A Blank Canvas…
The project started back in January when we travelled to the Saatchi Gallery to explore the current exhibition:
“GAIETY IS THE MOST OUTSTANDING FEATURE OF THE SOVIET UNION”.
The composers were given free reign of the exhibition as they hunted down the artwork they wanted to respond to. We handed them a worksheet to fill out with questions to help direct their thoughts, such as ‘How could you reflect or project the artwork in your composition? Does the artwork remind you of a specific musical genre? What will the performers wear? ’ but perhaps most effective, a large space on the paper for visual brainstorming….
Exploring the Boundaries…
Just over a week later, we visited the composers for our first workshop. We showed them famous examples of composers work which has been influenced by other art forms, such as Xenakis influenced by architecture and Schoenberg influenced by the expressionist paintings of Kandinsky.
Following thorough instrument demonstrations from MOC to show the capabilities of our instruments (whistle tones, key clicks, multiphonics, you name it) we played through the first draft of ideas which the composers had been working on.
Bringing the Canvas to Life
The project had a specific MOC brief; the composition had to instruct some sort of choreographic element to the performance. To think in sounds and aural textures is one thing, but to think about the visual aspect too is something a composer might not necessarily address, otherwise leaving it to the performers. As cross-arts practitioners we believe it is important to experiment with these visual aspects in exploration of further dimensions that can be added to a composition. These visual aspects have no boundaries, from addressing where performers might stand in relation to the artwork and what costumes they might wear, to prescribing physical movements at specific points in a piece.
Ideas were presented somewhat tentatively to begin with so we freed them up with an exercise borrowed from one of our collaborators, artist Tamarin Norwood. They were to express gestural markings in response to their artwork. Great. Fun.
The Canvas Is Filled!
The composers had been beavering away over half-term and came bright-eyed and bushey tailed to our next workshop session. The pieces were all beautifully written and full of unique identity, painting a new picture in response to their stimulus. They had even notated choroegraphed elements too:
The day had arrived. After lots of hard work, we were excited to finally arrive at the Saatchi Gallery, bags bulging with costumes and all!
THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED.
THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED.
Blimey! It really is quite incredible that a concert full of contemporary works was sold out and come 18.15 there was even a queue all the way down to the road for additional standing ticket sales!
Maybe a listing in the Evening Standard had something to do with it…
The audience were loosened up with their two free Russian cocktails and the atmosphere in the room was buzzing, everyone pleased to have their prized tickets and eager to find out how the talented young composers had responded to the vibrant artwork that was surrounding them.
The first two works in the program were inspired by the work below, Criminal Government (2008) by Gosha Ostretsov, in which cells hold realistic figures in bloodied business suits, some with limbs missing and all with abstract-shaped heads. The work represents government officials being dehumanized or punished, like prisoners of war.
Sophie wanted to portray the idea of identity being shifted and transferred to one another, achieving this musically with moments of unity in contrast with manic independence. Physically, Sophie clearly instructs the performers of which cells to stand in front of, mimicking the positions of the figures inside them and then later becoming more animated to the point where there is a switch of persona and thus physical positioning.
Nathaniel Coxon - Introduction and 5 Preludes to a Criminal Government
This work dedicates a movement of the piece to each cell in the artwork. With the performers wearing black clothing in dimmed lighting, the whole piece has an overall sombre tone, one movement containing a haunting oboe solo entitled “Funeral March”. Intelligently woven into this atmosphere are faster movements with driven metre creating a Russian sound world through well explored diversity of the wind instruments.
The third piece in the program was based on a different artwork Sex In The City (2008) by the same artist. Working in the Paris fashion world in the 1980s and 90’s, Ostretsov became involved with costume-art and performance and his interest in comic-strip and superhero culture led him to make grotesque latex masks, which play a central role in his exploration of power. In this work, Ostretsov knowingly subverts the idea that comic-strips had not yet been assimilated into Russian Art and are not considered a medium with which to convey anything serious.
Wearing costumes which blended in with the artwork, MOC surrounded the art and gradually swayed with the vibrato as if to come to life. Once the performers were ‘active’ they moved to the front of the room to play the majority of the piece which explores innovatively experimental dovetailing and note colouring between the instruments. At the very end of the piece, MOC merge back into the artwork both in sound and movement.
During the interval, we performed a piece inspired by the works of Yelena Popova with their transparent, softened geometric forms, recalling the aesthetics of Russian constructivism and minimalism. They display a series of paintings on linen which range in size and combine graphic pattern and unpredictable shapes with a delicacy of touch and colour.
Gabriel composed a series of beautiful chords to be played as the audience were walking around the gallery space. He wanted MOC to start playing in rhythmic unison, physically facing inwards towards each other. The performers then gradually became dislodged and phased freely with each other as they themselves wondered around the gallery too. The audience were free to talk and experience these layers of sounds as the musicians came closer to them and then disappeared into the distance. The result was beautifully free and had a very strong correlation to the artwork.
The last piece MOC performed was inspired by the works of Valery Koshlyakov who makes large-scale cardboard paintings and collages of architectural monuments which offer a re-reading of the symbols of empire. Covered in paint drips, his flattened-box panels look wet, urgent, quickly rendered and they show iconic subjects from a Soviet empire.
Anna wanted to convey the blatent irony of these grand buildings painted on to cardboard. Using very direct and beautiful melodies, Anna seemed to overlap the parts as they passed it over to one another, just like the overlapping cardboard and paint. MOC were directed to stamp, key click and slide their feet around on the floor which created dry, textural sounds complementing its simplicity. Anna made cardboard headpieces for MOC to wear, visually overlapping the artwork and the performers too.
You can watch the videos of the performances (coming soon) on our websitewww.musicoffcanvas.com
After the show…
Phew! We had played our hearts out and were pretty quick off the mark to rush downstairs to find any left over cocktails! (Not the composers mind, believe it or not, they are only 17!)
We have had most rewarding feedback saying that the concert changed the way in which some people saw and understood the artwork, brought to life in a way that would never otherwise be possible. The composers said that “MOC and the Saatchi project has given us so many ideas” and one friend even took his family back to the Saatchi Gallery at the weekend to show them the exhibition!
So, it is proven then… collaboration between the artworlds broadens horizons and offers people more avenues in which to connect with and experience the arts.
This, is what it is all about.