More so than any other art form, a piece of music can very easily take on a life of its own. A song can gain poignancy throughout someone’s life, given special meaning through a person’s memory. An artist’s carefully honed ballad can be destroyed through appropriation by a car brand or kitchen cleaning product. Commonly, songs are picked up by other artists and resuscitated by a new perspective and gain a fresh relationship with the world. Interpretation, context and perspective can change and shift music’s effects on people.
DANIEL THORNE, who has worked with music in numerous capacities, most famously as part of the collective IMMIX Ensemble, is no stranger to adapting other people’s work or putting his own spin on it. For a project which comes to fruition this month, Thorne is taking a composition originally produced in response to yet another piece of art and arranging it for a special performance in one of Liverpool’s most awe-inspiring buildings.
Bill Ryder-Jones wrote No Worst, There Is None in response to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem of the same name last year for Ad Hoc Creative; a collaborative project between Bido Lito! and a property organisation by the name of Ad Hoc. Based on a European idea of taking empty buildings and allowing people to live in them on super cheap rents, Ad Hoc have been helping to breathe life into a variety of spaces including churches, schools and empty office blocks around the city. As a project, Ad Hoc Creative commissions artists to work together to produce collaborative works which are either exhibited or conceived within buildings under the Ad Hoc scheme.
Ryder-Jones’ original piece was set within a shifting, immersive visual environment imagined and constructed by artists Sam and Damien Wiehl, and exhibited at the first Ad Hoc Creative happening at Calderstones Mansion in May last year. The stunning Georgian abode in Calderstones Park is part of the Ad Hoc scheme and also home to The Reader, a fabulous, internationally regarded literature organisation (the piece’s source text, No Worst, There Is None, was taken from one of The Reader’s anthology publications). This year, Ryder-Jones’ composition will reverberate around the spectacular interior of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral as part of LightNight (13th May), having been arranged by Thorne to accommodate a choir, brass section, piano and the building’s famous organ, set with a large-scale light and visual realm.
“It’s a really stunning space and it’s very conducive to contemplation, which I think will work perfectly with the music Bill has written because it is similarly contemplative,” says Thorne when I meet him in the Cathedral’s imposing surrounds of the St James’ Mound edifice. “It’s one of the places I always bring visiting friends to. I still remember, just after I had moved to Liverpool I had a friend visiting and we were walking around, the organist was practising. It was the first time I really clocked just how long that reverb trail is: you can just hear a note finishing and then dropping like a feather.”
The sheer scale of the building will also be the challenge for Sam and Damien Wiehl when they provide an immersive, multimedia, light and AV environment for the occasion. The brothers, whose CV boasts AV and lighting provision for Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia, Mugstar, The Coral and IMMIX Ensemble, plan to provide an immersive, multimedia light show that will add another dimension of interpretation to the source material on the night. “When we first looked at the nature of the poem and the music, the way they hold together space and sound, it felt like we had to create something that allowed people to contemplate things and think about the content and narrative which existed,” says Sam Wiehl, echoing Thorne’s thoughts on the piece. “Part of it is to create a kind of atmosphere and let the music as well as the visual elements almost overwhelm people, yet allow them to take their own meaning from the situation.” The Wiehl brothers’ contribution to the event will no doubt affect how people experience the music on the night, while the challenge for them when building the initial visuals for the Calderstones event was to interpret and represent the original piece. “My job is to allow people to take what they want from the poem’s narrative,” says Wiehl. “There are some direct narrative elements in the visual content, but there are also some abstract elements. I don’t want to be too prescriptive, and have deliberately left ambiguity.”
The project is a multi-layered collaboration between at least three artists – Thorne, Wiehl and Ryder-Jones, not to mention Manley Hopkins or indeed the various musicians who will perform on the evening. The three creatives all have excellent collaborative credentials, with Ryder-Jones previously working with Thorne and Wiehl providing visuals for IMMIX Ensemble’s recent album Transition. “That element of collaboration is something I really enjoy, and there’s always room for interpretation from the musical piece and the visual piece,” says Wiehl, clearly enthused by the subject. “There’s room for there to be two different interpretations of a piece. I do enjoy it when the sound artist feels what I’m producing is about them as well as what they’ve produced. It’s not simply a case of me going off on one; I want there to be a balance. You’re not bombarding people constantly; you’re allowing people to take moments out of watching the video to just listen to the music as well. It’s that balance that I’ve really got excited about doing in the last couple of years.”
The event at the Cathedral is part of LightNight, the city’s annual cultural crawl, an evening of special events hosted by Liverpool’s myriad arts and culture venues which draws in tens of thousands of people each year. It’s this very event which Bill Ryder-Jones had in mind when he observed “once again Liverpool proves itself to be a home for esoteric and conceptual happenings and, as we all know, a place where people want more from the arts than the posturing and showboating that is offered in the main.”
Thorne, an advocate of LightNight and a recurrent visitor, had the event’s sprawling scope in mind when arranging the piece for the happening, which will be performed twice for a duration of around 30 minutes (adapted from Ryder-Jones’s seven-minute original. “Because of the nature of LightNight and there are so many things happening, the idea is, rather than it being a performance where you come and watch a band or an orchestra from start to finish, I hope that it is something that, if you wander up the steps and stay for the whole thing, you gain an insight towards the text. Or if you wander up 10 minutes late, catch five minutes of the next thing, it still works: that idea of it creating an environment rather than ‘a piece’. I hope you can enjoy it on a few different levels, whether you are there for the whole thing or five minutes.”
Typically modest, and repeatedly stressing the fact that the piece of music is “Bill’s piece”, Thorne is careful to ensure it is known that he is simply translating the piece for the various instrumentations rather than composing. Like Wiehl, he is also intent that the audience can bring their own meaning to the piece on the night: “The main thing for me [is that] the piece is Bill’s piece. I really like the piece, and one of the things I like about it is it gives you a lot of space when you listen to it to form your own conclusions, so I’ve tried not to load it too heavily, whereas if I was writing my own response to the text I might be inclined to put a certain slant or take on it. But I think it’s a lot more open the way Bill has written it, particularly when you combine it with readings of the text as well.”
The readings in question will be performed by members of The Reader’s community reading groups, seeing personal renditions of No Worst, There Is None ringing out over the composition to add yet another dimension to the performance. Alongside this, The Reader will be leading group reading workshops throughout the evening at the Cathedral, delving deep into the world of Manley Hopkins and helping people draw their own interpretations from his text.
The event on 13th May will allow plenty of scope for the piece of music to take on new meaning for people, whether that is the musicians collaborating to perform the piece, the artists working on the visual response, the readers supplying the oration of the source material or the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who will experience the performance on the night, for a one-off spectacular. A veritable tower of song.
There will be two performances of No Worst, There Is None at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on 13th May, at 9pm and 10pm. Entry is free for both performances.
LIGHTNIGHT’S MUSICAL MUSINGS
As is only right, Liverpool’s annual cultural crawl features a healthy dosage of music in its itinerary. As well as the spectacular at the Cathedral, there is a raft of events all over the city with interesting audio elements.
Continuing the sounds in special places theme, Roger Hill’s PMS Radio team present a live version of their Music For Empty Spaces project, and have compiled a downloadable soundtrack of specially commissioned pieces to accompany a walking tour of the city, which begins at the Metropolitan Cathedral. Also exploring the relationship between music and the importance of space for performance, the Mindset Ensemble present one of several commissioned music-related events for LightNight. City Sites is an AV and performance event which was put together in response to the much-mourned loss of some of Liverpool’s key music venues and takes place at the wonderful Nordic Church.
Experimental collective Friend Or Foe will produce a special multi-channel sound and video environment to transform the Victoria Gallery and Museum’s Leggate Theatre with works written on a three-month residency in a remote town in northern Iceland. Afloat, In Land merges live performance with field recordings and audio-reactive visual projections to represent the merciless landscapes of the places they encountered.
Illumaphonium is another commission for the 2016 festival; this massive, multi-sensory installation can be played by visitors as patterns of light evolve from the sounds played and are cast over the object. Murmurate at FACT is a workshop and performance that teaches visitors how to use their smartphones to create music and installations with an interactive performance as the climax. The Black-E plays host to Carlos Bernal’s immersive light and sound installation, which creates a space-time tunnel that transfers and transforms the energy of light: you don’t get that at a Noel Gallagher gig. To round off the night, there’s a shindig over at Constellations with No Fakin’ DJs, Abandon Silence’s Andrew Hill and Faux Queens spinning the discs.
For further details on all of LightNight’s events head to lightnightliverpool.co.uk.