Friday, 23 March 2012

Sounding Out in the HEART Café

Word play at its very best: Sally Bavage writes:

“I didn’t know what to expect – what a wacky, amazing, fantastic time!”  No, not me, but a member of the packed audience at the ‘experimental writing and sound works’ at the Heart Café on Thursday evening.  Wednesday evening (see blog entry) saw us considering experimental languages created by authors and Thursday saw a natural parallel in the experimental music created by words. 

Headingley LitFest was delighted to welcome, for the first time, the LeedsMet ensemble of ten students and two staff, along with their able technical support, as they performed for us just before most of them left for an international drama performance event in Croatia at 4am on Friday.  Dedication to LitFest indeed!  We wished them ‘Bog’ or 'Bok' (hello in Croatian – but see the blog from the experimental languages event on Wednesday for what Anthony Burgess made of it!) and we wished them ‘sretno’ (good luck).  The luck was ours.

The first half was a series of pieces, voices only, playing on the way we normally interpret speech and voice patterns and challenging us to listen more carefully to the sounds we hear.  A simple introduction but spoken like early computer-speak in monotonous tones was rather disturbing until your ear adjusted to the rhythm.  Would an experimental author describe it as ‘droidian’?  A two-handed piece started in what sounded like a foreign language – Croatian?  Or was it voice exercises?  Or is it the sounds a young child makes as they struggle to speak.  Or bird calls in spring?  A duet between creatures unknown? Well, it’s in the ear of the listener.  Changes in tone, rhythm, sound keep you changing your mind. Just how much of what we hear every day fits in with expectations and experience?  Is that what a baby hears before they have made the links between sound and meaning?

Other pieces conveyed simple but strong lyrics, rap rhythms, the whispered poetry of pleasure and a table used to emulate percussion – drums, marching feet, slamming doors.  Sometimes better to listen than to look so you interpret with your ears. We are so used to the cadences of everyday speech where we know what to expect.  This presentation is a delightful challenge to expectations.

After the interval we were treated to more music made by words and sounds.  A few words repeated become what - a mantra? a new language? – and the many changes in repetition and tone, discordant to flowing by turns, lead the audience to create the familiar whoops and hollers of true appreciation for the technical difficulty and skill involved. But the whoops too are sounds that make a language we understand!

Unaccompanied song, ensemble pieces and short poetry pieces culminate in a tour-de-force finale by Teresa Brayshaw, the performance leader.  Four pages from the story Not I by Samuel Beckett, learned by heart, are delivered at breakneck speed. They pull the heartstrings and puzzle by turns as the fragmented phrases and commentary unfold.  The elderly woman telling Becket’s story is seventy and mute: the very antithesis of our performers who have used their voices to such entertaining effect.  We have been challenged to rethink how we interpret what we hear and what meaning we make of the noises that we turn into sound into language.  Whoops and hollers indeed!

Pieces were performed by Steve Atkinson, Hannah Butterfield, Corina Cristea, Emma Fawcus, Lisa Fallon, Joely Fielding, Louise Hill, Rochnee Mehta, Tom Quinn, Adam Sas-Skowronski, Jess Sweet and Noel Witts, led by Teresa Brayshaw.  Technical support was provided by Matt Sykes Hooban, Mark Flisher and Debbie Newton.  

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