Tuesday 17 June 2014

Spitalfields festival: The voice and the lens

Lore Lixenberg (2011)
Lore Lixenberg (2011)
Unrestrained creative thought can come dangerously close to being unintelligible, and the contributors at Spitalfields Festival's 'The voice and the lens' curated by Sam Belinfante and Ed McKeon at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, jumped right in there questioning what is understandable as music, or words, or even the condition of being human.

The idea behind this event itself was a creative one. The curators wanted to produce a music event that people could participate in as though it was an art gallery. But this takes some getting used to... Art in a gallery is generally static (or on short loops if video based) so you can go back and look at it again, and it will be the same every time you view it, while music is transient – once it's gone it's gone - until the next performance.

22 works were performed/ shown throughout the evening in two venues – meaning that you could perhaps see half of them. This was a shame. The evening will not to be repeated and consequently the audience will not be able to see the performances they missed. Also, because the timings did not match up, unless you stayed in one hall all evening it was unlikely that you would see even eleven complete works.

I managed to see eight (ish) works, all of which were composed/ filmed/ recorded during the last seven years, and found that there were lots of common ideas, especially in how voice was used, running throughout them.

'Bird' (2012) by Jayne Parker,featuring the amazing voice of Lore Lixenberg',' was mesmerising. In it Parker and Lixenberg explore the idea of a bird being the carrier of the soul after death. The singer, sometimes on stage, sometimes off stage, sometimes in the film begins with a human voice singing and speaking (very rapidly) but the voice becomes more bird-like and indeed the performance transforms an elegant woman into a bird. On film pianos, with their lids up to represent wings, also serve to amplify the performer's voice and add strange reverberations.

Terry Smith's 'Unsung' (2012) performed by Linda Hurst and using many of the same vocalisation techniques, was very effective and interesting to watch. Here Hurst (on stage) dueted with herself on film - sometimes singing words, sometimes breaking the sound down into its component parts. The film was a close up of her face, or of her mouth, showing how these sounds were produced and again posing the question 'what is singing and what is just noise?'

The installation 'Glasses' (2014) by Luke and Milo Dean gave the audience a chance to think about what they hear by showing them the insides of their own ears. A very clever use of mirrors to show us a part of our body we never usually see.

Similarly 'For you, only you' (2007) by Sonia Boyce involved Alamire singing 'Tu solus qui facis mirabilia' by Josquin de Prez.' 'Their performance was harshly interrupted, with increasing frequency as time went on, by Mikhail Karikis' vocalisations (which mirrored those by Hurst and Lixenberg) until Alamire stopped and sang a piece that his vocalisations complemented. The same question of music vs noise was here answered – it depends on context.

Maya Verlaak's 'New Work' also looked at this question but from a different angle. Here the performer (presumably Verlaak herself?) held a vintage horn to her lips as though playing it – but what we heard was a holiday itinerary in German. A translation of the text was provided, on screen, in-between negatives of landscapes.

Laurie Anderson's film 'Hidden inside mountains' (2006) felt like an anachronism. A series of scenes unfolded, where nature was a stage set - an unreal vision – and a person lost in the big world was surrounded by (unhelpful) proverbs in Japanese and English. The music was lovely, with atmospheric electric violin, percussion lending an oriental touch, and vocals by Antony.

Finally Lina Lapelyte singing the obscene words to 'Candy shop' with a background film of carpenters working with increased frenzy was very amusing, and a much needed light relief.

Belinfante and McKeon did a great job with 'The voice and the lens'. I have to congratulate them – they tried something new with the format and the performances I saw all had interesting ideas behind them. There were so many performances that if you did not like one thing there would soon be another that was hopefully more your cup of tea.

However I think that the format of the recitals' 'at the Geffrye Museum worked better. The performers played their recitals three times in the evening, so that each of the three groups could see all the works in all the venues. Using this format at Rich Mix would also have given people more of a chance to socialise – going to the bar if they wanted to give a performance a miss.

Spitalfields festival continues throughout June. I can recommend giving something new a try.
Reviewed by Hilary

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