Music: Axaxaxas Mlo and other tall stories
Music THE SHOUT, SCANNER THE SPITZ LONDON
Thursday 14 January 1999
The choir is a smaller spin-off from The Shouting Fence, the fantastic outdoor piece that Chew and Gough devised for the open spaces, concrete balconies and steps around the Hayward Gallery, and one of the highlights of last summer. Something like 80 energetic performers, amateur choirs, children's groups and professional jazz and straight singers graced some of the bleakest vistas of the South Bank Centre with a vibrant piece of three-dimensional music-theatre.
Indoors requires a rather different approach, so after half an hour of Scanner's quiet ambient sounds, the choir took to the stage in a horseshoe shape to attack Chew's complex and impressive "Tall Stories" with great energy and conviction.
After an interval, five of the singers returned for a dramatic performance of Gough's "Axaxaxas Mlo", a Borges-inspired sequence that, at times, threatened to escape into abstraction. Fortunately the sheer intensity of the piece - and its realisation - held the audience's attention, as the quintet sang, chanted and made beautiful noises by candlelight, framed by a wide brick arch at the club's far side. For the final piece, Gough's "Why Do You Sing", the full 17-strong choir returned to the main stage, filling the small space with a joyful, complex noise that was still totally unamplified, with impressive solos from Mike Henry, Wayne Ellington and Angela Elliott. Occasional uncertainties and glitches may have revealed a lack of time for rehearsal or revision, but the event was a robust, unpretentious success for all concerned. The club context worked fine - the sympathetic audience clearly relished the opportunity to listen to intelligent music with a drink to hand.
A feature of The Shout is the expressive use of a variety of vocal timbres - from full-blown "operatic" vowels through natural singing, to more earthy sounds. There was plenty of bravura writing - tumbling lattices of counterpoint, dissonant clusters, rhythmic riffs and chants, and special effects - yet you never heard this as an abstracted choir. Distinctive voices such as Melanie Pappenheim's, Jeremy Birchall's and Chew's, are discernible in the acoustic mix. This is not hybrid or "fusion", but a practical and constructive coming together of styles, traditions, and musicians, that makes a lot of contemporary vocal music - and a lot of contemporary club music for that matter - sound silly, institutionalised and redundant. Ensembles such as The Shout and Gogmagogs and events such as The Shouting Fence are showing the way for a more meaningful form of music theatre in the future.
The event was billed as being "framed by a sampled sound mix" by Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner), whose low-density sounds, originally sampled from The Shout, provided an effective contrast to the intense contemporary choral music. Most people seemed to appreciate the Shout/ Scanner contrast, but Rimbaud was unhappy, expecting something more in the way of collaboration (and deserving a more comfortable space to work in). Rimbaud's best work has used frequencies that work with and around spoken voices - the found conversations he scans from mobile phone networks; Harriet Walter's monologue in a radio version of Cocteau's La Voix Humaine. The sounds he provided on this occasion were transparent enough to provide a background for conversation, yet interesting enough to reward quiet attention if you preferred solitude; genuinely ambient, in fact.
John L Walters
Arts & Ents blogs
Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
Grace Dent on TV: True Detective, Sky Atlantic
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Jessica Alba interview: From Hollywood superwoman to household product CEO
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists
- 2 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Too upsetting? Academy members voted for Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave 'without watching it'
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it