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Reflecting on artists and collaborators who have passed away since the start of the Coronavirus crisis, David Toop explores how the transmission of music between disparate cultures can be a tool against populism and prejudice

Music is a memory machine. I feel the conviction of this from within pandemic conditions: at the time of writing these words, fifty-four days since I last played music to an audience in the same room, fifty-three days since I was part of an audience in the same room as performing musicians. I feel the conviction of this as deaths accumulate over the past weeks: musicians I have known, past collaborators, a music documentary filmmaker with whom I once worked. Some of these deaths were from Covid-19, some from other causes like stroke or cancer, but the sense of a generation of elders falling away, as if tumbling together over a precipice, is acute. Films and records remain as recall devices, of course, but the works of a performer, an improviser, emerge into air, rooms, society and states of memory that confront us as fully alive, alert and listening beings, recalling what happened and has gone, what is happening right now as a passing moment, what is coming into itself as if as listeners we are living permanently in the future. The dead ¬– and I am thinking of Carole Finer, Henry Grimes, Richard Teitelbaum, Lee Konitz, Jeremy Marre – are denied access to this experience. 

I think of Henry Grimes, dead from complications arising from the coronavirus at the age of 84. For Henry, a multi-instrumentalist best known for his bass playing, music was a memory machine whose effect on his life was complex, transformative and traumatic. After studying at The Juilliard School he played with many musicians – Sonny Rollins, Anita O’Day, Walt Dickerson, Charles Mingus, Mose Allison, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Pharaoh Sanders, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler – then disappeared for decades, living alone in a Los Angeles hostel, writing poetry and surviving precariously through low-paid jobs. In effect, he became an anonymous and solitary archive. Soon after he was discovered in isolation in 2002, detached from the music world, the efforts of those who respect ancestry drew him back into performing. 

I played with him once, in Ghent, 2011, in a trio with vocalist Elaine Mitchener. During the day he seemed unreachable, locked away in a profound and gentle silence. His wife Margaret looked after the practicalities, often spoke for him. No conversation was forthcoming and most questions went unanswered, particularly if they were about musicians, sessions or records. All seemed forgotten. Then suddenly something would spark. I asked him about his time studying at Juilliard and he came to life, speaking about all the instruments he played during his studies – the English horn, tuba, percussion, and so on. There was the sense that he was a repository of knowledge and rich experience, all enclosed as if locked away in a forbidden library, yet when he played a fervency broke through. After we played, his eyes shone with some luminous spirit that was otherwise sleeping within him. He was energised by the way we had played, perhaps because it lay outside the jazz tradition, a different approach to improvisation. I can only speculate but my suspicion is that Henry, in different circumstances more supportive of his vulnerable personality, would have made a far more expansive musical life for himself. The troubles of his mind made it hard to build that situation for himself and hard to surmount the obstacles of a wayward musician’s life.

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Maggi Payne is a composer and artist currently based in California. She was the co-director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College for 26 years, and has created a number of audio, video, and installation works throughout her decades-long career. Recently, Aguirre Records reissued two of her albums, Ahh-Ahh and Arctic Winds. Joshua Minsoo Kim and Payne talked on the phone on April 30th, discussing her childhood, flutes, the “potential” found in the sounds of nature, and more.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hello, this is Joshua!

Maggi Payne: How are you doing?

I’m good, how are you?

I’m fine, sounds like you’ve been really, really busy.

I guess I have. I try to keep myself busy, that’s sort of how I—

Deal with things. (laughter).

If I’m not doing something I feel like something’s off.

Yeah, exactly. (laughs).

Are you like that too?

Yeah. It’s a good strategy, I think.

I wanted to ask you about your childhood. What’s the earliest memory you have that’s related to sound or music?

Oh, that’s really interesting. I was just looking up some stuff in this old baby book that my mother maintained for a while. One of her entries says that I really did not like loud sounds (laughter). However, those were the days when you didn’t have a whole lot of toys, so she used to throw a bunch of pots and pans in my playpen and she said that I stayed in there for hours and hours without needing attention (laughter), just playing with everything. So that’s pretty early, but later on, my mom had me take piano lessons. I never really connected with that instrument very well and when I was nine years old I heard flute somewhere and I knew that was for me, so I got right on it.

It was amazing because I had this wonderful teacher named Harold Gilbert. The flute’s a very hard instrument to play—I mean they all are, but to even get a sound out of it, you know? I just fell in love with the air going through the flute (makes the sound of air going through a flute) and moving the keys so the air changed pitch, and all the whistle tones and clicking the keys… I confessed that to him and—to his credit—he said, “That’s right, but in the meantime learn some Handel sonatas.” (laughter).

I didn’t really need his permission; I just thought it was really cool that liking those sounds was all okay. I was raised in a spot in Amarillo, Texas where farmland changed to desert. We were sort of on the desert side of town where we could see out into it forever; there’s nothing behind us at all except cow pastures. I learned to love things that were abstract because of that—you know, the beauty of nature, every little crack in the earth. It’s interesting because there weren’t plants, no trees (laughter). Something just drove my passion towards experimental music right from the get-go.

It’s super interesting that you mention you were drawn to the flute and the various sounds it made, as well as the physical act of playing it. It’s funny it was all even there even then given your works, like with The Extended Flute. When did you start experimenting with extended techniques on the flute?

Age nine (laughter). Seriously! It was always a part of my practice. Most people warm up playing long tones, but I warmed up playing whistle tones, and then moved on to long tones. Yeah, I think it was just there from the start.

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The current COVID-19 pandemic and the related measures taken by governments and authorities have a plethora of severe consequences for individuals, societies, the economy, and the entire public life. They also affect the sphere of music all over the world: Live performances cannot take place and independent musicians have to fear for their livelihood. At the same time, an outburst of musical creativity can be witnessed: 

Plastered all over the social media landscape, touching videos of people making music from their balconies and homes have spread virally with higher contagion rates than the coronavirus itself, proliferating under popular hashtags such as #coronasongs, #quarantunes, #covidance, #pandemix, and #songsofcomfort. Leading opera houses, bands, and symphony orchestras have followed suit in realizing the social cohesion potential of music and made their performances digitally available to the public at no cost. While it may be unsurprising that professional musicians facing sudden unemployment from mass cancellations can devote vast creative resources to the production of musical online content, the enthusiasm with which the general public is taking part has been truly overwhelming. People have eagerly recovered old instruments from past oblivion, humorous and sincere corona songs have been composed, and innovative corona lyrics have been crafted for old, well-known hit songs. Governments in Southeast Asia have even released music videos and dance challenges promoting public health.

It seems that music is being widely and creatively used as a means to individually and socially cope with several of the challenges posed by the current crisis onto individuals, among them anxiety, boredom, loneliness, stress, and uncertainty about the future.

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  • COOS

Céline Gillain is a musician, video and performance artist living in Brussels. Her work is a hybrid of corrupted pop songs, feminist sci-fi, storytelling and dark humour.

Where are you and how are you doing these days?

I’m at home in Brussels, my apartment is small, but I live near a public park and have been feeling very lucky about that these days. I’ve found myself paying a lot of attention to the weather changes, to birds (are there more tits and robins than usual or am I just more aware of them?), I’ve been staring at trees, listening to the wind, smelling leaves, that sort of thing. Other than that, I exercise, watch cartoons, teach online, listen to music and podcasts, and I walk a lot. In a way, all the wandering around has helped me find my way back to my desire, a path I had lost these past few months. To be completely honest, this forced interruption is kind of a blessing to me. I’ve enjoyed not having deadlines, not having to make plans six months ahead. But then again, I’ve been counting my steps and obsessing over it like I’m some kind of robot, so I guess my mental health isn’t that great after all.

Are you affected by the current situation in terms of your work & art?

This crisis is reconfiguring many aspects of my life, the way I interact with people, of course, and how I feel responsible for them, how I organise, how I tend to put pressure on myself, and most importantly, it has given me space to think. This crisis has reminded me that I can’t be creative if I don’t have time to get lost a little, to kind of drift; imagination is linked to randomness, to something that is beyond my control. It’s like I’m reeducating myself how to think. And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this right now. Everyone I know is. Which is why I think we have to radically reject the idea of going back to normal.

There’s no way we can go back to business as usual. It’s not just a sanitary crisis, it’s an imagination crisis. Our sense of purpose is resetting. And, as a consequence, I sense that self-expression has become irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong: art, in its broadest form, is more relevant than ever but it has nothing to do with self-fulfillment. It has to be larger than that. The social value of music is huge, and that’s what I’m willing to explore even more from now on. But of course, I’ve only been able to question my existence because I haven’t got sick or haven’t lost any close ones. Every morning at around 7am I can hear my next-door neighbour leaving for work (she’s a social worker) and while I go back to sleep, I realize that my self-isolating, even if it’s complicated, is a luxury.

READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW HERE

Thurston Moore, Cate le Bon, Caspar Brötzmann und die Sleaford Mods gehören zu den bekanntesten Acts, die hier auftreten. Doch auch jenseits von ihnen lautet in den Brüsseler Ateliers Claus das Konzept vor allem: schiere Intensität.

Musikalische Welten entstehen lassen: Wenn Tommy de Nys das Programm für die Ateliers Claus zusammenstellt, arbeitet er mit einer Wunschliste statt mit Booking Agenturen. (Fotos: Patrick Galbats)

Auch diese Geschichte war eigentlich anders geplant. Denn wer denkt schon daran, ein Porträt über einen Konzertort zu schreiben, wenn nicht mal ansatzweise absehbar ist, wann überhaupt wieder Konzerte stattfinden können? Vor gut zwei Monaten sah das noch weniger trostlos aus. Erst recht für einen kleinen Schuppen wie die Ateliers Claus. Klar war da schon von Corona die Rede. Doch gerade einmal 180 Leute passen in den Laden rein, um den es hier geht. Nicht unbedingt die Dimension von Großveranstaltungen, die man in Belgien Ende Februar wegen des Virus zu verbieten überlegte. „Ich glaube kaum, dass Veranstaltungen unserer Größe betroffen sein werden“, sagt Programmkoordinator Tommy de Nys damals nach dem Interview zum Abschied. Nun, Anfang Mai, ist der im Brüsseler Stadtteil Saint Gilles gelegene Club bereits seit fast zwei Monaten zu.

Auch das Personal der Ateliers Claus ist von der Krankheit nicht verschont geblieben, erzählt de Nys, dieses Mal am Telefon. Jemand von der Theke hat glücklicherweise nur leichte Symptome, doch der Türsteher rappelt sich nach Krankenhausaufenthalt, drei weiteren Wochen zuhause und heftigsten Lungenschmerzen erst jetzt langsam auf. Immerhin. Wann seine Dienste am Einlass wieder benötigt werden, vermag derzeit niemand zu sagen. Denn Gäste werden hier in absehbarer Zeit nicht erwartet. „Das ganze Bier läuft im Sommer ab“, sagt de Nys, „irgendwann werden wir es wohl einfach verschenken“.

Ein Krisengewinn, über den sich wohl kaum einer der Beschenkten richtig freuen wird. Öde, zuhause zu trinken, wo es doch eigentlich mit den Ateliers Claus eine Adresse gibt, wo belgisches Bier und Live-Musik eine perfekte Symbiose eingehen.

Von außen lässt sich auf den ersten Blick kaum erahnen, dass sich hier die „Großen“ der verschiedenen musikalischen Undergroundszenen die Klinke in die Hand geben: Der japanische Multiinstrumentalist Keiji Haino etwa, der mit seinen teils improvisierten Stücken im Bereich zwischen Noise, Free Jazz und Rockmusik umher mäandert. Sein vor allem als Gitarrist bekannter Kollege Fred Frith. Die Singer-Songwriter-Legende Michael Chapman. Die jazzigen Punkmusiker des niederländischen Kollektivs The Ex, die mit ihrem nach Jazz und Weltmusik offenen Sound Stilgrenzen eingerissen haben. Oder die kongolesischen Elektropunk-Hiphop-Fusionisten Kokoko, oder die japanischen Experimentalrocker Ooioo, oder das Duo Xylouris White, das Rock, Free Jazz und griechischen Folk zusammenbringt, oder, oder, oder…

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Mark Cousins’ latest encyclopedic romp is a glorious enterprise that unearths footage from some of the greatest film-makers ever – all of them women

A perfect lockdown gift has landed, one which might have sounded daunting in ordinary times: a 14-hour documentary about female directors, which goes live from next week on BFI Player. This glorious enterprise unearths footage from some of the greatest movie-makers of this century and the last – all of them female. At the same time, the BFI is showing 36 of the hundreds of films mentioned, so that viewers can enjoy full immersion over weeks, possibly awarding themselves a degree in, say, The Cinema of the Second Sex afterwards.

Narrated by women including Tilda Swinton and Thandie Newton, Women Make Film – A New Road Movie Through Cinema is the latest encyclopedic romp from the Northern Irish film historian and documentary-maker Mark Cousins, who previously directed the 15-hour television series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, in 2011. The new documentary will be released in palatable chunks over five weeks from 18 May, and aims to open a conversation on the lost legacy of women behind the movie camera.

The film does not waste time wondering why women have been sidelined by mainstream cinema – we knew the answers to that long before #MeToo. This is not about slamming the patriarchy, but a joyous trip through women’s work on screen, puckishly curated into 40 chapters on different themes including openings, interiority, meet cutes, sci-fi, tone, love, death, editing and musicals. The clips cover six continents, 13 decades and 183 directors, from the studio owner Alice Guy Blaché’s early silent work to the Russian director Kira Muratova, populists Dorothy Arzner and Kathryn Bigelow in the US, and China’s Wang Ping under Mao. Cinephiles previewing at festivals have been gobsmacked by the sheer quality of work excavated from previously obscure film-makers.

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Harlan County USA.

 

  • sleaford mods

Circularium, is de transformatie van meer dan 10.000 m2 industriële oppervlakte tot een groot centrum van innovatie en circulaire productie gewijd aan de stad. Een plek bestemd voor productieve activiteiten met korte voorzieningsketens, voor actoren uit de culturele sector en voor het buurtleven. Een ruimte voor iedereen, waar men werkt, leeft en elkaar ontmoet.

De site biedt talrijke voordelen. Hij ligt op een boogscheut van het stadscentrum, van het zuidstation en van het kanaal. De oppervlakte bedraagt ruim 2 hectaren (waarvan 6.850 m2 bebouwde overdekte + 5.250 m2 buitenruimten beschikbaar voor Circularium). De plafondhoogtes van de ruimten maakt verschillende soorten van industriële productie en culturele evenementen mogelijk. De bezetting ervan kan flexibel zijn in tijd en ruimte, in functie van de noden van eenieder. 

Circularium wordt opgestart voor een duur van minstens 5 jaar en kan worden verlengd in functie van de evolutie van het project. Op termijn zal ook de rest van het terrein vrijkomen waardoor het project kan worden uitgebreid met een bijkomende oppervlakte van 10.000 m2.

http://www.circularium.be/fr/occupants/appel-a-manifestation-dinteret/