A few moments with Jack Sheen

Composer and conductor Jack Sheen has been co-commissioned by Riot Ensemble and BBC Radio 3 to compose a new work Television continuity poses for performance this Saturday (01/10/16) at the Southbank Centre with simultaneous live broadcast. He kindly took a few moments out of quite an intense schedule to answer our questions.

photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

photo by Anton Lukoszevieze

What’s happening in your life?
I have just moved flat and am listening to the new Young Thug mixtape a lot.
What’s happening in your music?
I’m starting to make long duration performance installations, some by myself, and some in collaboration with the artist Rowland Hill. The first one with Rowland is called I have never been anywhere so long and is being premiered in Manchester at Emergency Festival. It’s based on hand gestures used by women in Lancashire cotton mills and is about real and imagined repetition, corporeal memory, discipline, and fatigue. It’s actually going to be the same day as this Radio 3 broadcast, so quite a busy day.
Your piece is scored for solo violin (Sarah Saviet), viola, alto flute, bass clarinet, and toy piano. Have you been inspired by the great canon of works for this combination?
Not really, no.
So what’s the first note?
G sharp.
And what’s the last note?
F quarter-sharp.
What happens in between?
The piece is for solo violin and ensemble and there are three movements. In the first movement the violin plays a line and the rest of the ensemble play a chord. In the second and third movements the ensemble is split into a bunch of individuals and/or duos which act independently of the others. Generally, material is cycled around and variated in some childishly simple way.
Whilst I was writing the piece I was watching a lot of Merce Cunningham dances. I really, really love how Cunningham treats large groups of dancers, how he breaks up that group into smaller groups, how those groups change and interact.
I mostly wrote this piece during that huge heatwave in London in late August/early September, so a lot of this piece was sketched and composed wearing swimming shorts.
Many thanks, Jack!

Meeting Sarah Dacey

Welcome to the first contribution to a mini-series of interviews with new members of our Artistic Board. Today we put the big questions to singer Sarah Dacey, who is also a member of vocal trio Juice. This Saturday (01/10/16) she will perform Void by our 2016 composer in residence Nina C Young alongside Stephen Upshaw (viola) and Adam Swayne (piano) at the Southbank Centre, London, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

riot_sd

Hello Sarah. Please tell us the ways in which you have Rioted so far.

  1. By making my performance debut on the following instruments: triangle, guiro, pebbles, bird whistle, loudspeaker and a chocolate bar wrapper.
  2. By adjudicating a fantastic Young Composers Competition.
  3. By singing a bit.

Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?

I think I was such a nerdy note-learner that it terrified others, thereby making it seem like an act of insane rebellion against the education system and thereby a ‘tearaway’… or maybe I just seemed a little unhinged!

I rejected doing Music GCSE, saying it was a waste of time (!) and preferred practising the violin to doing any actual work during my A Levels. Not sure I would have done it differently in hindsight.

I then went onto York University where the first piece I performed was Aria by John Cage, and it’s all been uphill from there really.

Favourite musician?

Lang Lang for sheer exuberance, Meredith Monk for originality, Viv Albertine for feminist inspiration, Barbara Hannigan for vocal virtuosity, Jimi Hendrix for improvisation … This list could be neverending to be honest.

Favourite performance venue?

The Multi-Storey Car Park in Peckham. It formed the backdrop for the best performance of The Rite of Spring that I’ve ever heard.

People have said this about me…..

“She’s like a pint of beer – cool, effervescent, hopefully without a big head and sometimes can just last a bit longer than you were expecting.”

Strictly or X Factor?

Love the art forms. Hate the format. Neither.

The best 007 is …

I did LOVE Daniel Craig but I’m looking forward to hearing David Oyelowo voicing the new James Bond audiobook and, if I had to put my money on it, I reckon James Norton (from ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘War & Peace’) would make an excellent choice for the next film.

I would most like to Riot about …

Three things make me incredibly angry at the moment – Brexit, Sexism and Climate Change.

ARGGHGHGHGHGGHGH!

Many thanks, Sarah!

Reflections on the Text Scores of Pauline Oliveros

Music entails listening. This may be a truism, but it is one that Pauline Oliveros’s music considers from every angle. What is listening? How is it different from hearing? Can we activate it, and then shape it at will? Can we compose music with it?

listen

Listening needs stillness. As does reading. ‘First imagine silence’ begins the score of One Sound Once. Oliveros’s scores are written as texts, rather than musical notation. Some are just a few lines long, some several pages. Klickitat Ride is a list of 108 instructions that are to be read out loud. David Tudor is a two-line epigram. Although often poetic, they are not poems. Oliveros has called them ‘attentional strategies’ – ways of listening and ways of responding. They don’t attempt to express anything as such, but invite the reader/listener to find out for herself what might happen if they pay attention in a particular way. They rarely require specialist musical knowledge: they can be read, and performed, by anyone. But to perform them properly requires discipline, attention and concentration.

Stillness entails breathing. Even at our stillest and most attentive, we are breathing. There is a meditative aspect to Oliveros’s work that applies to both performers and listeners. She calls this aspect ‘Deep Listening’, a form of listening practice cultivated through the sort of concentration and discipline her scores require, and intended to expand consciousness into ‘the whole space/time continuum of sound/silences’.

Breathing means movement. As we inhale and exhale our chest rises and falls. If we are practising Deep Listening, our mind similarly expands and contracts. Inner becomes outer; outer becomes inner. The sounds we are listening to exist in spatial relation to us and to each other. Quintessential and Pebble Music present catalogues of sounds, arranged by the performers like objects in a museum. In Rock Piece movement is even more explicit, with performers moving into, out of and around the space.

Movement means making. As the performers in Rock Piece move, they click pairs of stones together in their hands, ‘sounding out the environment in all directions’, attending to its different resonances and the relationship between their clicks and those of their colleagues. In Word Sound the movements are more abstract – ‘Say a word as a sound. / Say a sound as a word.’ read two lines of the score. Moving from words to sounds, turning one into the other makes a particular type of sound production, and a particular type of listening. When does a sound become a word?

Making entails music. As words and sounds transform into one another, or as clicking rocks echo around the performing space, we start to make music. Like John Cage, Oliveros blurs the boundaries between life and music: Deep Listening is inclusive listening, in which everything one might possibly hear is attended to. The pieces themselves are ways to reach that state. Deep Listening can only be intellectualized so far; in the end you have to do it. You have to listen.