I’ve been reading a bit about hauntology lately and considering how my own work relates to the concept. The term itself appears to be somewhat ambiguous. Introduced by Derrida, it is, put simply, concerned with the significance of the past in our present. The term has also been applied to certain fields of music and, in particular, artists who have mined digital and analogue archives in search of potentially creative material. As a concept, I can’t help thinking that it’s all a bit obvious and has already been exhausted in several other areas of philosophy. Still, I like the “literal” element of phantoms and spectres that seems to be a recurring theme: the imprinting of a past life or death on something as tangible as a building or landscape.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a live performance by the band Public Service Broadcasting. During the gig I kept thinking about this whole hauntology malarkey. Sound-wise they have a very post-rock feel – long instrumental numbers that slowly build to a cacophonous crescendo – albeit with a strong sense of parody – and littered with samples of “Keep calm…”-style commentary, which struck me as being very nostalgic and yet very current – (I’ve lost count of the many variations of “Keep Calm and Carry On” that I’ve seen on Facebook in the last couple of years, and I wonder how many of those posting the images are aware of its origins). Visually, the performance shared that same kind of recontextualisation as the audio material. A stack of old-fashioned TVs had been piled on either side of the stage displaying meticulously edited archival news footage, occasionally combined with real-time video of the audience. Whether this was a conscious fusing of past and present or pure gimmick remains unclear.
Overall, the mood was satirical, at times recalling Harry Enfield’s public service announcement skits (see below). Even the ritual of live performance was parodied, a faceless, stiff upper lipped-voice introducing the band members, telling the audience how nice it was to be “back in…[pregnant pause]…Aberdeen!” or announcing the end of the show followed by – gosh! – an encore.
It’s hard to imagine where PSB will go next – it feels like a very self-contained, one-off kind of project. But maybe that’s the point…? The sources that the band have incorporated into their act are ripe for piss-taking, even if many of those sources come from a dark part of our history. Perhaps in a few years someone will create an act based entirely around the “dirty old celebrity” epidemic that we’re currently being made aware of. Imagine a band riffing over Jimmy Saville’s “jingle jangle jewellery” catchphrase. Would it be any more distasteful?
Last Saturday’s performance went much better than any of the Cruel and Unusual members could have hoped. The event was sold out and, unfortunately, some people were turned away at the door.
After a long day of rehearsals, I think we managed to give the best performance we possibly could – nerves and adrenalin probably helped! I even managed to recite texts in Latin without fluffing my lines…
Si habeatur corrupta!
Documenting the event was photographer Carla Coulthard. Below are a selection of images from the performance and post-show discussion (click to enlarge). Make sure to check out her website for more of her fantastic work:
Final preparations… One (or rather four) of the key elements arrived yesterday in the shape of masks. These were created by Jane Stewart Wright and Barry Wright. See below for an idea of the process of their creation:
I particularly like the repeated use of the astrological symbol for Taurus.
This afternoon we spent a very inspiring couple of hours with a dance tutor at Citymoves in Aberdeen…where I realised how unfit I am. It was a fantastic learning experience and I think the performance will be all the stronger for it.
Cruel and Unusual
11th May 2013, 8pm
The Divinity Library
University of Aberdeen
Rehearsals continued today. Sounds and images are almost complete , as is the overall structure of the performance. The lesson throughout all this (at least for me) has been that less is more. We have a lot to pack into a short period of time, but I feel that we’ve managed to achieve this without being too literal. Instead, we’ve often taken abstract and surreal approaches; communicating meaning through subtle physical gestures or conveying important elements without words, and instead using music and projected film to invite personal interpretations from the audience.
This is certainly one of the strangest projects that I’ve ever been involved in, but also one of the most enjoyable. Between us, we’ve created a dark, mysterious and challenging work. Book your tickets here.
In the meantime, see below for some images of today’s rehearsal. Click to enlarge:
Tonight I was clearing out the hard drive and stumbled across a few tracks that I’d recorded a few years ago. I have little memory of composing or recording these, so it’s a bit of a strange experience listening to them now.
Here are a couple of solo piano pieces from the Glass/Satie years:
…and here are a couple of acoustic pieces where I felt brave enough to sing:
Rehearsals continued today at our performance venue. The Divinity Library at Aberdeen University is a bit of hidden gem – very few people know that it exists. The room is almost church-like in design, with a large narrow window at the furthest end, framed by two staircases leading to the upper gallery. The walls on either side are lined with glass cabinets containing old books which fill the space with an old, musty scent.
The venue has made a huge impact on the overall shape of what we’ll be performing. Between the staircases will be a large projection screen displaying various abstract imagery. Four loudspeakers will be placed at the furthest corners of each level, meaning that the audience will be constantly immersed in sound.
The Cruel and Unusual Facebook page is now active. Click here and “like” us!
…and here are two audio examples to give you a taster:
What did the bull mean to the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles and Scandinavia?An intermedia performance, exploring cutting-edge research using experimental music, ﬁlm and spoken word in various languages. Devised by Lisa Collinson, Adam Cresser, Ross Whyte and Candy Hatherley.
£6/£4 (Over 16s Only) No wheelchair access
Saturday 11th May, 8pm-9pm, The Divinity, University of Aberdeen
Book Tickets: Aberdeen Box Office: 01224 641122
Yesterday, Lisa, Adam, Candy and I took part in a movement workshop at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh in preparation for the Cruel and Unusual performance at Aberdeen University next month. A major part of the workshop involved the use of masks and learning how to use/engage with them. Needless to say, things got a bit dark. Having a mirror held in front of your masked face and being asked to make your face adapt to the weird, exaggerated expression you’re presenting (usually resulting in an unnerving rictus grin) was both amazing and terrifying. All in all, an entertaining, insightful and very educational experience.
I’m very excited to be involved with an event titled Shostakovich Undressed. Along with sound artists Pete Stollery, Suk-Jun Kim, Clive Grace and Chandra Chapman, I’ll be providing a “response” to Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C Minor (Op. 110a) which will be performed in its entirety by the Scottish Ensemble at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen on 6th June 2013.
The work, dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war”, was written by Shostakovich over three days in the Summer of 1960. It’s an energetic, aggressive and turbulent piece of music that leaves most listeners shaken. The majority of the work is based around the famous DSCH motif – Shostakovich’s musical cipher which he transcribes as D, E flat, C, B natural.
I think that there’s something incredibly powerful and affirming about stamping your name so explicitly (yet, at the same time subversively) – and, indeed, bravely – onto something which serves as your primary means of expression, and at the same time, risking the most extreme kind of artistic censorship. This is music which exists today against the odds, and that’s an incredibly powerful and potent source of material to work with.
My “response” makes extensive use of the DSCH motif, whilst incorporating video projection and a burlesque dancer. The performance is intended to express a breaking free from censorship of artistic expression. The music track can be streamed below:
Further information and ticket booking information can be found here.