Tuesday, October 23, 2012

100% Live Girls!

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching / Listening: The end of the majestic second series of 'Boardwalk Empire' / excellent Percy Grainger chamber music on Radio 3
Hair Day: Thankfully settling down into a more blondey-blonde. Phew.

It's been a very folky week. I met musical compadre (and hopefully producer of my first You Are Wolf album) MaJiKer for a Gilbert and George - I mean, a Turkish at Mangal 2 in Dalston, where the artist duo eat nightly - before tracking down the remarkable Dalston Boys' Club for a Nest Collective gig. What a venue! Seemingly a bohemian, near-illicit church hall, it's packed full of slightly risque paintings of nude men proudly displaying their crotches, along with stone cupids and strange dolls; it has an out-of-tune baby grand and tons of dank armchairs and candles. Sam Lee, of the Nest Collective, warned us gleefully in his welcome that it was an illegal (unlicensed) gig, and that the police could bust in at any moment and stop everything. I crossed my fingers all night for the fuzz to burst in noisily to find a load of Dalstonites sitting on the floor listening attentively to Julie Murphy or the Ballina Whalers singing a sea shanty. Alas, it never happened!
It was my huge pleasure to have Scottish folk hero Alasdair Roberts come and play in my series at Handel House, and even more so to sing a couple of numbers with him. He is currently performing a lot of his new, epic, characteristically raven-dark material, which belies his very charming and sweet nature, as I found by putting him up in Camberwell that night. I also managed to go to dinner with not just my favourite folk singer but my favourite poet Robin Robertson as well (his friend, and I've set some of his work), in an abrasive evening of grizzled Scots art-kingpins.

In a whirlwind weekend, I put on what I called on Twitter 100% Live Girls! but was actually 60% live girls and 40% live bassist husband and electronica wizard Graham Dowdall. The Vortex needed a last-minute gap filled, so I volunteered my You Are Wolfing services, plus the fantabulous Laura Moody and Roshi feat. Pars Radio. It turned out to be a pretty magical gig, a lovely crowd that included folk denizens Nancy Wallace, Lisa Knapp and Sharron Kraus. Hurrah! Perhaps this will revive mine and Andy's idea of putting on 100% Live Girls! , cutting-edge music by girls, in a strip joint once a month. It certainly helps with my blog audience numbers - I noticed that there was a significant peak of readers in my last-but-one blog, 'Schnittke Hot! And An Incredible Encounter'. Hhm. Expect all posts to sound slightly salacious from now on.

juice have just launched their first crowd-funding mission: to commission beatboxer supremo (and more recently, composer) Shlomo, and to work/co-write more with MaJiKer. If you're interested in being part of our band of commissioners, please do visit our wefund site and check out all of the amazing presents and incentives you can earn yourself!

I'm currently starting preparatory work on my community chamber opera for Wigmore Hall. It's in the very early stages, but as it's been commissioned as part of Wigmore Hall's Britten centenary celebrations next year, the themes are folksong/lore and the outsider figure. I am reading Marina Warner's excellent book on the male grotesque figure in folk history, 'No Go The Bogeyman'; did you know that the word 'bug' comes from words such as 'boggle', which meant the Devil, also called the Lord of the Flies in the Bible? Strange that variants on words for bogeymen are now leading brands of yummy mummy prams, the very thing parents were supposed to protect against...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Old Music

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 2
Watching: 'Fresh Meat', yay!/ Andrew Bird on The Space, singing from A Room For London
Hair Day: Thankfully settling down into a more blondey-blonde. Phew.

A busy week! First up, I rocked up at my endz in Bucks for the Little Missenden Festival, and my commission from the Festival for the early music consort Alamire. I'd written a 13-minute 8-part vocal piece setting texts by Nicholas Culpeper, barmy Tudor herbalist/physicist/astrologist, which I very much enjoyed composing: a lovely time was had honing his meticulous prose into quirky little poems about marsh plants (Missenden means 'where the marsh plants grow', don't you know...). I did my usual thing of mixing pretty folky stuff and open 5thy stuff with extra-vocal yelps, whispery bits, swoons and swoops, etc. I think Alamire are rather more used to the glowing richness of Byrd and Tallis, which they did marvellously well in the teeny old Norman church, than having to stutter little hi-hats but they did a good job; I was a little nervous about what the audience might think, but I had some lovely feedback, and was compared to both Lachenmann and Richard Strauss, which can only be a winner, if entirely incorrect. Ha ha.

I took my Dad to see Sam Lee open the Festival the night before, and what with him being the rangy, tousle-haired Crown Prince of New/Old Music and notching up his Mercury nomination, the place was packed full of old ladies hoping to get his autograph. I loved it: he'd brought along Irish traveller singer/storyteller Thomas McCarthy, who I've seen before, and just brewed up a gorgeous atmosphere of tales, songs and a love of the land, all cooked up with a shimmery melting pot of strings, Japanese koto, ukelele, tabla and shruti box. PLUS he was wearing the most excellent (bespoke, hand-drawn country scenes, obviously) shirt.

It was back to London the next day for a discussion of my music and some You Are Wolfy songs as part of Culture Kitchen, the London Review of Books' new occasional series of supper clubs. The last one was with a fashion designer favoured by Lady Gaga! I nattered amongst a delicious North African spread of beetroot humous and pomegranate molasses, rose tea and figgy scrumptiousness, and felt highly self-important. Hur.

This week has been made hugely excited by the arrival of my first nephew, Holden, who freefalled in six weeks early and is still in hospital. Obviously, he is the cutest thing that ever lived (though he does look QUITE like a frog, feet and hands-wise...)

My bro Richie, had he not been in a new-fatherly daze, would have been mad jealous of my next gig, as an ad hoc singer in Aphex Twin's night of theatrical experimentation at the Barbican. I was part of the Heritage Orchestra/Choir, who were Aphex Twin's human synth for the night: we were fed nasty sine tones in headphones, and had to sing/play what we heard, responding to a dynamic gage on a big projection screen. I was on the end, so was lucky enough to have a cameraman practically IN MY MOUTH half the time, beaming my wan, un-make-upped face to a sold-out Barbi crowd. Erk. It was a fun half day, but in truth, the piece itself was 40 minutes of bafflingness. Quite why Richard D. didn't introduce more textural variation, rather than just having long, whiny glisses for 40 minutes, I'm not sure. It was a supremely excellent toy, and would be amazing in the hands of an array of musicians/composers, which is clearly where it should go next. Apparently the second half was a blast: here's a review.

FINALLY, I had the second in my series of gigs at Handel House, trying out lots of new stuff with recorder whizzmistresses Consortium 5. My second commission, badluck birds, which has an open source flavour (the pieces are in layers, or fragments, which can be arranged by either the performers or audiences), went very well; I had to bully adults into coming up and directing the players, but they were great. The webgame version of one movement, Screech, is still to come!
Had a cracking time in Amsterdam over the weekend. It can be summed up thus: canals, rain, coffee, art, rain, mint tea, lostriversongs research, photography, rain, warehouse bar/clubs, rain, boutiques, rain, canals.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Schnittke-Hot! And an Incredible Encounter

Level of conviction in own genius: 8
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 4
Reading: Hopping between 'Electric Eden' and a biography of Gertrude Bell
Hair Day: Alarming change from yellow-blonde top half to near-white (not expressly of my wishing), giving me a glimpse into my Hair Future when I am aged 75. Have been embellishing with emergency temporary pink.

The first of my curated season of gigs at Handel House went off with a bang, with a sold-out crowd (ok, so you can only squeeze 30 people into the Georgian front room, but trying to put on new music in a Museum famous for le Baroque is tricky business!). Ensemble Amorpha, led by rising composer and Junior Trinity compadre Luke Styles, came along to perform Michael Finnissy's installation-esque piece The Molly House; four players, plus Michael on harpsichord, wandered around the first floor playing from his flexible 'kit' of score sheets, and occasionally playing a hoover, hairdryer or electric whisk for good measure. In truth the additional instrument was the insane floorboard creaking as the audience meandered around with them,but nobody seemed to mind too much. This was chased up with strong showings of contemporary string writing, from a taut Ligeti viola sonata, to Luke's own excellently astringent violin/viola duo, and finally Schnittke's gorgeously claggy 'lento', which sounded as thick and luscious as a quartet rather than just violin and 'cello (I thoroughly credit my title joke to 'cellist Louise). The austere, robust music worked excellently in the House, and the audience seemed hardy to it and appreciative.
Two notable meetings happened - one was meeting composer Laurence Rose, whose day job is high up at the RSPB; surely an encounter just having been waiting to occur given my obsession with birdies in my music. But easily topping that was when a tall, bearded chap in his 50s introduced himself as 'my namesake', and I realised that the high drama moment had finally arrived when I met not only my name, my full initials, but also my job doppelganger: London-based composer Kerry Andrews. I kid you not. I half-expected us both to spontaneously combust upon setting eyes upon each other, or else, lock into some sort of immediate vicious battle to the death using only our bare hands and teeth, but instead we shook hands, and I said, hopefully in not too Dr. No-style 'we meet at last!'. I've been long aware of Kerry (and so, it turns out, has he of me), often through confusion on others' parts - that rogue 's' makes all the difference between being a male sound artist/visual artist/composer and, well, ME. We exchanged stories of confusions - the best being when he went to a job interview and introduced himself, to which the interviewer replied indignantly, 'no you're not! I know Kerry Andrew and you're not her!' to which he had an excellent reply of 'well, I was here first!'. Ha ha. He and I have both been congratulated on various funding wins or recent events that the other has done. I suggested that we put on a joint concert, though perhaps that will confuse everyone even more. Well, it's either that, or start a long-running feud, Saruman and Gandalf-stylee. Hur hur.