Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sunken Gardens, Dalston Power Lunches And Wonky Folk

Level of conviction in own genius: 6.5
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 3
Watching / Listening: ‘The Master’ on my flight to Toronto / Emily Portman’s back catalogue
Hair Day: The Most Expensive Haircut I Have Ever Had (like Emeli Sande but without the twin-sets and achingly dull songs); firmly considering having zig zag lines etched into the sides by a Brixton barber!

I’m a bit late with getting my oar in on the ENO’s much-trumpeted, look-at-us-we’re-down-with-da-yoot 3-D opera Sunken Garden at the Barbican; but I’m picking up my paddle anyway, to add to the smokin’ ‘was it good? Or was it SHIT?’ online debate, with the Telegraph/Guardian/Standard/Indie etc firmly crossing their arms in the former camp, and Norman LeBrecht looking a bit billy-no-mates in the latter. Sarah-juicette and I happily got bumped up to some good seats, upon which to take in the undisputedly impressive technical heft of the various screens and the synchronisation of filmed singers with live orchestra and vocalists. I do think there could be a lot of fun to be had with 3-D film in theatre, but fun was to be heard slamming the door and skipping off, laughing maniacally, to some club in Clerkenwell to pump its fist for four hours while WE sat, increasingly baffled and squirming slightly.
 As Mark Kermode is extremely wont to rail, 3-D is not a marker of quality, but instead too often thrown in desperately to add gloss to a soulless flibbertigibbet of a movie in which a) story b) writing and c) characters are found lacking. For every Cave of Forgotten Dreams, there are plentiful Transformers 3. Whilst Sunken Garden’s use of film, and in the second half, 3-D film, WAS integral to the story (documentary filmmaker gets increasingly drawn into his research about a missing guy, who has in fact been trapped in a verdant virtual purgatory by a crazy woman), I couldn’t help but hear Kermode shrieking like a disapproving great-aunt in the background. For this opera had a pretty dreadful story, chased down with weak characters and fist-in-mouth dialogue. Honestly, no-one should EVER have to hear the phrases ‘I am the head of a charitable arts foundation’ or ‘it’s an arthouse documentary’ sung operatically in slightly angular phrases. David Mitchell has not made an auspicious start in the world of libretto-writing, and Michel Van Der Aa’s music was mostly uninteresting vocal lines and swampy orchestral writing which had so many dramatic peaks that when the biggest revelations happened, they were rendered musical damp squibs. It was hard to make out the revelatory details anyway, as they were being histrionically wailed by two sopranos at pitches far too high to get the words out, and mostly whilst one did some madly hammy hand-thrashes to splash 3-D droplets towards the audience, and the other writhed around wrestling a long bit of apparently threatening material in unconvincing fashion (Van der Aa also directed). Having gone in rooting for it, we emerged underwhelmed and slightly embarrassed, and found many friends and acquaintances equally irked. Let’s hope the next big things do a little better…
 Two days later, Andy and I were in Mangal 2, rubbing shoulders and plates of tzadziki with various Beeb writers, conductors (André de Ridder, who’d waded his best through Sunken Garden) and BBC Radio 3 presenters (Sara Mohr-Pietsch, with him), which made up for the fact that we (gasp!) didn’t see Gilbert and George (they were reportedly in later. PHEW). We then headed to Dalston’s latest bottled-beer-and-dank-basement-dive called Power Lunches (of course!); it turned out to be a highly illustrious and extremely select audience, including André, Sara and Radio 3 producer Peter Meanwell, who had rocked up to see a bunch of Manchester music students, including young composer Tom Rose, put on their second night celebrating their new record label Slip Discs (nice). Olly Coates played a stunning solo ‘cello set as we sat on the concrete floor (Kagel, Britten, Squarepusher), followed by a fab electric guitar and laptop/drums duo with Leo Abrahams (who has the most amazing CV as a producer and session musician, from Brian Eno to Imogen Heap to Grace Jones), and Larry Goves did some live electronica alongside Olly. It was fun, and Very Dalston.
I had a smashing You Are Wolf gig in Oxford this weekend, at The Cellar’s Irregular Folk night. Vez, the promoter, looked after us beautifully (tea, cake, general super-niceness) the sound (by Geezer – that was his name!!), for once, was really excellent, meaning Andy and I could really respond to each other, and the crowd was fulsome and full of cheer. Headlining was the very wondrous Laura J Martin, a Scouse lass wielding the same Boss RC-50 loop station, a flute (she did some mean jazz-spitting and singing into it), a voice that really was like Kate Bush’s (rather than just a lazy reference point) in its mixture of ethereal gossamery tones and sudden, more strident edge, plus some mandolin and keyboard. She was occasionally accompanied by bassist Ollie from Oxford mega-folkpopsters Stornoway, and did brilliant fawn-like dancing to quirky beats that evoked Greek ancients having a rave. Check her out!
Creative news: juice have now recorded their final second album session, tackling Dai Fujikura’s 2.5-minute beast of a piece, and Anna-juicette’s marvellously dislocated Mariah Carey cover. The You Are Wolf sessions are now fully recorded, and beginning to be mixed by MaJiKer, who sends me rough cuts over email from Paris. And Woodwose, my community chamber opera, is finished! Hurrah. I am rewarding myself by hot-tailing it to New York via Toronto and Washington D.C.: full report to come!

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