushey's cutest pub, Aldenham Road's least glamorous Carvery and on the Purcell School's most calming staff room sofas, recovering from recording sessions with gallons of Rooibos tea before going in for another bout. Laura, Matt and I also danced like nutters in the final tragic-yet-brilliant disco, in hysterics that teenagers were going crazy over the Prodigy and Nirvana (music made way before they were born) and showing them our skillz moves in the dubstep finale. A totally great week; I am looking forward to nurturing my stomach back to health (having recoiled in horror from the canteen scenes, it is currently the size of a small mammal's) in the South of France for the next ten days. Expect me back freckled up to the MAX!

* A quote from one of our more silly pieces...