Ross Sutherland at Vocal Invention

Here’s a very wonderful and clever chap – very funny too – with an extraordinarily inventive and literary imagination. When Sian and I were looking for a performer to complete the Saturday and Sunday evening line-ups in Vocal Invention 2016, Ross’s name was at the top of the list. I’ve stolen the following directly from his website as it describes his multifarious activities better than I ever could.

Ross Sutherland was born in Edinburgh in 1979. He was included in The Times’s list of Top Ten Literary Stars of 2008. He has four collections of poetry: Things To Do Before You Leave Town (2009), Twelve Nudes (2010), Hyakuretsu Kyaku (2011), and Emergency Window (2012), all published by Penned In The Margins. Ross is also a member of the poetry collective Aisle16 with whom he runs Homework, an evening of literary miscellany in East London.

He has written several pieces for the stage, including The Three Stigmata of Pacman (2010 and the interactive theatre show, Comedian Dies In The Middle Of A Joke (2012). His new show, Standby For Tape Back-Up, will be on tour in late 2014/2015. There’s more info on his website. Tickets from Norwich Arts Centre here for the Saturday performance (with Birds of Hell and The Neutrinos) and here for the Sunday performance at the Bicycle Shop (with George Szirtes, Stephen Watts and Esther Morgan).



Katherine Zeserson & Bex Mather at Vocal Invention

It feels good to be doing Vocal Invention again. For those not familiar with these mini-festivals (it wouldn’t be that surprising if you aren’t as we haven’t done a Vocal Invention weekend for 5 years),  it’s a celebration of the voice and many of the wonderful things you can do with it: over a weekend of performances, talks and workshops at Norwich Arts Centre on the 20th-22nd May (tickets available through Norwich Arts Centre). We had loads of fun the previous three times we’ve done this (2009-2011).

The workshop element has  always been an integral part of Vocal Invention and I thought it might be a good idea to provide a bit more information about some of the amazing people we’ve got lined up to be part of this year’s event.

On Saturday 21st May at 3pm Katherine Zeserson and Bex Mather will be presenting a workshop called ‘Making It New – Singing the Mouthful Way’ which will involve learning about the brilliant way the four-piece ensemble Mouthful (Katherine, Bex, Sharon Durant and Dave Camlin) create their sound together.

Mouthful Pic

Mouthful L-R Bex, Katherine, Sharon and Dave

I first met Katherine and Bex when we put the fledgeling Human Music together in 2006. It was Katherine’s idea to make a piece called ’Singing the Building’ for one of a series of inaugural concerts at the Sage Gateshead. Singing the Building was a show with eight-piece Human Music acting as bogus singing tour guides for the new Norman Foster building – in the lifts, backstage, on the balconies and corridors.

Katherine was a founding director of Sage Gateshead from 2002 until 2015 responsible for the strategic design, direction and implementation of its ambitious, internationally acclaimed “Learning and Participation” programme. She has a national reputation as a trainer, music animator and educator, having led programs in a notably wide range of community, educational and social contexts: from pre-school settings to post-graduate and professional development training programs. She has taught vocal skills, music theatre, improvisation, elements of world music, community arts theory and practice. She has designed and run animator and teacher development programs for many local authorities; and has designed and lead staff and leadership development programs for the cultural sector, third sector and businesses. She has held several arts-in- education residencies, working with both primary and secondary age children.
Katherine  performs regularly with the cappella vocal ensemble Mouthful and Human Music.

I found this TEDx talk from 2014 a good reflection of Katherine’s practice.

Recording today with Trio Zéphyr

Well this is rather lovely. Here we are with the Voice Project Quintet in a beautiful village next to Lac Salagou near Montpellier as guests of our friends Trio Zéphyr. It’s pretty idyllic and today we’ll be recording – results up here soon hopefully.  


Learning the pieces off by heart

By jonvoiceproject

I’ve posted this before (twice!) but it’s timely now so here we are again:

With all the music there is to learn, we thought it would be a good idea to itemise a few methods for learning off by heart. Some of them are really obvious but I hope it will be useful if you’re not used to doing this kind of thing. Of course, everyone learns at different speeds in different ways.  A combination of approaches can help. Some people will probably have learned their parts already. Anyway, for those who haven’t, here are some pointers:

  • Take your time – cramming the information doesn’t work as it all becomes a jumble. Being methodical definitely helps.
  • Break things into manageable sections – e.g. an eight-bar sequence.
  • Write the words down.
  • Listen on repeat – not necessarily with full attention: in the car or in the kitchen is good.
  • Sing along as much as possible.
  • Look over the piece whenever you have some free time.
  • Read the poem through as it helps to know what the piece is about.
  • Use a combination of the mixes and the ‘enhanced’ parts.
  • Some people learn music best when asleep (headphones advised for this…)
  • Try to memorise one line at a time, starting with the first. Cover it up and try to repeat it, move to the next etc
  • Try to learn the ‘shape’, the ‘form’ of the song.

Good luck and if anyone has other effective tips for helping to learn by heart then please reply to this post.

The Great Darkness – Orlando Gough

Orlando Gough has set to music (very beautifully) the words of Robert Fludd from 1617 – ‘et sic in infinitum’ In the book Fludd talks about  how the universe came into being:

‘What was there before creation? Some first state of unformed matter, without dimension or quantity, neither small nor large, without properties or inclinations, neither moving nor still.’

And this is illustrated by an astonishing illustration which looks like something by an American abstract artist of the 1960s:

»et sic in infinitum (~ and like this to infinity)« by robert fludd (1617)
»et sic in infinitum (~ and like this to infinity)« by robert fludd (1617)

He then goes on about the Earth being at the centre of the universe (Copernicus has already come up with the heliocentric model, but Fludd doesn’t agree):

‘The earth is cold and dry; and as the darkest and heaviest element it sinks, as it were, to the centre of the universe. No wonder that the earth is such a vale of misery, since it is formed from the very dregs of creation. It contains the devil himself, enemy to God and man.’

The cliché is that people used to think of the Earth as the centre of the universe so that they themselves are at the centre, how reassuring; but he seems to be saying that the centre is basically a cesspit.

And he goes on into a refutation of Copernicus:

‘If the Earth were not the centre of the Universe, but a revolving body circling the Sun, as some ancient and modern philosophers maintain (notably Copernicus and William Gilbert), there would be no possibility of life on it: violent winds would sweep everything to the ground. Besides, it would be remarkable if the Earth alone were to move steadily on its axis, while all the other planets varied in latitude. Finally, as the Earth is the largest and densest of all bodies it stands to reason that it would be at the centre of the more rarified ones, and less apt to move than any of the others. The source of all power and movement is at the periphery of the universe, not in the centre – for…a wheel is more easily turned from its circumference than from its hub.’

Working with Struan Leslie

We had two great sessions with Struan (ex-director of music at the Royal Shakespeare Company) at the Sainsbury Centre today. We were planning and plotting the movement for the spaces at the Sainsbury Centre for The Observatory in May. This is Struan’s photo of choir members coming up the ramp.

Coming up the ramp (Photo - Struan Leslie)

Coming up the ramp (Photo – Struan Leslie_

The Sound of Space

Very interesting piece on BBC Radio 4 about the Sound of Space. Mostly, these are ‘sonifications’ of processes sped up or slowed down many times to create something in the human audible bandwidth. For those who didn’t hear the programme it’s still on the iPlayer. Link here