Monday, 21 November 2011

Of the Brilliant and the Dark

Steve and I went to hear some live performance yesterday afternoon. I had been given a flyer for “Of the Brilliant and the Dark” by musician Ellen Southern earlier in the year when I was doing a stint on the Malago WI Tea-stall at Best of Bedminster Show. She talked very compellingly about what she was doing and I resolved to make it a date. I love being able to support creativity.

Ellen’s work was a response to an invitation to remix the original 1969 score of “The Brilliant and the Dark”. The original piece was an opera commissioned by the WI and performed 42 years ago by 1000 volunteer female voices at the Royal Albert Hall. The score had been lying forgotten in the Women’s Library ever since.

We had no ideas what to expect. Yesterday’s performance was a one-off at the Cube Cinema in Bristol. It was our first visit to this venue in our eight years of living here. It’s a community cinema/performance venue and exhibits all the unkempt charm that implies. Steve was suffering from a sick headache and accompanied me somewhat on sufferance, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the performance was more than half an hour late starting and we all had to hang around waiting to get into the performance space.

Once underway, however, the performance took our breath away. I’m not an enormously musical person and my language for talking about music is very limited so I’m resorting here to the publicity material:

Enter a haunting world of atmospheric vocal harmonies in this début song-cycle by former Bristol based artist-turned-vocalist, Ellen Southern. Weaving together entrancing music and visuals, the piece transports the audience through a collective life-cycle ‘embroidered’ together though song, and encompassing wide musical influences from early polyphony to trip-hop. This highly original ensemble is made up of female vocalists, double bass, guitar, flute and percussion, which features a bellow-powered drone and pitched glasses.

We loved it. The mixture of female voices used not just in song, but making percussive sounds and whispers blended perfectly with the instruments to create an eerie, atmospheric soundscape that was completely captivating. Steve’s headache improved and he was completely reconciled to the effort of going out on a grey Sunday afternoon to listen to experimental music at an unpromising venue!

More information and soundclips are available on Ellen’s website. She is making her score available to other artists so that it can be developed further and maybe brought back together in a joint performance at some stage.

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