Monday, April 30, 2012

How To Be A Creative Genius

Projects have been winding up slowly, with me attempting to direct Gladiator-esque fight scenes on primary school playgrounds and helping a load of freezing, soaked to the bone, Union Jack-waving kids sing for the Queen at the opening of the Cutty Sark. All this experience helps greatly when you’re asked to lead 500 intellectuals in song at The School of Life’s Sunday Service: this month, with Jonah Lehrer giving a talk on creativity and genius, I was asked to help them with the cockney music hall-style number, There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards by Ian Dury and The Blockheads, ably assisted by Andy on bass. Hilarious!

Jonah’s talk (he also popped up on Radio 4’s Start The Week this morning) was great and was something of a highbrow talking-to for me, who like I’m sure so many creative freelancers, nay, so many people in general, find it hard to get my act together and spend most of the time searching for something to watch on iPlayer or suddenly deciding to clean the window handles. The answers to being a creative genius are, according very sensibly to Jonah in his four-point plan:
  • INSIGHT – gain insight by NOT TRYING to do the thing you’re supposed to be doing. Find that spark by going for a walk, having a swim, taking a shower etc
  • GRIT – make sure that the thing you’re doing (in my case being a musician) is what you really, really want in life and you’ll keep doing it even when you fail
  • KNOWING – knowing instinctively that the answer/sound/response you’ve suddenly hit on is the right one. You don’t know how, or why, you just KNOW it’s right
  • BE AROUND LIKE-MINDED OTHERS – live in the city, surrounded by like-minded individuals; some of the best ideas come either from the smashing together of more than one imagination or just by contact with other Human Beings, preferably electro-swing DJs-cum-pop-up-flat-white-boutique/gallery/retro video shop owners in E5 (ok, he didn’t say that bit, but that’s what I imagine)
The one key thing I disagreed on with Jonah, however, was his insistence that Bob Dylan is a genius, and using this as a key example, meaning Andy and I somehow had to find something musical to do with 'Like A Rolling Stone'. Urgh! Jonah, everyone in the world agrees that Beethoven and Shakespeare were both mad clever/inspired/creative, but opening your talk with a story about a man who honked for a living is not so good. Mind you, at least Bob found his calling later in life as a gravelly, surrealist DJ with excellent taste in retro Americana in his Theme Time Radio Hour later in life... Here's a live cartoonist's take on the lecture!
Obviously right now I should be finishing the third movement of my piece for recorder quintet Consortium 5 but am adhering to the first point by NOT TRYING and instead writing this in a nice café on Avery Row. Ahem.

Nonclassical had their second big night last week at XOYO, an every-three-month affair which stages bigger, classic modernist-repertoire-led shindigs than their monthly slot can allow. This time, the place heaved to Penderecki's Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima, where 52 string players squeezed in to play the angry, aching, scraping work, excellently conducted by Chris Stark, and with occasional complementary squeaks from the door of the Ladies' (which is not, of course, to say that contempo music is all squeaky public toilet door sounds: see Tom Service's blog on such matters!). I was along, with co-juicette Sarah, to sing in a single-voice version of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, which I'd jumped at the chance of, not singing in much choral stuff these days. It was a close to the wire performance for sure, but was great to do and I think came across well. Xenakis' Peaux from Pleiades, for 6 players on 44 drums worked best in the space, with its opening thumping pulse springing nicely off the back of the preceding housey beats from the DJ; it was fun to watch three office girls, who'd just been dancing around swinging their jackets round their heads, getting into (and out of time with) the transgressive beats. So another brilliant evening, packed to the gills with a mix of artmusic heads, students and straying clubbers, all scintillated by astonishing live sounds and (mostly) wicked DJ sets; I already can't wait for the next one...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boat Gigs 2: The Sinking of the Titanic And Other Shizz

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Listening/Reading: 'British Birds Sounds on CD' / The really excellent Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan: I feel a natural affinity with the Baltimore patois what with being a The Wire aficionado, you feel?
Hair Day: Have plaited bits of my fringe
What I can see from my window no. 24: new flats being built in Battersea, getting in the way of the Wembley arch, goddamit

Last week Metamorphic had an excellent time recording their 2nd album at Eastcote Studios, who have put the likes of Adele, The Gossip and Mumford and Sons on wax. Unlike Mumford's comfy nine weeks there recording and mixing, we crashed through nine tunes in two days, more in inspired bash-it-out-The-Beatles-doing-'Twist-and Shout'-style, y'know. Having played together for about three years now, we're definitely finding our team form; Laura's writing this time encompasses dark dreamscapes, looping, Hendrix/Coleman mash-ups, Radiohead, a P Diddy riff, sea soundscapes and much more - can't wait to hear the first mixes!
I had a birthday weekend filled with nice things including hanging out in Beirut street food places, lovely tea shops and buying dresses, as is my wont; plus a trip to the small but elegant Mondrian/Nicholson exhibition at the Courtauld, and a visit to the Turner Contemporary in Margate. I wasn't so impressed by Hamish Fulton's incredibly derivative text/walking art, which seemed like bad Richard Long, but the building is great and a slightly brutalist gem squatting nearly on the beach itself, and is clearly drawing hipsters into the area. The old town was peppered with all manner of vintage and cutesy stores and eateries, though perhaps its Margate's stalwarts which are the biggest draw: the phenomenal pub The Lifeboat, all spit and sawdust, genial landlord, brick-sized slabs of local cheeses, barrels of warm ales and 17 ciders. We lunched at the certifiably whimsical Mad Hatters' Tea Rooms, hosted by an ex-male model from Portobello Road who sashays around in an askew hat serving celery soup and homemade scones, in a room not unlike the lounge of an insanely patriotic eccentric: festooned with cuckoo clocks, Christmas decorations (including two trees) and royal memorabilia. QUITE bonkers. Looking forward to heading back there for some serious sea-swimming and beachifying once the sun's out!

Back in London town, I've been drumming my fingers with increasingly deranged impatience at the failure of Brockwell Lido to be open yet (faulty cracks, low water pressure in Herne Hill etc) in order for me to showcase my all-vintage swimwear look of 1950s red one-piece (from Margate, of course!) and ridiculous retro flowered cap. I've made do a couple of times with the slightly down-at-heel Oasis in Covent Garden, which at least is outside, if is heated (PAH! Wimp-loids); you can swim there surrounded by grimy offices and flats, and the feeling of an outdoor swim slap-bang in the centre of the capital is pretty special. This picture makes it look much more like a Spanish resort than it actually is!
Speaking of swimming (ouch), the best thing to happen around the Titanic's centenary events was quite obviously a live version of Gavin Bryars' epic The Sinking of the Titanic, which we jammily got comps for through Gav's daughter Orlanda, who was playing amidst the whole Bryars clan in his Ensemble. Spotted Jamie Woon there and also Tinker Tailer actor Toby Jones, perhaps atoning for his sins in Julian Fellowes' 'Titanic', or 'Drownton' as it has been rather excellently nicknamed. Whilst the work (which has been re-scored for various live performances over the years as research has unveiled new historical details) perhaps sagged in the middle slightly, the overall effect was one of immersive, cascading bliss. The string quartet kept revisiting the achingly-slow Episcopal hymn 'Autumn', with its luminous harmony and shades of 'Amazing Grace', as swells of percussion, strings, foghorny euphonium, bass clarinet, guitar and various looming waves of electronic samples (creaking, dripping, echoing strings, archive verbal accounts) reared and fell around it. The mirror-image visuals of bright-cheeked young men and women, boat-wake, icebergs, and the ship itself meant everything was drawn continually inwards towards its fate. The experience was like I imagine drowning to be: euphoric, accepting of the inevitable, ringing with sorrow as you watch the ceiling of water rise, darkening, far away from you.