My portrait concert is now just around the corner, on June 30th, and things are really starting to come together. We have been wonderfully backed by the Arts Council, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust, and LSO Soundhub. It’s great to have such big names involved too: Leigh Melrose, who has just finished playing Wozzeck at ENO, Melinda Maxwell, Richard Baker, Ashot Sarkissjan of the Arditti Quartet… I’m really happy to have such fine players on board.
My concert is a collection of works from the last three years which explore spoken word, politics and violence in music. There will be a performance of my boxing opera, The Revenge of Miguel Cotto, a new piece for Sprechchor and violin, Socialist Fucking Realism, and lots of other nice (sometimes violent) things too which are listed on my website.
The concert is also going to be recorded as my debut commercial CD. Exciting times ahead! If you’d like to come then get in touch with my via my website and I’ll send you an invitation!
Last weekend was the debut outing of the newly founded London Sprechchor. For the last couple of months we’ve been workshopping extended vocal techniques for a new piece of mine, Socialist Fucking Realism, which also features the amazing Ashot Sarkissjan on violin. The concert was a little excerpt from this, and it went really well. The choir was great and Ashot was so loud! The Sprechchor is made up of volunteers from all kinds of backgrounds – musical and non-musical. It was great to see them all up on stage shouting! Our next performance will be at my portrait concert at LSO St Luke’s on the 30th June, where we’ll be performing the whole piece.
Here are a few photos from our rehearsals:
Also, have a look at our website to see what we’ve been doing at workshops, and some of our main influences for the project.
THE HOUSE OF ASTERIA (2013)
written and directed by Richard Bullen
The House of Asteria is a site-reactive theatre work written for mezzo soprano Lore Lixenberg, 8 clarinets, 8 strings, video, and the building of LSO St Luke’s. It was developed during the LSO Soundhub Scheme 2012–2013.
By ‘site-reactive’ I mean the music is designed to react to the differing sizes and acoustics of the space where it is performed, and could feasibly be transferred to other spaces. The spatial structure informs the dramatic structure of the music. For this premiere performance the action takes place in and around the entire building of LSO St Luke’s, while the audience remain seated in the hall. The piece attempts to explore, with the aid of the video, the dramatic tension between ‘on’ and ‘off stage’, and between exterior of space and interior of mind. I wanted to transform the building into a gigantic musical instrument. I also wanted to allow the building to become a unique character in the drama, in a similar way to the prominent role architecture plays in many Gothic novels.
My text has its roots in some of the most violent tales from Greek mythology: the Minotaur, Electra and Medea. However, they are just roots, and there is tremendous distance (reflected by the use of space) between the myth and my text. This distance is in some way mediated by Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The House of Asterion, which, told from the Minotaur’s perspective, sheds new light on the myth by introducing a meditative, vulnerable quality to his character. The themes of the infinite labyrinth, the double, and the contamination of reality by dream – which characterize much of Borges’ output and Fantastic literature – have been subsumed into the text. Asteria was apparently the name of one of the Minotaur’s victims, so there is ambiguity as to whether my character is a murderer or murdered, asesino o asesinado?
Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Electra both begin with animal-like howling off-stage. Both women are described with animal imagery – Medea is likened to a ‘bull’ and a ‘lioness’. Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s Elektra (after Sophocles) is described as a ‘wild cat’ whose howls for her father cause all the walls of the building to re-echo. Like Asterion, she is another brooding creature who spends her time languishing in her ‘lair’, endlessly waiting until a moment of off-stage violence ends her suffering.
The protagonist in my work is not any one of these mythical characters – she is a synthesis of abstract elements from all three. As with Schoenberg’s Erwartung, she is a nameless, lone wanderer. What links Medea, Electra and Asterion is a struggle between human and animal. I have used both Spanish and English text to attempt a separation between the singer’s human and animal qualities. A further nod to Borges, I also use Spanish for its particular earthy, yet resonant sound and because I am not trying to convey a literal narrative where the sung text must be understood – offstage this would be impossible even in English. This piece is concerned with revealing the interior mind of the singer through images and sounds. In fact I feel that the existence of a narrative in this case would actually detract from perceiving these sounds in space.
The video was filmed exclusively inside the building of LSO St Luke’s. I was particularly interested to explore the underground ‘Labyrinth’ areas – the corridors, lower stairwells and crypt. Influenced by Freud’s concept of the ‘Uncanny’ (Das Unheimliche) I wanted to explore that which is disturbingly familiar – the audience may have passed through some of these locations on their way to the hall. The singer’s ghostly video double is equally uncanny.
The section of video in colour – the video feedback or mise en abime – is designed to extend space forward for the first time in the piece, and create an illusory corridor in front of the audience – of Borgesian infinity. The live action and video are in a constant state of interaction. During the first section we hear very, very distant live sounds of utter anguish, but see a very close-up image of an eye or mouth. Perspective is frequently manipulated: At one point we are watching the film of the right hand balcony filming the film of the left hand side balcony filming the film basement corridors. Earlier we see the live singer to our left on the balcony looking across at the empty right hand balcony. But if we look at the video we see the shot as if from her perspective – staring at her double!
I am greatly indebted to James Sims-Williams for a huge amount of assistance with filming and editing.
The instrumentation of 8 clarinets and 8 strings arranged in 4 quartets continues the theme of the double explored throughout this piece. One could argue there are in fact only two instruments, one bowed, one blown, each doubled 7 times. Positioned in each corner of the Jerwood Hall, spread over two vertical levels, the four quartets represent the four pillars of the hall. Each vertical quartet functions at times as a separate organism from the rest, then merging with the others to form one single mass of sound – the loss of individual identity a subtle reference to the chorus in Greek Tragedy.
The dramatic trajectory of the music is threefold – the singer, whose material is ever diminishing in complexity and gesture (though increasing in volume due to proximity to hall); the strings, a traditional arch-form; and the clarinets, ever increasing (yet dying away in the distance in the crypt).
Particular consideration has been given to the vertical distribution of sound and harmonic spectra. This practice develops ideas from an earlier clarinet trio written during the Soundhub Pilot Scheme in 2012. As the singer enters the highly resonant stairwells, her notes start to become echoed by clarinets in the hall. The roles are reversed towards the end of the piece – violence both times is consigned to the off-stage, the other world.
The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters; and it was not easy for one under so much anxiety to find the door that opened into the cavern. An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness.
Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
… for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me) – it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. … Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement – for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did
actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound – the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.
Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher
Not only have I imagined these games, I have also meditated on the house. All the parts of the house are repeated many times, any place is another place. There is no one pool, courtyard, drinking trough, manger; the mangers, drinking troughs, courtyards, pools are fourteen (infinite) in number. The house is the same size as the world; or rather, it is the world. … Every nine years nine men enter the house so that I may deliver them from evil. I
hear their steps or their voices in the depths of the stone galleries and I run joyfully to find them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. They fall one after another without my having to bloody my hands. They remain where they fell and their bodies help distinguish one gallery from another.
Jorge Luis Borges, The House of Asterion
The deeper I went, the more alien and the darker the scene became. In the cave, I discovered remains of a primitive man within myself – a world which can scarcely be reached or illuminated by consciousness. The primitive psyche of man borders on the life of the animal soul, just as the caves of prehistoric times were usually inhabited by animals before men laid claim to them.
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Workshop photos at St. Luke’s yesterday
Sabrina Kelly, Tito Poblete, Vanessa Downie, Jo Cork, Rania Leontiou, Emily Wong, and Julie Havelund.
Paul Beckett (viola), Eleanor (soprano), Fabricio Mattos (guitar), Beatrice Hubble (oboe), Nicola Crowe (flute), Alexander Roberts (clarinet), Daniel Tse (bassoon)
Belinda Ackermann and Debra Fear
Photos by Emma-Ruth Richards
Continuing with my behind-the-scenes tour and the presentation of the people I’m working with (started on my previous post with Ingrid and Jo), it’s time to meet the earliest and the latest addition to my team.
The latest was Charlotte Ive, a director and writer, with whom I co-direct the project. Although brought in late, she immediately managed to adapt to her role, bring in new ideas by looking at things from a different perspective and propose interesting solutions to our problems. Here are some of her drawings:
Last in this tour, the writer of the fairy tale that my work is based on: Myrto Loulaki. Mainly an exceptional singer (you will have the chance to listen to her on our shows), but otherwise an imaginative writer, Myrto managed to get my initial and simplistic concept of the background story and transform it to an amazing -and I dare to say classic- fairy tale. You will learn more about the fairy tale in my next post, for now though enjoy some of Myrto’s shadow-puppet-stlye drawings for her story:
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