Friday, October 21, 2011

Mists and Mellow Artfulness

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening/Reading: New Bjork, James Blake and Camille stuff / Roger Deakin's very lovely 'Waterlog', to fuel my new love of cold-water swimming
Hair Day: sliced and diced; I now look like a 1950s greaser. YES!
What I can see from my window no. 18: the Shard, becoming humungous

'Tis an autumn season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, or in my case, wurlitzers, pop-up theatres and feminist arttalks, ah ha ha ha...

Sarah-juicette and I went to our Nonclassical labelmates The Elysian Quartet's 10th birthday celebrations, which took the form of an all-day experimental music festival in a new fringe theatre, The Yard, up in Hackney Wick. The 'Wick's rather unsalubrious vibe may have sent a few shivers down the spines of some South Londoners, but brought happy tears of joy form me, ensconced back in a land of pub-turned-squats, industrial wastelands and canals. The Yard is a most fabulous new space run by young director Jay Miller, tucked in a square amongst a range of businesses so eclectic I can't believe that Channel 4 hasn't filmed a documentary here yet: vegetable peelers, an evangelical church, mechanics, female mud-wrestlers and a swingers' club (we saw an unhealthy-looking couple - he sweaty and overweight, she haggard and wearing a mere notion of a dress - going furtively into a door marked only with a homemade sign saying 'FUNTIME'. Erk!).

The Elysians had programmed a whole world of leftfield wondrousness: we just caught the end of  multi-media percussionist Joby Burgess' set with a Max De Wardener piece, and then enjoyed the lilting, off-kilter loveliness of Seamus Fogarty's folkish electronica. Quartet members performed some of their splinter projects, with Laura doing her 'cello/voice art-pop thing, and Vince and Emma soaring through their strings/loops/noisy drums shizzle as Geese. The guys move in excellently arty circles, and some of their more high-profile musician-mates also made it along, with folktronica dude Adem delivering a gorgeous solo set just with him and this wonderful contraption that was a bit like a musical etch-a-sketch. I want one! Simon Fisher Turner, renegade grizzled chap whom I know best for writing an a cappella soundtrack to Derek Jarman's film 'Blue' (the most high-art film I have ever seen!), showcased some new electronica and then improvised with the Elysians in a beautiful film made up of stills taken around Hackney.

The quartet has been around 10 years for a reason: notwithstanding their propensity for throwing themselves into mad cool cross-arts projects, their ensemble is just fabulously instinctive and their sound soooo together. They played some Meredith Monk pieces, semi-improvised in my favourite piece of the day to a film of Swedish cranes (the birds! not the construction vehicles!) from Kathy Hinde, whizzed through a brilliant jerky soundtrack from chiptune chap Gameshow Outpatient which he had arranged for them (do you know any other quartets who perform acoustic versions of chiptune?) to a hilarious short animation of a houseproud vole, and finished it off with a live soundtrack to Tony Comley's cute film about a world-saving panda. It was all brilliant, made more marvellous by its setting and the wedges of rosewater and raspberry cake... juice should start planning their 10th anniversary party, scheduled for 2013!

I've been enjoying curating my Composer in Residence season at Handel House, where Claudia Molitor and Sarah Nicholls installed all sorts of interactive, thought-provoking pieces for a mostly arty crowd (barring the American couple who thought they had booked tickets for a Baroque concert and instead found Sarah slowly attemnpting to play the harpsichord with bundles of pound coins for half an hour, ah ha ha! They had faces like THUNDER!); last night Leon Michener tinkered with harpischord, wurlitzer and e-bows on a clavichord, improvising with bassist olie Brice and quite wonderful singer Seaming To, who I really hope to see again soon. She was clad in a stunning high-fashion take on gothic Victoriana, and manipulated Leon's homemade magic lantern music box to project creepy cut-out's onto Handel's shutters. Excellent! Elsewhere this week, I've also crammed in part of a feminist art talk (disappointing, mostly about being a mother, yawn) up in my old hood and gone to the Amersham Arms' newish jazz night, run by the SE Jazz Collective. Check it out if you're in the South, as the Camberwell Crypt has now died a death...

Very happy to see the final part of my Art on the Underground project snaking down the escalators at Bethnal Green, completely free of adverts. Here's a snap!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Broadstairs vs. Boulez (And Poems)

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Listening/Reading: Very cool new jazz group Thought-Fox; Just finished the superlative and immersive 'Wolf Hall'.
Hair Day: in need of pep and vim
What I can see from my window no. 18: see last poem below

In the last few weeks I have become a South London water-baby, with just an eyelash-flutter of sun being enough to send me down the hill to Brockwell Lido for a cold swim. It's a highly addictive, heart-thrumping pastime, wonderfully communal (eg wiggling into my dry things in full view of all other swimmers, all manner of bodies out on show, kids running around), and the water, less chlorinated than indoor pools, is a milky thing of wonder. So the hot autumn spell was a perfect excuse to avoid work and douse myself, and even better was the trip to sunny Broadstairs, where we visited Louise and Stone Bays and got some hearty sea-swimming in. So much did we gulp up the last summer rays that we missed the train to take us back to the South Bank's Boulez concert, and by the time we got there, they wouldn't admit us. Curses! So I forsook possibly my only chance to see the man in person conducting his own music, but, hell, I think I like outdoor swimming more than just about anything else, the master of Modernism included. We consoled ourselves briefly with watching a bit of 'Pli Selon Pli' on a screen, with none other than vocalist legend Linda Hirst, who'd also been waylaid; the music was given an - at times remarkably germane - extra layer of percussion by the barman on our floor crashing around sporadically with ice buckets and stacked glasses. Hur hur.

Two gigs of late: Metamorphic had a really lovely one at the Forge, reviewed ecstatically here. Juice introduced the newest group baby to Elisabeth Lutyens in rehearsal (much crying ensued) and gigged in Hexham Abbey, giving our 'Laid Bare: 10 Love Songs' songbook another welcome airing.

Here are some recent poems!

Thames Moon Swimming

With gasps that are more delight than shock,
we rush into a clamour of reeds.

As light crumbles towards the moon,
we swim between the patches that are left
- the boathouses, the single streetlamp -  
our heads polished like brassrubbings.

Walking back down the path
in light that is now more like a scent,
we are halflings among the hedges;
our sealsouls bobbing in the river.

Daylight Fox, Waterloo

Crossing in front of the cars and my bike,
he shocks like a burn on the skin.

A mulch of winter leaves, a dank sinew
reeking of urine and musk, and
capable of screams that brand the heart,
he is a brazen wildness amongst metalshine
and tarmac.

How long have they been here, waiting
by our feet at crossings, slipping past
on sidestreets, weaving through us
as if we were birch and elm?

Rosemary and Peter, Picking Blackberries

At separate points along the path,
they collect only the ripest, the ones
with the innocence of children
when you hold out your hand for them.

Her plastic rainhat upturned, she moves
with a dancer’s grace; she is first-snow and rubies,
sugar paper and bone, hands flitting
through the brambles like goldcrests.

He is a hero and charmer, idling in the bushes
with inkwell mouth and fingers.

In their second marriage, one that has lasted 40 years,
their eyes shine like the berries they can’t quite reach.

Brambles, bones, blackberries.

5th Floor (for Nicholas Hilliard)

over to the west
into light that is silvering
the edges of my ivy, mint and sage
starlings flock
rising from the far buildings
as if on the street below
a manuscript detailing
the colours of precious stones
their heaviness and their glitter
has been dropped
in the evening wind