Friday, July 06, 2012

Folk-opera-sical and birdlore launch!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved today: 3
Listening: Sam Lee's excellent new album, Ground of Its Own
Hair Day: still blonde

I thought I should see Dr Dee, what with admiring Damon Albarn's polymathic vibes, plus its trumpeting of being a folk opera about England. It was a folk opera of sorts, but makes more sense if you splice the word 'musical' in there. Folkoperasical. Yes, that's it. It was a strange mix, which sometime worked beautifully, and sometimes felt like a bad musical in a posh opera house.  Theatrically, it was astonishing at times - there were RAVENS! Real, live RAVENS! - with clever set-changes, a huge barge of musicians which slowly ascended and great use of projections to demonstrate Dee's vast mind. Musically, Damon Albarn's rich, croony heartbreak of a voice was the diamond; having him crouched there in an operatic context just made me want more contrast between singers: between those delicious pop imperfections and vulnerability, and the glowing sounds of the classical singers. He also also knows how to work a microphone; the other voices' amplification had a slightly garish music-theatre edge, though it did mean I could hear all the words (something the Guardo complained about here). As it was, the counter-tenor (hamming it up to ghastly heights in his last moments) sounded a little uncomfortable to me, and the chorus either didn't exaggerate the rough sound enough or they were just really shoddy. There was also very, very little story to speak of. Give me a damn opera house to work with! The omissions were obvious to me: the lovely early music consort (plus glittering kora and drums) made a great sound, so why bother with the orchestra at all? They were under-used and unnecessary. Just have the amplified consort and go to town with the orchestration, getting them not just to do pretty Elizabethany things but much more experimental too. And if Dr Dee wrote feverishly about the language of the angels, then how can you not write chorus lines that are divinely, eerily strange? It's a no-brainer...
To Deal! The premiere of my new set of You Are Wolf songs, birdlore: murders, charms and murmurations (funded by the PRS for Music Foundation's Women Make Music scheme) which I plugged on BBC Radio Kent the day before.  I've ended up making two versions of this project: one for the usual one-girl-band-plus-occasional husband (loop, melodica, ukelele, gong, recorder, FLUTE!, and Andy on bass) and one for me, a touch of the loop station and string quartet and clarinet. The latter was for flexible chamber ensemble Sound Collective, including lovely tattooed behemoth Stuart King on clarinet. We performed it at Deal Festival, in this divine ecological gardens place, Pines Calyx - the venue itself was built into the hillside and had a hobbity air. I was sooo happy with it and like to think it had a sense of my current musical spirit: a mix of trad. folk, spoken word, classical chamber music, with touches of experimental stuff. We caught brill original folk trio Lau in the evening and, exhausted, I slept sitting down in Deal's most gorgeous wee pub, The Ship.
The next day I took traditional music to Year 11s and 12s at a school in Dover; I'd been a bit gulpworthy about this, not knowing anything about the kids, who I imagined would snort in derisory fashion at this stooopid old music. Instead, we had a super-sweet bunch of teenagers from soulful, music-theatre singers, to dancers and a Laura Marling-a-like, who jumped feet first into arranging different versions of the traditional tale/song Two Sisters, having given them a whirl on Jamie Woon's version of Wayfarin' Stranger. I practically wept at the 17 year-old lad with tattoos and a side-shave bellowing 'bow and balance to me!' with extreme sincerity. Adorable!

Tomorrow it's off to premiere the original version at a no doubt sodden wee festival, SoL Party, in deepest Kent. I've been getting to gips with a few new tricks on the loop station, plus all those instruments to make it a bit more eclectic. I'm proud of my hard work: I've created a set of songs based on British birds, with arrangements of traditional stuff galore, plus some originals. There's music sounding like a weird medieval-funk procession who are off to kill a wren, Central African Pygmy-yodelling cuckoos, a drone-rock, and a spooky new song about a barn owl. Now I'm just off to talk to a man about some live ravens...

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