Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound

Isobel McArthur as Daphne Oram

Photo via Dundee Rep

We had a chance to catch the Blood of the Young and Tron Theatre presentation of Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound at Dundee Rep. This show is touring Scotland, so if you can do be sure to see it. If you don’t know anything about Oram, there’s a good primer at her official website. You may recall that her book on sound theory An Individual Note was kickstarted last year, a project spearheaded by the fabulous Sarah Angliss.

Co-written by star Isobel McArthur (pictured above) and director Paul Brotherston, the play gives an overview of key moments in Oram’s life from her childhood interests in music in archeology, to the 1942 séance where the 17 year old was encouraged to pursue music instead of a more traditional ‘girl’s path’ to safety and suffocation. Sheer determination and unflagging confidence in the power of sound eventually brings her to co-founding and becoming director of the famed BBC Radiophonic Workshop. McArthur embodies Oram with an enthusiasm and a dogged primness that allows the passionate creative force to burst out to great effect when it’s been denied too long.

The ensemble cast Robin Hellier, David James Kirkwood, Dylan Read and Matthew Seager move adroitly between parts, shifting accents and body language to make transitions clear. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita has designed a set that supports that nimbleness of the cast. The true magic of theatre is creating places and people in an instant that you completely believe. A small ensemble can sometimes feel like Tommy Cooper changing hats. With a minimum of props, this group portrayed a succession of situations with vivid clarity.

The live sound score by Anneke Kampman was simply amazing. She created ambience, soaring melodies, a wide variety of sound effects and really brought the whole philosophy of Oram to aural life. You can follow her on SoundCloud to hear more, but if you can catch her live do. The frisson between the music and the players energised the whole audience.

You can get a taster here:

The Big Trek

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Back to Scotland: the big trek is even bigger this time around. Albany to Philly to Manchester then Edinburgh where I’ll catch the train to Dundee. Depending on how timing works, I will either catch up with my family at Granddad’s or back at the house. As usual, I’m still packing.  It’s been so hot here in NY that I have to remind myself it’s going to be (gloriously) cooler in Dundee. Hurrah 🙂 It’s been a taxing year. Happy to escape.

Witches: September Gallery

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September Gallery via their Facebook page

Sometimes living in hipsterville has its benefits: September Gallery is definitely one of them. They only opened last year but they’ve already won a fan in me with this show. Witches brings together a variety of powerful works by women. Marjorie Cameron‘s name drew me in, but there were other pleasures to enjoy. It was wonderful to see her drawings up close and marvel at her fine lines and free compositions. Stunning and powerful.

Her work was surrounded by contemporary artists animated by the same questing spirit. Laurel Sparks describes her work a kind of sigil magic, overlaying a dizzying array of colours, textures and materials in her Magic Square series. They sparked some ideas in me. Rosy Keyser’s work likewise mixes materials and colour but in a more abstract way. I loved her Terrestial Mime which hangs materials on a wooden grid with wild layers of paint. It feels like the work behind a painting made visible, a sort of swirl of anarchic energy summoned.

Marianne Vitale’s Very Fine Gander has a whimsical charm, like toys made giant — but charred, too. So there’s also a feeling of something horrible gone wrong. There’s a great description of it in the exhibit essay by Susan Aberth (who wrote that fabulous book on Leonora Carrington — but argh! ‘The Burning Times’ and the Middle Ages are not synonymous. The height of the witch hunts was the 16th-17th centuries: the Early MODERN era).

I was absolutely bowled over by Anna Betbeze’s untitled sculpture of burnt objects on a rug. It felt like an artefact from the past, like a fire that consumed the witch who summoned it or what was left of the village after a curse. Like her piece Howl the literalisation of burning anger feels great.

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” ― Maya Angelou 

Best of all, the show culminated in a performance night last Saturday. I arrived to find the place in darkness as it had already begun (so much for being fashionably late). Melinda Kiefer led the audience in an opening ritual “to create [a] sacred yet wacky” atmosphere. Then the fabulous Pam Grossman (who probably alerted me to this show via her blog Phantasmaphile) gave a short version of her talk on the image of the witch in art. She was the organising genius behind the Occult Humanities Conference and exhibit last year that’s still resonating loudly in my head. I was glad we had a chance to chat afterward.

Shanekia McIntosh gave a wonderful performance with amazing code switching in a story about her family and the power of premonitions. There was an interesting Sonic Sigil piece, an invocation and prayer to Hecate by Sarah Falkner, Rebecca Wolff and Jonathan Osofsky (I liked the use of flags). The band Dust Bowl Faeries performed and wow! I was sharing pictures from their show with the Folk Horror Revival group because I knew people would dig it:

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They’re playing Helsinki Hudson on the 7th of May. Be there!

Laurel Sparks wrapped up the evening with a performance that had us back in the dark while she paced a circle around us, reading from huge slabs and then painting herself in dayglo colours with a kind of ritual precision that managed to be both humorous and compelling without ever giving in to the over-seriousness that performance pieces can fall prey to. All in all a fantastic evening.

NYC with the QoE

Spring break has mostly been work but I did manage to make another escape to spend the day with the fabulous Stephanie down in the city. Just before another collaboration escapes on Monday, Respectable Horror, which I edited and she supplied the wonderful cover art featuring cover model Poppy. She’s not just skin and bones either!

More photos in a FB album — they’d take up too much of my storage space here — but here’s a few highlights which included stops at the NYPL, Society of Illustrators and the Met as well as fine Belgian and Thai food. Click to embiggen any of the images.

Out Now: Utterances

Out now from the biggest little label of love, Linear Obsessional Recordings, it’s Utterances, a whopping 112 tracks & 53 page booklet downloadable now for free!

If you look down to #21 it’s me reading an amended version of Blake’s Auguries accompanied by the John Cage prepared piano app. The mood of the moment, you might say. Here’s hoping for sweet delight and not endless night — at least for the holidays.

That’s my listening for the day sorted! Check out LO’s other recordings and find out why The Quietus calls them ‘a whole world of strange sounds and interesting ideas’ (totally agree!)

Review: Gimme Danger

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Music is life. And life is not a business.

When I came out of the theatre there was blood on the pavement and a guy whose face had been smashed by something. It seemed out of place on a quiet Albany afternoon, but not after this film.

The Stooges are a perfect meeting of the mind-bending exuberance of youth and the free-floating impotent anger that often accompanies it when that energy has no place to go. Surrounded right now by a cultural climate that has filled most of the women I know (mostly past that first exuberance of youth) with a rage that has few outlets, it was a good catharsis. It could have been many things — like an Iggy film — but it was tightly bound to the band. Jarmusch, too, stayed out of the way (I hate those big name doco directors who make it all about showing what good taste they had).

The film is stripped down, filling in missing footage with Iggy’s narration and found footage, crazy cultural references and even animation. I can’t even begin to tell you anything rational about it because I was so immersed in it that I wasn’t making mental notes. There was a point where all three of us in the theatre laughed out loud at something so unexpected I couldn’t tell you what it was because the movie clipped right along.

Things that stuck this first time around (because I will be watching this again and again as soon as I can get my hands on it): how weird it was to hear all these mid-Michigan accents I grew up with that now sound totally alien. Every time I hear Iggy talk there’s that dislocation. How the band all lived up to that hippie ideal of ‘communism’ — living communally, sharing everything, even song writing credits. ‘That was before we knew about intellectual property rights,’ he said drily. How the younger girls they met in Washington Square who were a[n unnamed] band were much better than them spurred the Stooges on to want to be better. How they saw the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame induction as crowning the coolness of losers. How visionaries like Danny Fields saw their promise and pretty much no one else did — until suddenly every band in the world seemed to be covering the Stooges.

Soupy Sales. James Williamson’s second career!

Near the end of the film, Iggy remembered bringing a bunch of guys from his high school back to his folks’ trailer, trying to get in with them and they made fun of where he lived and how small the bathroom was. And his avowal that he wanted to outlive them and show them and put them in their place (like Tori with ‘I want to smash the faces / of those beautiful boys’).

Anger is an energy, as that other guy said. Let it lift us.

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Story for a Sunday: Tangled Up in Some Sort of Cerulean Hue

cateblan1scope_468x680Bob Dylan: Nobel Prize Winner — bet you didn’t have a fiver on him. Nine years ago I had this tale published in the tiny lit journal Ephemera. Did anyone notice it was a bunch of Dylan lyrics somewhat altered mashed up with a little Marlowe? No, probably not. But it amused me. I have not read it now as I think it might be painful. But you can read it.

Tangled Up in Some Sort of Cerulean Hue

She was a beauty, all auburn curls, doe eyes, and hippie garments. But I think it was chiefly the eyes, moist and beseeching, that made me forget my usual caution and help her out of that sticky situation, but—like the man said—I guess I used a little too much energy to do so. What is it with some women? They cling to whatever wind blows the most hot air. She was with a jerk, I applied a little leverage and next thing I know, she was stuck on me. Not just stuck—glued, applied, corkscrewed into my entrails—she showed no signs of budging. Which was why I found myself standing in that solitary grove with books of Albanus and Bacon and a big old Latin bible that I could sort of read, inside a chalk circle, ready for conjuring.

Bobby swore it would work. I guess I should have considered the logic of that assumption, but I was too busy daydreaming of life post-hoc. I was an idiot. Gravity is the destiny of us all. Suckers.

The borderline separating my circle from the mundane should have been safe. Well, for that matter, the charm itself should have produced rather different results. I guess that’s where better reading knowledge of Latin would have helped, but it was never so easy for me. There were so many distractions: crickets rhymed shrieks back and forth while the trees’ limbs guffawed an obscene parody of their song. The stupid wind kept blowing the pages back and forth. For all I know, now that I think on it, I managed to conjure two different rituals into one.

I really just wanted to peel off that persistent drag. She was nice enough at first, but I never did take to the clingy types. As the sun descended like a slippery egg yolk down the cobalt sky, I was already picturing my new life, free from the eternal bondage—eternal since Tuesday—of that woman who wanted to keep hold of my shoelaces and drag along behind my sorry carcass for an apparently indefinite period. I knew I was in trouble when she fluttered those too long lashes at me and murmured in my ear how happy she was. I didn’t even blink, but I knew I had to start planning right then.

It only took a few days to assemble the necessary materials. Thank the gods for the internet, which I mean to say, thank science—or technology or whatever. I don’t know how it’s done. It might was well be magic. But I found local shops with the needed ingredients—even dog tongue, which turned out to be some kind of herb. That was a relief. I might be able to hurt a woman, but never a dog! Damn, they’re innocent creatures. Not that I meant to hurt her, just kind of discourage her, turn her off. Give her something else to worry about and let me go. Now she’s just going to think I pissed off and left her. I guess that would be irony.

It seemed so perfect. I felt like some medieval Merlin, necromantic books before me, the world under m spell. Bobby said he’d had such successes with his chanting and such. Surely it would work just as well for me. It’s all in the book. Why would it matter who said it? Yeah, sure, I know what you’re thinking—pronunciation. Yeah, maybe—then again, maybe it was the wind and those pages. The back pages of the book were pretty thin and the wind kept blowing like it had it in for me from the start. It wasn’t possible to tell at first whether it worked or not.   It’s not like I would have seen her disappear like some cloud of smoke. There was no clap of thunder or buckets of rain descending. But it wasn’t too long before I knew that I had got my signals crossed and all was not well. Beware of Latin—dead languages don’t care who they screw.

From the indigo darkness, something hit me from below. Never did see what it was—some creature lacking shape or natural order—but its impact was immediate and bruising. Knocked me clean out after seeing stars that were not part of the navy canvas of the night sky. Gone, over and out, no balls, no strikes, just error—good night, nurse.

I woke up on the side of the grove, flies droning around my head. I knew something was wrong because the sound made me hungry. Everything looked a lot bigger and before I could give myself a stern talking to, I was beginning to realize that things were worse than mere failure. So here I am, stuck. In my present state I can’t even touch the books I read. What’s the likelihood anyone will stumble across them and read just the right spell? What’re the odds that anyone will listen to me in present state? What I wouldn’t give for her to be so determined to find me that she comes out here, calling “Jimmy, Jimmy,” and recognizing me and restoring me back to what I was. I wouldn’t even leave her then, no, I’d be an honorable man after that. Really, you have to believe me. If you see her, you know, maybe if she hasn’t gotten over me, hasn’t begun to curse my name and all my sex, well, maybe give her some hope. She might be living there in my cruddy old apartment, thinking I forgot all about her. It’s not true. She’s all I think about now—well, her and the damn crickets. They turn out to be pretty tasty. But if you see her, you can tell her that now. I’d love to have her come find me. I want her to want me. I want to be me again, even with her hanging on me all the time. Hell, I’d welcome it. Tell her.

And if you see a toad, say hello. It might be me.