Tuesday 8 December 2015

Bastard Assignments - Fresh and Clean at the Asylum

Bastard Assignments - Fresh and Clean - Asylum, Peckham
Bastard Assignments - Fresh and Clean - Asylum, Peckham
Fresh and Clean music by Edward Henderson, Josh Spear, Neele Hülcker, Andy Ingamells, Timothy Cape, Alex Nikiporenko; City Lit Community Choir, Edward Henderson, Josh Spear, Neele Hülcker, Andy Ingamells, Timothy Cape, Alice Purton, Zoé Saubat and Mariona de Lamo; Bastard Assignments at the Asylum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 06 2015
Music, theatre or what? An intriguing, absorbing and challenging evening of events organised by the contemporary music collective Bastard Assignments

Bastard Assignments is a composers collective in South London, run by Edward Henderson and Timothy Cape, both of whom trained at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where Bastard Assignments was formed in 2011. The group is run by a fluid collective of artists and they brought one of their current series of events Fresh and Clean, to Asylum in Peckham. The venue was built in the early 19th century as the chapel for the Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum, a group of almshouses in Peckham. The almshouses are now run by Southwark Council but the chapel was hit by an incendiary device in the war and is effectively a roofed ruin, being run as an arts venue.

Bastard Assignments - Fresh and Clean - Asylum, Peckham
Andy Ingamells -- Packaged Pleasure
There, on Sunday 6 December 2015, Bastard Assignments presented a series of works to an audience wrapped up against the cold, and free to wander round the chapel at will. The distressed nature of the environment formed an intriguing backdrop to the high-tech projections used in some of the works. The programme consisted of I Did and I Didn't by Edward Henderson performed by the City Lit Community Choir, Non Fiction written and performed by Josh Spear, ASMR for Contemporary Music Ensemble by Neele Hülcker performed by Josh Spear, Neele Hülcker, Edward Henderson and Timothy Cape, Packaged Pleasure written and performed by Andy Ingamells, NEED by Timothy Cape performed by Alice Purton, Zoé Saubat and Mariona de Lamo and Modus Triplex by Alex Nikiporenko performed by the same ensemble.

We started almost before we knew it, as the City Lit Community Choir was spread out amongst the audience and started singing at a discreet signal from Edward Henderson so that we experienced the music from all around us, without always being aware from whence it came, especially given that the lighting was low and dramatic. Henderson's piece consisted of a variety of semi-free sections, each cued by signal, so that the singers moved from quiet sustained notes, with small gradations of sound leading to a Beach Boys hit and then the performers speaking multiply and at random, then finally silence which of course led us to wonder whether this was the end. An intriguing essay in community and communal theatre.

Josh Spear's Non Fiction consisted of a recitation of a story, full of circumlocutions, ramblings and repetitions, all given in a hypnotic low-key rather dead-pan way and accompanied by percussion. The percussion was all generated by Spears on his body, with tapping his chest and utilising an array of rings and devices on his fingers. It was a quiet, subtle work in which the accompaniment seemed to grow and take over with the words receding into the background.

Alice Purton, Zoé Saubat and Mariona de Lamo - Bastard Assignments - Fresh and Clean - Asylum, Peckham
Alice Purton, Zoé Saubat & Mariona de Lamo
Neele Hülcker's work ASMR examined the phenomenon of people being attracted by very quiet noises. She, Josh Spear, Edward Henderson and Timothy Cape sat at a table facing the audience and at whispered commands from Hülcker the four did a particular activity, sometimes accompanied by a video of Hülcker doing the same activity. There were microphones, which sometimes became part of the actitivy with people tapping and fondling them. All the activities ranged from the quiet to the very quiet, including crumpling objects, stroking, quiet singing, fiddling with a dismembered clarinet. The whole was organised rather formally and seemed to hover between various genres and make you question, was this music, was this theatre, or what?

Packaged Pleasure by Andy Ingamells consisted of a film in which he was filmed in various activities, usually talking to camera musing about music and art. The piece was a collaboration with German / Danish composers Mathias Monrad Moller and Kaj Duncan David. The narrative was full of rather pretentious pondering, at one point he compares himself to Jesus and at another he comments that the audience is terrible and that the ideal piece would be just himself. It was difficult to assess whether the piece was serious or not, perhaps that was the idea; certainly the audience laughed. And Ingamells presentation reinforced this as he stood next to the film image and mimed the same activities as the video image of himself, at one point even lip-synching. But the live Andy Ingamells had bells on his arms so that each gesture was accompanied by a strange tinkling sound. The whole presentation seem to encourage us to send up the content of the video, and again question whether this was theatre, music or what? But I have to confess that the work did seem to go on a little too long, and was in danger of seeming self-indulgent and you wondered whose pleasure was being packaged?

In Spear, Hülcker and Ingamells pieces we were encouraged to question the nature of performance and whether we were listening to music, and how we were experiencing it. For all three, it seemed that the process was the most important thing and that the result would always vary. And this interest in process was also true of Edward Henderson's piece where the 'score' was more a series of instructions rather than fully notated music.

With NEED by Timothy Cape we seemed to be back in the realm of notated music. There were three performers, cellists Alice Purton, Zoé Saubat and Mariona de Lamo seated in a conventional way with music stands. But in addition to the played music, they also spoke. They had head microphones so that the three spoke and played at the same time. Cape seemed to be playing on the idea of chamber music as a conversation, and each musical gesture was accompanied by a verbal one which reinforced it (or vice versa). Finally each of the women got a monologue, whilst the others continued as if nothing was happening; the monologue's exploring the apparent states of mind of the performers. It was a piece which encouraged us to think about what was going on in the performers heads as they play.

With Modus Triplex by Alex Nikiporenko we returned to straightforward notated music. The piece had the strong, upfront inflections of Eastern European folk music, a vibrant end to an intriguing evening.

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