blog: From Satie to Llwyncelyn / Changing Focus (CoDI Chamber)

The beautiful aspect of such a residency is the time allowed to develop ideas, explore new territory and the freedom to shift focus.

I knew I wanted to explore alternative musical formats and how we could marry them with live sound (i.e. found recordings or audio-visual elements) for this project. But what recording? The seed for this new work with the amazing Berkeley Ensemble sprouted whist visiting the Tate Modern's exhibition in summer 2018, Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33. Otto Dix to George Grosz. Cold veracity and unsettling imagery.

One work that caught my attention was Satie (The Prelude) of 1925 by Prosper de Troyer (1880 - 1961). A huge painting of composer Erik Satie conducting kabarett and highlighted with a golden halo from a near musician. Glorifying the modernist-maestro status. However aside from its vibrancy and innate musicality, I wanted to create a partner piece for Satie. Erik. A work of music bred directly from Satie that would accompany found video recordings of the composer. An exploration of kabarett, through silent film and a contemporary realisation of the music within.


(All good stories, have a 'but')

The copyright permissions on silent film from this period come with a hefty price (both figuratively and literally). Therefore the focus had to shift. erik (proposed name for the piece) has to be shelved. For now.

And where do I turn? To Cardiganshire? Having listened to National Museum Wales' Folk Song Collection every since studying at Cardiff University some years ago, I fell in love with a 1961 recording of 'Y caseg ddu' (The Black Mare) - a song filled with dark humour and a bittersweet reality of hardship and poverty at the core. However the recording (SFNHM Tape 428. Collected 16.11.61 from Bertie Stephens (hound breeder, etc., b. 1900), Llwyncelyn, Llangeitho, Cardiganshire.) has such a wonderfully visceral quality, with Bertie Stephens providing his own percussion by beating on the table next to him. This is a recording that I could not turn my back on. How could I not do something with this?

And here I am. After two exciting workshops surrounded by talented composers and superb, open-minded musicians, we know have a starting point having introduced CoDI to Bertie Stephens. Starting this project from a very pure place, just using his voice. And little by little going from his world to my world, which is much more 'cacophonous' and has a more urban sensibility.

I am looking forward to getting to know Bertie more over the coming months.