north - visual score + soundwork

Today (Saturday 23) I was in Newton-le-Willows for the free reading to mark the opening of the Knives Forks and Spoons Press office.

The list of readers - all published by Alec Newman - including James Davies, Tom Jenks, Scott Thurston, Richard Barrett, Robert Sheppard, Patricia Farrell, Alex Davies, Ryan Ormonde and others is impressive.

From memory sixteen people read in all. Or rather fifteen read, and I arsed about making funny noises, giving the bell its first public airing, and playing with the presses dog.

But first I knew the intention was for the reading to be outside. I also knew that I didn't have the faintest idea where I was going. So bringing along a lot of heavy electrical kit was out of the question.

But since I gave up readings some time ago that meant I had to plan a sound piece that could be performed acoustically. That meant silly noises, singing and percussion. After a couple of weeks of improvising I still didn't have much of an idea even on Friday what I would do.

I thought I might base the sound piece on North from my booklet of the same name from Knives Forks and Spoons - specifically the opening:



shelf to shelf.

Since I had the Indian brass bell I was sure there would be a use for it. Finally, because it's part of my current sound practice I was fairly sure there'd be singing, and I was pretty sure which song.

This morning I got up early and while having my breakfast, showering and dressing started to pull some ideas into focus. Having learned from past mistakes I tried to concentrate on developing a broad shape for the piece and to keeping it simple.

Keeping it simple mainly means using a few core techniques that work well together rather than cluttering the piece and my own head with a mass of ideas and textures and no idea how they might fit.

I just had time to start the visual score below before I set off for the train. The first page was added a little later. I completed the first two double page spreads and the first page and first line of the second page in the next (and penultimate) spread.

The remainder including the first page were finished on the train to slightly doubting looks from the man in the seat next to me.

In the third spread is a visual poem-like figure that might be familiar to some of you. It's based on one of my sketches towards my Long Lankin sculpture last year. It's my shorthand that I intended to sing part of Long Lankin in the course of the performance.

On the train I changed my mind. It's too long and not the best fit for the rest of the material I was planning. I decided instead to sing a truncated version of Skip James' take on Be Ready When He Comes. Luckily I had a sticky note I was able to add in as below:

Which brings us to the recording of the performance. Being outdoors with a large number of people including children in attendance it was always likely to be a noisy recording. Since I was also kneeling on the ground and making peculiar noises the presses dog Zoe was even more willing to join in.

There are some moments of noise on the recording that are either Zoe running across the Zoom recorder, me moving it to hold the score open, or a combination of both. I thought it was great fun. I ended up with the dog in my arms trying to lick my face a couple of times.

Personally I've always enjoyed poetry readings where there's noise, children and other disruptive elements. It stops things getting to pompous for one, and it is fun.

The performance was slightly shorter than I thought it would be, and there are some moments that are far from perfect, but overall I'm pretty happy with it. It's five and a half minutes long and for reasons too tedious to explain the file's called North 2 (rather than North - which it should be).

Memory/time allowing I'll try to write an account of the day. But before that I plan to review Womb's amazing gig at Queer Riot at Okasional Squat Cafe. I also planned to write more on the trip to Glasgow at the beginning of the month. Not to mention the symposium on the Chongqin residency that the Chinese Arts Centre run which was held on Thursday.


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