Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Fresh & Clean 3 - Bastard Assignments in Brixton

Sebastian Adams, Barry O’Halpin in Timothy Cope's The very best days of your life - Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Sebastian Adams, Barry O’Halpin in
Timothy Cope's The very best days of your life
Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Fresh and Clean 3: Josh Spear, Jennifer Walshe, Timothy Cape, Ed Henderson, Barry O’Halpin, Kajsa Magnarsson, Caitlin Rowley; Bastard Assignments; Block 336 Gallery, Brixton
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Eclectic mix of contemporary cross-arts events from this South London composers collective

For their third Fresh and Clean event Bastard Assignments were in the gallery Block 336 in Brixton. A white cube basement space which formed a neutral backdrop to the group's performances of pieces by Josh Spear, Jennifer Walshe, Timothy Cape, Ed Henderson, Barry O’Halpin, Kajsa Magnarsson, and Caitlin Rowley. As ever the composers collective, run by Ed Henderson and Timothy Cape, offered an eclectic mix of cross arts performance which mixed visual, theatre and music in varying degrees ranging from the re-interpretation of a Morrisey song through music theatre to lib-synch video and the making of bread & jam. Many of the artists performed their own work and they were joined by the trio of cello (Yseult Cooper Stockdale), viola (Sebastian Adams) and electric guitar (Barry O'Halpin).

The evening opened with Josh Spear's Planet is Dysphoria in which Spear lip-synched to a collaged sound-track with the visuals being a live video feed of Spear in white-face acting out the events depicted in sound. In purely technical terms this was a brilliant feat, with Spear providing not only impressive lip-synching skills but the ability flip from one interpretation to another in a split second. At first the collage seemed to be simply an amusingly camp, drag-queen-esque mix of films and quotes. But a greater picture appeared as the quotes developed political implications about second amendments rights (gun control) in the USA which were intercut with films depicting violence. A work which managed to be amusing and thought-provoking at the same time.

Next came Kajsa Magnarsson who did an improvisation on an electronic instrument that appeared all wires, with devices attached to a perspex sheet. It turns out that the devices were rape alarms, but the Improvisation for Rape Alarm evoked for us birdsong and the Brazilian rainforest. In fact, I found it remarkably similar to the reconstructed playback tape used in Henrique de Curitiba's Metaphors performed on the choir of Gonville & Caius College's disc Romaria (see my review). Perhaps the combination of Magnarsson's improvisation with live choral interpolations like the de Curitiba might be possible?
Yseult Cooper Stockdale, Sebastian Adams, Barry O’Halpin in Timothy Cope's The very best days of your life - Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Yseult Cooper Stockdale, Sebastian Adams, Barry O’Halpin in Timothy Cope's The very best days of your life
Bastard Assignments at Block 336

Caitlin Rowley's Found in boxes was deceptively simple. It seemed like a theatre piece, with Rowley opening a cardboard box full of screwed up paper, and was inspired by her recent experiences in real-life packing. The piece is in fact the first movement, Opening, of a longer work, and it became apparent that Rowley's actions were extremely deliberate and the sounds that she made coalesced into a striking audio piece using the percussive qualities available, ranging from the sound of a hand running over corrugated paper, to cutting paper and screwing it up.


Kajsa Magnarsson performing Improvisations for rape alarm - Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Kajsa Magnarsson performing
Improvisations for rape alarm
Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Jennifer Walshe did two pieces. Her first, Comment on dirt and ravings was a purely vocal piece, the title of which came from a comment by the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet who, during the recent controversies, said that he 'refused to comment on dirt and ravings'. Walshe's piece was an impressive vocal collage in a style highly reminiscent of Cathy Berberian's Stripsody. It was a brilliant vocal tour de force, with a bewildering variety of sounds given at high speed. The second piece, 16 Haiku consisted of a tape playback of a piece Walshe wrote in 1995 setting 16 haiku over which she spoke, live, a collage of texts which were quotations from contemporary popular culture including advertising campaigns and film reviews. The result was at times very funny, but the piece seemed a little self-indulgent and certainly needed pruning or tightening up.

Jennifer Walshe performing Comment on dirt and ravings - Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Jennifer Walshe performing
Comment on dirt and ravings
Bastard Assignments at Block 336
Timothy Cape's The very best days of your life is rather difficult to describe because it was a large scale theatre piece which included a huge variety of elements. In fact the piece seemed to have too much going on, too many ideas, and again seemed to need tightening up and focussing. It was performed by the trio of Yseult Cooper Stockdale cello, Sebastian Adams viola, Barry O’Halpin guitar, who were joined by Josh Spear and Edward Henderson. The main point seemed to be about the boring repetitive nature of work. There was a film of Cape washing, cutting up and cooking apples, perhaps he was making the jam which was used in the live creation of bread and jam. This activity took place with two members of the trio doing bread and jam duty whilst the third played a solo. Gradually the music took over, but not before audience members had been handed plates of bread and jam for consumption. As ever with Cape this was combined with speech and the repetitive musical elements paired with the phrases 'I am a drone', 'boring', 'dead-end' and such). The result was an intriguing theatre piece which does not quite, yet, achieve the point.

Barry O'Halpin, the guitarist from the trio composed the next piece, Three cells drinking the medium which was played by the trio, Yseult Cooper Stockdale cello, Sebastian Adams viola, Barry O’Halpin guitar. It was an eerie and disturbing piece, starting with a rather static texture (long notes from the strings interrupted by effects from the guitar plus electronic background), the music gradually became more mobile. The effect was textural rather than harmonic, with a great sense of each event being very carefully placed in to overall context.

Robert Hugill and other audience members - Bastard Assignments at Block 336 - photo Dimitri Djuric
photo Dimitri Djuric
The next piece took place in the semi-dark with just a strobe light as Kajsa Magnarsson manipulated an electric guitar. At first it was impossible to see how she was eliciting sounds from it, but then she turned and it became apparent that she was using a strap-on dildo. Perhaps the piece had something to say about the over-masculinisation of the instrument via heavy rock bands. I am not sure, but once the shock/novelty of the piece was revealed, the simple limitations of the use of the dildo became apparent and any musical interest died long before Magnarsson collapsed onto the guitar to elicit a long piercing (and very aurally disturbing) scream from the guitar.

Finally we had Ed Henderson's piece Morrissey Lives!, performed live to his own accompaniment. It started with an audio recording of Ed and his Dad talking about a guy who believed that God's message was codified in Morrisey's lyrics (!) which segued into Henderson's performing of a Morrisey song.

All images by David Hughes except where credited.

Elsewhere on this blog:

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month