Sunday, January 22, 2012

Nonclassical Goes Large and William Morris Goes Lovely

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening/Reading: Radio 3's The Choir and cursing why I'm not in the Choirbook For The Queen; will have to start picking off choral composers in a Kind Hearts and Coronets-type fashion /  Back on 'The Women's History Of The World' by Rosalind Miles.
Hair Day: a flatcap day, eg Head Day: super-stylish, but Hair Day: flattened to a pulp
What I can see from my window no. 22: Sirius, or Venus, I'm not sure. It's shaped like an igloo and has a big black spot on it (Andy bought me a telescope for Christmas). It is WELL spooky.

Nonclassical is putting its glad rags on and getting itself out and about these days, whether in America (Gabriel Prokofiev is premiering his Concerto For Bass Drum out there), Europe, or just at home: the club broke out of its monthly residency in Hoxton's lowdown Troy Bar to host a much larger, slicker night at XOYO down the road, and strike me if a whole world of East Londonites didn't show up. The Troy Bar gigs are always decently attended, but it's a pretty titchy space; around 300 rolled up for Nonclassical's biggest club night yet on Thursday. Where the hell did they all come from?! There were probably quite a few normals who stumbled in looking for something nasty and bangin' to flail to, and a lot of them looked quite pleased to find instead a bubble-haired violinist or scratch student orchestra doing their thing on the stage instead.

The night was ostensibly focused on Minimalist rep, alternating live pieces with DJs. First up as we drank our pocket-burning fruit beers was the lovely Aisha Orazbayeva, something of a star in the ascendent (she excitedly informed me she was playing a solo recital at Carnegie Hall soon), who played Steve Reich's Violin Phase with a Zen-like steeliness. Inbetween, I felt cheerily like a scenester on hearing bits of juice's album (on Nonclassical records, and if you haven't bought it, you SHOULD, HERE!) mixed up nicely by DJ Nwando Ebizie, a new name I shall check out again.

The scratch orchestra tore up John Adams' marvellous (and totally un-minimalist) Chamber Symphony, which couldn't sound more like New York's blaring streets and American Dream-chasing if it tried, followed by perky clarinettist Mark Simpson playing Reich's New York Counterpoint with verve. It was lovely to see people sitting at the front of the stage head-noddingly mesmerised by this piece as if they were listening to some old-school ambient house. 'Cellist Peter Gregson performed some lovely multi-tracked Prokofiev, clearly a 2011 take on Reich's solo/electronic pieces but referencing grime and rave, and one part of which is being released as a single. The least successful performance of the evening was a rather ragged and muddy Worker's Union (the classic rhythmical workout by Louis Andreissen), in a badly-chosen small ensemble line-up. The last piece we caught was played by the Nonclassical juniors, aka Sam from the office and crew, looking - as Sarah said - like an adorably earnest emo boy band, playing Reich's Music For Pieces of Wood, very nicely bookended with some simple thudding beats from the decks either side; the boys should have sat on stools and risen off them two-thirds of the way through when the new counter-rhythm came in, arf. We left before the end, but what we heard made for a top night, fusing excellent, intelligent dance music largely from the Nonclassical canon with brain-titillating live sounds that pleased the crowd no matter where they were from. Onwards and upwards (hopefully with the juicettes riding, shrieking, on their tail feathers)!

A quite different state of affairs was found over at Two Temple Place today, where Andy and I went to check out the William Morris exhibition. A stunningly-designed (though feeling like something of a folly) late 19th-century building on Victoria Embankment, it is now open to the public for the first time. With money no object, the architect JL Pearson went to town on the late Victorian gothic-cute of the exterior and the opulent, wood-festooned interior, borrowing from the Renaissance, Tudor, Gothic, and suggestions of Arts and Crafts: all mahogany carvings of plump Musketeers on the stairs, friezes of scenes from Shakespeare above our heads, ebony pillars, geometric-patterned floors of marble, jasper, onyx and porphyry, and a delight of stained glass in the Great Hall. The Morris exhibition, on a sojourn from its home in Walthamstow, was a perfect complement. What a dude Morris was! An artist, printmaker, textile designer, writer and socialist, I love how he gathered to his bosom myths and tales from all over the world - from the very familiar courtly love of medieval England, all long-haired, fey nymphettes and fantastical, pre-Tolkein imagery to the less-known, such as Bre'r Rabbit from Afro-America and Icelandic sagas - and celebrated them all in his glorious designs, with peacocks and monsters, bulging fruits and writhing roses wallowing around in the lush fabrics. Unashamedly uber-romantic, drunk on nature, and surely a humanist, he wanted to celebrate our collective folk memory, something I think on't a lot.  My favourite piece was a soaring tapestry, based on the Roman goddess of apples and featuring a text that so often accompanied his work (something else I can't help feeling an affinity with):

I am the ancient apple-queen /  As once I was so am I now / 
For evermore a hope unseen / Betwixt the blossom and the bough

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Firsts! Party, Gig, Film - And Skydiving (Sort Of)

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening/Reading: The Filter Queue, who DOLLYman will play with soon...
Hair Day: Temporary hot pink streak after being inspired by cheapo girl-mag
What I can see from my window no. 21: Piccadilly Circus, just, blinking its little tawdry captions

My first party of the year saw me finally donning my black jumpsuit and heels (verdict: NOT tragic! Result!) to go to the PRS Foundation's New Year party at Cargo, meeting and greeting many a musical acquaintance (Tansy Davies, Luke Styles, Sarah Nicholls and Claudia Molitor, and Mira Calix, telling us about her exciting Olympics project involving an installation in a load of igloo-like stone slabs) and meeting some new ones (such as Trish Clowes, cool sax-player/composer). The PRSF were using the opportunity to showcase a few of their funded projects, but there were rather a few raised eyebrows and quivers of mild embarrassment for the first piece: we gathered outside for hot toddies to listen to Howard Skempton's church bell piece, rung over in Shoreditch Church. Sadly, the bells were mingled, nay obliterated by the sounds of traffic, and were so quiet they just sounded, well, like church bells, perhaps in a neighbouring village, and had no impact as a piece of new music. We all huddled there very politely for 12 minutes, and I at least enjoyed the Cage-ish framing of the city's sounds, but that wasn't really the point. Anna Meredith's piece for the National Youth Orchestra, another 20x12 piece, was showcased by a small troupe of NYOers; while nothing new to me and the juicettes, who invite people to yell and whack themselves at every opportunity, it's a great idea to liberate the players of their instruments and show off their musicality in an exuberant, bodily way. It was slight shame we couldn't really SEE the performers to appreciate the choreography as they were crammed in amongst the revellers. I love the PRSF to bits and they are phenomenally supportive of new music including mine, but it strikes me that a bit more planning/forethought might not go amiss at times like these...

First gig of the year was at the Lexington, to see Yorkshire surreal troubadour David Thomas Broughton. He was supported by Elysian Quartet alumni Geese, doing their noisy post-rocking violin/viola/drums/electronics shizz. DTB himself, who juice had first seen at South By South West last year, inspiring at least in me starbursting epiphanies at his off-kilter craziness, was just as charming and silly this time around. His yawning baritone, simple guitar and desolate lyrics would be unremarkable on their own, but he mixes it with something nearing performance art, creating a theatre of mic stands and leads, accentuating his mistakes, freestyling with fruit and shakers and dictaphones, letting his loops spool over until they're fugged in feedback... there's no-one quite like him.

Shame, Steve McQueen's follow-up to his stunning (as in you feel like you've been stunned by a Stonehenge-sized slab and left dribbling and half-dead) Hunger, was my first film of the year. Not quite as extreme as his debut, it still leaves a mark, and I don't mean the memory of Michael Fassbender strolling around with his cock out. An distinctly unerotic but beautiful-looking movie, what stayed with me was the amazing single tracking shot of MF running through New York, and Carey Mulligan's desperately delicate, super-slow version of New York, New York. Another favourite British artfilm director to add to Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay!

Finally my first adventuring of the year: going with Sarah to the Ballardian, mall-like weirdness that is Milton Keynes, to go indoor skydiving. YES! The whole experience was utterly hilarious, with a range of very cute yet very solemn instructors leading us through our moves (cue us trying to keep straight faces whilst the Spanish instructor earnestly demonstrated the importance of leading with 'your 'ips' as he gyrated unsubtly in front of us). The skydiving is done in a specially-made air tunnel fired from below with 150mph winds (the British skydiving team practise there!): you fall in and hang over the pummelling, screaming chute, being occasionally corrected by your instructor and trying not to let the spit that is uncontrollably flung from your mouth go straight into his eye. I spent the whole, short time laughing my head off, even when I got to do the 'high-fly', which means shooting straight up and down 10 metres several times with your instructor in a spiral, skydiving-formation-style, like riding a rollercoaster made solely out of air. I think I left a small part of my stomach flailing around up there. Hysterical!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0
Listening/Reading: King Creosote and Jon Hopkin's Diamond Mine/ The Story of Swimming by Susie Parr
Hair Day: It needed some blondifying, so made an attempt at a home remedy this week. Result: dirty orange/blonde streak. Yeah!
What I can see from my window no. 20: A great big dirty slash of butter-coloured sky at twilight

Merry New Year! 

I'm not having all that gloomy 'winter is here, and there's no tinsel and over-consumption to make us cheerful anymore' malarkey. January is, like the overripe satsumas leftover from Crimble, fit to bursting with parties and possibilities. Having earnestly made long lists of my bests arty things of 2011, I'm now already into my Best Art Exhibition of 2012, having been to Tate Modern to see Gerhard Richter's show before it closed. It was all my favourite things: big splashy abstract canvases, near-dribbling off the canvas and with sort of 'apocalyptic disco' colour choices. Coming out of there into the South Bank's darkness made everything look a bit Richterish: the Thames looked like one of his trademark squeegees, the oily molasses water dragged through with the hot orange of the bridge's lights, and we all looked shimmery and only half-real, like his paintings of photos. Here's a lovely video of Gerhard painting.

Tacita Dean's Turbine piece, Film, was also marvellous, and maybe my favourite of all of the works installed there. Fresh from watching Mark Cousins' wonderful The Story of Film (an odyssey through the history of film on More4, narrated in his very idiosyncratic Scottish lilt), seeing the hands-on beauty of celluloid, chopped and layered, in an age of the digital, was beautiful and funny.     

I've also notched up my first gig of 2012, and a marvellous one it was too, with Metamorphic supporting Troyka in a sold-out gig at the Vortex in Dalston, packed to the gills with enthusiastic people out at their first jolly of the year. It was great to be able to play to a knowledgeable jazz audience, and I hope we can do a few more in 2012!!

Other creative resolutions for 2012:

  • To practise my flute for the first time in 6 years (ok, pick it up at least once in the whole year)
  • To read for 30 minutes a day (ok, read for 10 minutes a day, mostly Time Out magazine)
  • To record 2nd juice album (and get even better reviews than for the first one)
  • To do a killer You Are Wolf tour, having written whole new set of songs 
  • To have a DOLLYman gig somewhere other than the Spice of Life. 
  • To be on the radio even more than last year
  • To do something NEW, whether it be a possible Richard Long-style walking composition, making visual art, make some visuals for gigs, write a piece for juice and electronics...