Posts Tagged ‘my world’

My World: Max Richter

Posted on May 17th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Max Richter Songlines June 2017

This interview is an extract from the June 2017 (#128) issue of Songlines. To read the full interview and find out which playlist tracks Max Richter chose, order a copy of the edition at: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

Max Reinhardt speaks to one of the UK’s leading contemporary classical composers, Max Richter, the hardest working post-minimalist in showbiz, and finds out how he connects with music from around the world.

Composer Max Richter personifies prolific. In this century alone he has composed and recorded eight major works; composed more than 40 soundtracks for film and TV; scored for opera, ballet and theatre and his apparently endless list of collaborators include Roni Size, Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt. He’s also composed music to the texts of Virginia Woolf and reworked Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

But perhaps his most unique work is the eight-hour piece Sleep – premiered 18 months ago – which he performed live with an ensemble overnight at The Wellcome Collection in London to an audience who were tucked up in beds. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from midnight to 8am, it instantly became the longest ever live broadcast of a single work. It carried me through the night in bed at home, working its strange magic. Every time there was a slight gear change in the music, it really did play with my different levels of sleep: hypnagogic, hypnopompic, sub-conscious, unconscious, REM level, you name it. Certainly a long, amazing journey, with the music as my nighttime guardian angel.

 

“Like many people, I feel like I’m living in a kind
of data blizzard…”

 

I suspected that Richter’s playlist choices would reflect his fascination for music that reaches beyond the conscious mind and ears of its audience. “I guess Sleep sums up one pole of what I do, which is about landscape and environmental ways of relating to music and sound… I just felt that our data universe was becoming very dense: all pervasive hand-held screens, broadband and 24/7 ‘on’ type culture. Like many people, I feel like I’m living in a kind of data blizzard, exhilarating in many ways… but not all the time. So Sleep has a little bit of the quality of a manifesto – here’s an alternative mode of experience, just inhabit that for a while. It’s obviously a kind of a pause.”

The fact that its audience share a mass sleep-in undoubtedly gives it the feel of tribal ritual. Richter speaks of the palpable emotionality invoked by the collective aspect of the piece as performers and their trusting, somnolent audience share this long journey through the night.

It’s that kind of feeling that he tunes into with ‘Tareiva’, an mbira field recording from Zimbabwe and the collaborative/collective aesthetic he perceives built into its process. “It’s sort of freeform, but it also isn’t. You’ve got this cyclical structure, return and change, which evokes maybe all kinds of early minimalist music, but prefigures all of it. And if you go into the origins of that, it has a sort of idealistic social model built into it. So yes, that campfire feeling is in the music.”

The Konono No 1 track reflects his love of the group’s incredible live appearances but also of their unique and potent communal presence. “It’s got a funky quality which I love. It’s also systems music, but it’s song based – it’s got everything.” Richter knew their original album (Congotronics) but definitely approves of DJ/producer Batida’s subtle approach to the music, avoiding the brutal house remix.

But his playlist also reflects other interests and themes. “It’s quite wide ranging and it reflects my enthusiasms really. I’ve always been quite omnivorous, so I suppose the playlist is me tumbling through the datasphere. Some things I’ve known for a long time, other things I’ve just sort of chanced upon so it’s a real mix.” A mix that reflects a restless musical life: a childhood spent learning piano and building synthesizers in his bedroom. “I never felt persuaded by the idea of music getting compartmentalised in boxes because music is actually more fluid than that and by its nature you get interpenetration of musical cultures.”

This interview is an extract from the June 2017 (#128) issue of Songlines. To read the full interview and find out which playlist tracks Max Richter chose, order a copy of the edition at: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

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My world: Sir David Attenborough

Posted on May 8th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

David-Attenborough-BBC_Sarah-Dunn-Free

The legendary broadcaster revisits the sounds of his early career on a recent BBC programme that reveals a little-known side to the beloved naturalist – that of a world music collector. He shares his favourite tracks with producer Julian May

David Attenborough has been making natural history programmes for 60 years. He is held in such high regard that when he went to the White House, it was the president of the US who interviewed him rather than the other way around. I wonder if, after discussing the fragility of planet Earth, Obama and Attenborough had a conversation about another concern they share – music. After all, one of Attenborough’s earliest collaborations, as a young television producer in the early 50s, was with Alan Lomax, the American folklorist who collected songs from Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton and many others.

“I had become interested in folk music through the Third Programme, now Radio 3,” Attenborough tells me. “The BBC brought Alan Lomax over, initially to make programmes about flamenco. When I heard them, I thought it would be a good idea to make a series about traditional music here. Alan was very enthusiastic and soon musicians from all over Britain and Ireland were coming to the studios at Alexandra Palace to take part in our series called Song Hunter. Among them were people who became famous figures: the Copper Family, the great fiddle player Michael Gorman… and Margaret Barry. She left her banjo under the studio lights, so when she came to sing ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ not a string was in tune, and she had taken her teeth out. The audience disagreed, but I thought she was magnificent!”

Song Hunter was broadcast live and the programmes thought to be lost in the ether. But recently, clearing out his cellar, Attenborough came across half a dozen shellac 78rpm discs, and one was definitely from the series. It includes Bob Roberts singing ‘Maggie May’, in which a sailor fresh ashore, with money in his pocket, enjoys a night with Maggie, then wakes up to find that not only had she made off with his pay, she’d taken his clothes, too.

 

“In the day we filmed the man from the zoo pouncing on pythons. But in the evenings I recorded music”

 

After Song Hunter Attenborough spent almost a decade making Zoo Quest, travelling to the far reaches of the earth to film – and collect – animals for London Zoo. He was, though, always as interested in the people he came across as the animals. “In the day we filmed the man from the zoo pouncing on pythons. But in the evenings I recorded music. When I returned from these trips I gave the recordings to the BBC Sound Library and they’ve been there ever since.”

I searched in the Sound Library and found more than 60 music items, from West Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Madagascar and Australia, credited to David Attenborough as collector. On December 25 he presented a programme we made for Radio 3 revisiting these recordings that he – and nobody else – hadn’t heard for years. “These tracks remind me of the musicians who, half a century ago, shared with me their fascinating and wonderful music.”

In 1957 Attenborough travelled through Java and Bali on his way to the island of Komodo to film the famous ‘dragons.’ He came across gamelan music, and was enchanted. “Bali then was almost unaffected by outside influence. Every village had its gamelan, 20 or more players. They practised almost every night. None of the music was written and the master taught each player his part individually. Then they played together with extraordinary precision and verve.” ‘Sekaten Gendhing’ is not Balinese, but from Central Java, where the tradition is more stately.

In 1959 Zoo Quest took Attenborough to Paraguay where he was delighted to find anteaters and armadillos – and a tradition of harp music. “I recorded a group with two harps and three guitars, including a huge bass instrument called a guitarrón. They played great sweeping glissandos on the harps. We used some of it to accompany images of armadillos trotting over the Chacos desert. One tune, ‘Pájaro Campana (The Bell Bird)’, became the signature tune for the series and Paraguayan harp music became very popular. When Trio Los Paraguayos came to Britain they were very pleased to find an audience already prepared for their music.” Attenborough, then, is responsible for breaking one of the earliest world music acts in the UK.

In 1962 Attenborough went to Arnhem Land, Australia, where he met Aboriginal people who had had very little contact with Europeans. He became very interested in Aboriginal bark painting and one of the artists, Magani, agreed to show him how this was done. “I went to his shelter every day to watch him making these extraordinary images of animals, goannas, lizards, kangaroos. But often Magani wasn’t there and I was told he had ‘business,’ which meant sacred rites.” Magani agreed to Attenborough’s attendance at a coming-of-age ceremony when boys, painted with lizard figures, slithered under a huge, beautifully decorated didgeridoo, which represented a great serpent, Yurlungur, who was important in their creation myth. “This marked their coming into maturity,” Attenborough says. “It was a very moving ceremony. All the time the didgeridoo played and this was the voice of Yurlungur. Whenever I hear such music I am transported back to prehistory because the Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years. That’s way earlier than the cave paintings of Lascaux in France.” As well as enjoying the beautiful voice of Gurrumul from Elcho Island, north of Arnhem Land, Attenborough hears in the music of the singer a connection with this ancient culture and land.

“Music takes me back to those places 50 or 60 years ago,” Attenborough muses. “Visual images don’t. I see film of myself from then, chasing an anteater, and think, what an odd human being, or, what funny trousers. But hearing the music takes me right back. Sound has that power. Back then it was possible to hear music that had developed over thousands of years, completely free from the Western forms that now have taken over the world. You would not be able to record the music that I did then today.” His choice of the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars reflects this. Sierra Leone was the first country he visited for Zoo Quest where he recorded amazing drumming and balange playing. Since then the country has been ravaged by war and the Refugee All Stars, who formed in a displaced people’s camp, now play all over the world. As well as the sounds of Sierra Leone you can hear reggae, highlife, American pop and more in ‘Akera Ka Abonshor’. “And that’s the way it is,” says David Attenborough.

This interview originally appeared in Songlines #125. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

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Sir David Attenborough shares his musical passions with Songlines

Posted on January 26th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

David-Attenborough-BBC_Sarah-Dunn-FreeIn the March issue of Songlines, the legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough speaks to Julian May about his love of world music. You can enjoy an extract from this fascinating interview below. To read the full interview, buy the latest issue of Songlines today!

David Attenborough has been making natural history programmes for 60 years. He is held in such high regard that when he went to the White House, it was the president of the US who interviewed him rather than the other way around. I wonder if, after discussing the fragility of planet Earth, Obama and Attenborough had a conversation about another concern they share – music. After all, one of Attenborough’s earliest collaborations, as a young television producer in the early 50s, was with Alan Lomax, the American folklorist who collected songs from Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton and many others.

“I had become interested in folk music through the Third Programme, now Radio 3,” Attenborough tells me. “The BBC brought Alan Lomax over, initially to make programmes about flamenco. When I heard them, I thought it would be a good idea to make a series about traditional music here. Alan was very enthusiastic and soon musicians from all over Britain and Ireland were coming to the studios at Alexandra Palace to take part in our series called Song Hunter. Among them were people who became famous figures: the Copper Family, the great fiddle player Michael Gorman… and Margaret Barry. She left her banjo under the studio lights, so when she came to sing ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ not a string was in tune, and she had taken her teeth out. The audience disagreed, but I thought she was magnificent!”…

Read Julian May’s full interview in the new issue of Songlines (March #125) with David Attenborough’s playlist on the free cover-mount CD with the magazine. Subscribe here: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

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Lee Hall: My World

Posted on August 17th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Lee-Hall-©Simon-Broughton-Free

Simon Broughton talks to English playwright and screenwriter Lee Hall, author of Billy Elliot and many other successful shows, about his love of music

Writer Lee Hall was born in Newcastle. And it’s not hard to see how the city’s popular culture has influenced much of his work. He was learning violin at school, when, aged around nine, he heard a group playing Irish music. “It was incredible. I spoke to the lead fiddler and he said you should come to Comhaltas, the Irish cultural house. It took place in this monastery in Newcastle and we got taught by Father Alban every Saturday afternoon. He’d start us off on a few reels and would then go off and marry people and come back and see how we were getting on. Kathryn [Tickell] also came along. She already played pipes and fiddle, but wanted to learn Irish music. I remember her coming back from a trip to Shetland and showing me how to play the fiddle behind my back.”

Thanks to Alistair Anderson, Tickell and others, the reputation of Northumbrian music has grown. But back then it was popular locally. “The Bridge Hill Hotel had this folk club and there was a thriving scene. The High Level Ranters were mini stars to me. We had their records at home. My parents weren’t into folk music, but they identified with the High Level Ranters because they were local people singing local songs.”

“My first bit of culture was seeing music like that. At fleadhs and competitions, you’d see that the best piccolo player was a bus conductor and that extraordinary artistry and ordinary life were not separated in that culture at all. That’s what music has been like for the last seven millennia and it’s only now that it’s been somehow professionalised.”

Hall’s school violin teacher was of a different persuasion. “She saw the music of the Irish reels in my violin case and said ‘What are you doing with these?’ I said I go on a Saturday and play these reels. She said ‘not with a school violin, you don’t,’ and she took it away. She said it would ruin my technique. It was a weird sort of prejudice.”

For his playlist, Hall has picked Kathryn Tickell’s track ‘Rothbury Hills’ from her Best Of album. “I think it is a tune written originally by Jack Armstrong who was an official piper to the Duke of Northumberland. He was famous for his slow airs of which this is one. I also believe Jack was originally a miner and would have been about the same age as the Pitmen Painters of Ashington who I’ve written about. It’s all part of a rich seam of working-class creativity in the north-east of which Kathryn is such a champion. She’s been exemplary in bringing on the next generation of musicians and seeing it as a continuum.”

Two of Hall’s most successful works grew out of these working-class roots. The Pitmen Painters, a brilliant play about miners becoming painters, premiered in Newcastle in 2007 and has since played at the National Theatre in London, on Broadway and around the world. Billy Elliot, about a young Geordie boy’s passion for ballet, was originally a film and then a hugely successful musical with songs by Elton John.

Hall has very fond memories of his local record library in Wallsend. “They had this amazing collection of pop, jazz, classical and world music. Now I know a bit more about it, I can see it was very well curated and managed. I borrowed loads every week. I learned a lot. At that time there were these record companies – like Nonesuch and Ocora – going out and making these amazing ethnographic recordings. I got into Alan Lomax’s recordings of American music and, through him, the traditions of all these other countries.”

When he went to Cambridge University to study English, he transferred his allegiance to the local record library there. “I remember in my first year at Cambridge hearing the Paris concerts of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I couldn’t believe my ears; it seemed like the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. I also saw the Sabri Brothers in North Carolina. It was a community gig and I was the only white face in the place. People were running up and putting money on stage.”

Another record Hall found in Cambridge was of a Peruvian brass band. Sadly he hasn’t been able to identify the original recording, but says that the band on Smithsonian Folkways’ Mantaro Valley disc has the same sort of character. “It is the energy of the thing I adore. Often in the theatre, if music is too polished as in a concert, it doesn’t really work. I’m often in a kind of fight with the musical people to make it rougher. So something like the Peruvian music seems very theatrical. It conjures up an event and place that it wouldn’t do if it was more slickly performed.”

Hall had seen the South African theatre group Isango a few times in London before going to work with them in Cape Town. “They integrate music with everything they do,” he says. English-born Mark Dornford-May took his knowledge of the European theatre canon to work in a South African context. “We were going to do a version of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle – an African version, with a Rwandan background. South Africa and Canada are the only places where Brecht is out of copyright and the Brecht estate is a nightmare and don’t let you touch anything. So this seemed a great possibility.” Sadly the financing didn’t work out, but thanks to Isango’s musical director Mandisi Dyantyis, Hall got a great introduction to Xhosa choral singing. The track Hall has selected for his playlist is a traditional Xhosa lullaby performed by the Isango ensemble.

“Britain is such a literary place and drama is taught from a literary point of view which is only half the story. More and more I’ve realised that music and theatre are inseparable,” says Hall. “All those Greek plays were sung, Japanese classical theatre traditions are all sung and the Indian ones as well. There’s this blip of European theatre from the last 150 years dominated by realism. So my journey as a dramatist has been a journey through music. Most drama I do now has music at its heart.”

His final track is from Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali who he heard on the radio last year. “I was struck by the amazing combination of something from a very strong tradition with that psychedelic guitar sound and her singing on top. I think I’m always interested in new and surprising sounds. I went to see her at the Barbican.”

Hall admits that he feels music very directly, very physically. “I think it’s under-used in British theatre, although my generation has absorbed the influence of more physical European companies. But music is the most direct way to affect people emotionally. It’s like magic.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #120 (August/September 2016). Subscribe to Songlines.

One of the tracks Lee Hall selected for his playlist was Noura Mint Seymali’s ‘Eguetmar’.

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