17.12.20

How Greek musicians weathered an economic crisis could help UK performers handle COVID fall-out

On the evening of Sunday December 13 the president of the Greek Musicians’ Union stood in front of an empty auditorium at the Athens Music Hall, as thousands watched at home. Opening a virtual concert in support of music workers, his words were emotional – but firm:

We want to make known that the music we love and keeps us company in our most difficult and most beautiful moments, is the result of a complex form of labour, which takes toil, sacrifice and dedication.

The idea that musicians are workers is self-evident – yet somehow often disregarded. As a recent controversy involving the BBC has brought to the fore once again, employers, organisations and the state frequently assume that musicians will perform unpaid, merely for “exposure”.

My research on Greek musicians over the past 15 years has shown that work in artistic performance is as precarious as it is enjoyable. Musicians all over the world see creative opportunity in being “free” from permanent contractual employment, but these conditions often make them poorly paid, prone to exploitation, and insecure when it comes to work.

This is especially true in places that have suffered long periods of austerity, such as Greece and the UK. Under COVID-19, the precarious condition of performing workers has reached such breaking point that many will be unable to continue in their careers. Listening to musicians’ experiences could tell us a lot about how to defend the creative industries without leaving anyone behind.

Group of UK musicians protesting outside British parliament against shutdown of music industry due to Covid
British musicians outside the UK parliament in October 2020 protesting the shutdown of their industry. Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Shutterstock

Is music work or play?

When lockdown measures across Europe began, I was finishing a book on Musicians in Crisis, based on research in Greece since 2005. As I witnessed venues closing and gigs being cancelled across the globe, the words of my research participants resonated more than ever.

Musicians were eager to tell me that “crisis” in their work was somehow both new and familiar. Even as the infamous Greek financial crisis became particularly devastating after 2010, musicians experienced it as an intensifying of the precarity they had dealt with their whole lives.

As before, they still had to balance several, often contradictory, engagements. They still had to confront exploitative employers or fight for their right to get paid and receive legal benefits and social insurance. Musicians have always been conditioned in job insecurity – long before austerity and crisis. But as cultural academic Angela McRobbie has shown in the UK, these conditions of insecurity in the creative sector are “a way of laying the groundwork for the transformation of work, first for the few, then possibly for the many”. In other words, musicians may be a test-tube case for making other kinds of work more precarious.

As economic crisis intensified in Greece, these jobs became shorter term with lower pay, so musicians needed to work harder across more sectors. Gigs were scarcer, so they became more competitive, which made the idea of musician collectivism less appealing.

A group of musicians protesting against lack of support for struggling artists in Athens.
The Panhellenic Musicians’ Union in Athens get vocal about the plight of struggling artists in May 2020. Author provided

Unionisation and campaigning was not much in evidence throughout that period. This is partly because musicians in Greece do not see themselves as a collective campaigning body and receive very little support from the state or arts organisations. There is also considerable mistrust – even fear – of those in power in the music industry, who are often seen as rogue and unregulated.

As a result, during the crisis musicians had to battle it out individually and in isolation, leading to personal moments of rupture and issues of mental health, as was also the case on other countries, including the UK.

What worked for many of the musicians I interviewed was compartmentalising work and play. They emphasised that their work as hired performers needed to be properly compensated and safeguarded by hard-won labour rights. At the same time, they kept a portion of their activities separate in the realm of play, where they allowed themselves to indulge in creativity simply for their own pleasure.

Away from the precarious professional music industry, some joined groups where they could perform for enjoyment in smaller venues and for select audiences. These musical micro-cultures rarely generated much profit. Instead they were a way of resisting the commercialisation of the industry by finding expressive forms outside it. But division of work and play brings with it the danger of exploitation. The UK Musicians’ Union’s Work Not Play campaign speaks directly to this issue by stressing that the pleasure of making music should not excuse practices of unpaid labour.

Will Covid see the end of musicians?

Research commissioned by musical and cultural initiative Aptaliko – to be published in January 2021 – will show that the overwhelming majority of musicians in Greece have lost more than half of their earnings as a result of the pandemic. This mirrors recent findings in the UK, Spain, and Brazil.

Under these conditions, performing might become a luxury only for those who can afford it, while many musicians will abandon the profession altogether. Apart from the devastation this will cause arts professionals, it is also worth considering the impact on music itself. What kind of performing arts will we have if what remains only reflects the experiences and the sensibilities of the privileged few?

Thankfully, the pandemic crisis is also generating new solidarity and campaigns among performing workers. The UK Musicians’ Union is campaigning for universal basic income, and in Greece a new grassroots movement under the hashtag #SupportArtWorkers has been gathering momentum across sectors of creative professionals.

As many of these campaigns talk to one another and develop new demands, it is worth remembering that musicians and their colleagues in other creative industries have been in crisis for a long time. What they need in a post-Covid future is not a return to a perverse and unequal “normal”, but a radical rethinking of employment conditions that ensures fair pay and rights for all.The Conversation

Ioannis Tsioulakis, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology, Queen's University Belfast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

30.11.20

jimy dawn - Sun and the Son

New Gabriola Publisher launches first book! Night Forest Press is pleased to announce the publication of its first title. Sun and The Son is jimy dawn’s debut poetry collection. It has been described by poet and author Roger Farr as an “alchemical conversion of grief into life”.

The author describes the context in his Preface: “In late August 2018 my youngest son took his life. I had been writing and exploring poetry before that date, but everything changed after ‘the event’. Hence the decision to separate this collection into Part I and Part II - Sun and The Son.” Farr continues, “jimy dawn demonstrates something we always knew about language. He reminds us that, Children sleep. Rivers send us home. Stories never end.”

jimy dawn is a multi-media artist. He studied painting, drawing and design at the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr College of Art. As a singer and lyricist he staged musical performances in a collective known as Sylo. He also wrote and acted in the award winning, independent film project “Like a Tree in Which There are Three Blackbirds.”

dawn, his wife Mimi and their found street cat, Pinta split their time between Toronto and Victoria Canada. Sun and The Son is available for secure purchase at Nightforestpress.com



22.11.20

NEoN at Night - 28th November 2020



Where: YouTube Live

When: 28th November 2020, 8.00pm

Its been a turbulent year and early November hasn't been the same without our annual festival. However we have a wee treat for you. Join us for our famous festival party NEoN at Night and stream it into your our living room – our resident DJ RHL is coming out of isolation to bring you a 2 hour set of vinyl delights. Spinning in the first hour classic house with a sprinkling of disco, followed by another hour of typical NEoN mayhem. (Techno, Breaks, Jungle) 

NEoN alumni and experimental AV artist Raz Ullah will be mixing up a backdrop of video feedback imagery, vortex havoc and retro chromatics. 

19.11.20

Dada is still very much alive

It was good to see this article in the Elephant yesterday entitled "The Artists Keeping the Absurdist, Irreverent Spirit of Dada Alive". It highlights several interesting artists (Sang Woo Kim, Leo Fitzmaurice, Matilda Moors and Ted Targett to be more precise) that they claim are keeping Dada alive. But has it ever gone away?


Well we don't think so. Some of us have been staying true to the Dadaist faith for many a long year. The influence of Dada can be seen everywhere in popular culture from the visual arts, music, literature, comedy, film, advertising and something as ubiquitous as the social media meme. Dada like art itself is everywhere.


You can find the article here on Elephant.




18.11.20

A NEW VIDEO ARTS PLATFORM

 

SVOX.TV is a new channel for film and video arts showcasing an array of extraordinary work produced as part of the output from artists, artist collectives, creative studios and broader practices. It is a celebration of the diversity of content, genre, subject matter, method, narrative, and storytelling. 

It serves as both documentation and storytelling; a final realisation of ideas, a form of artistic investigation, and exploration into philosophical and abstracted notions, and an archive.



17.11.20

Avant Garde - the magazine

 I grew up in the sixties and was into counter culture as much as I could be living in rural England but I'd never heard of Avant Garde magazine. By all accounts it wasn't widely known in the wider world, but those in the know, knew.

Apparently, "Avant Garde is a seminal, but somewhat overlooked by a wider public, magazine, which broke taboos, rattled some nerves and made a few enemies. The magazine was the brainchild of Ralph Ginzburg, an eager and zealous publisher, even if the path that led to Avant Garde wasn’t so straightforward. It represents the third major collaboration between Ralph Ginzburg and Herb Lubalin, the magazine’s talented art director. The two previous magazines came to unexpected demise due to their candor and provocativeness, that landed them into legal trouble."

Anyway all of the issues are now available online, here. Enjoy.




13.11.20

Open Call: The Bomb Factory Artist's Film Festival

"The Bomb Factory Art Foundation is delighted to announce the return of our Artist's Film Festival. Following an impromptu hiatus, we will once again be looking for short film or video submissions that are exhilarating, experimental, sad, funny, mind-blowing or whatever artists exploring the vast potential of the moving image come up with. ​ 


We are asking applicants to submit work via an open call. All works considered must be a maximum of five minutes in duration. Works made with a production team are welcome, but you must be the lead creative behind the project - see submission form for further info." 

Deadline for Submissions: 4/12/20 

Screenings: TBC




9.11.20

The art of zines

Omen To That - The Art of the Zine! is a truly delightful podcast where Damian The Omen of artninetwo.com interviews the very talented artist and zine creator Raechel Leigh Carter. Together they look at the world of zine making! Try to unpick some of life’s mysteries such as what happened to Morrissey? And, talk about art, life, the universe and terrible films. Give it a listen. You’ll thank me for it.





5.11.20

The Chatterley Trial 60 years on: a court case that secured free expression in 1960s Britain

Judge’s copy: the copy of the novel belonging to the judge in the case was acquired by Bristol University in 2019. By courtesy of the University of Bristol Library Special Collections DM2936, photograph by Jamie Carstairs., CC BY-SA

The paperback copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover pictured above is of great cultural significance. Leafing through the pages one discovers hidden gems: pencil markings, underlinings, marginal annotations. Accompanying the book are sheets of headed stationery from the Old Bailey, containing handwritten notes relating to the novel along with a clumsily hand-stitched fabric bag – apparently made not to protect the book but rather the person carrying it by obscuring its title.

It’s the “judge’s copy” of the book, used by Mr Justice Lawrence Byrne who presided over the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial in which DH Lawrence’s famous novel was at the centre of a test of Britain’s new censorship law.

The University of Bristol’s acquisition of the so-called “judge’s copy” in 2019 was an important moment and, having assisted in making the case for its new home to be in the university’s special collections, examining it for the first time was thrilling. Now, on the 60th anniversary of the trial it is timely to consider this intriguing volume. But first a reminder of the case with which it was connected.

In August 1960, by pre-arrangement, the police were handed copies of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley by its publisher. Following this, Penguin Books Limited was charged with publishing an obscene article under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

The 1959 act aimed both to strengthen the law concerning pornography and to protect literature. It created the publishing offence (the handing over constituted publication) and provided that material was “obscene” if its effect, taken as a whole, was such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely to read, see or hear it.

But a public good defence meant a conviction would not result if it were proved that publication was justified “in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern”. The Lady Chatterley trial was a test of the act; in particular, would the defence protect creative works?

In the courtroom, while the defence did not accept the book was obscene, their focus was on its literary merit. A line up of 35 witnesses (women and men) were called on behalf of publisher Penguin to speak in favour of the book, including authors, academics, clergy, a 21-year-old English graduate and a headmaster. The prosecution played a minor role, calling only one witness and sometimes putting no questions to those who appeared for the defence. In the end, after three hours of deliberation, the jury of three women and nine men returned a unanimous verdict. Penguin was acquitted.

Judge’s copy

Which brings us back to Lady Chatterley and, in particular, the book in the fabric bag. Copies of the unexpurgated novel were circulating before 1960, meaning some of those involved in the case had long been familiar with it – the first defence witness had read it in about 1940. The police had acquired a marked-up proof copy of the Penguin book before the publisher’s handover.

The lawyers had taken great pains to study the 1960 text in preparing for the trial. Defence files show that Penguin’s solicitors undertook an analysis not entirely dissimilar to that on show in the “judge’s copy” with its accompanying notes. As prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones demonstrated in his opening to the jury, where he observed that the words “fuck” or “fucking” occurred at least 30 times within the novel’s pages, so too had the Crown.

The jury were given copies in court, just before the trial began. At the end of the first day, the judge adjourned the case, directing them to read the book but forbidding them from taking it home. After a gap of several days the proceedings resumed and the trial continued for a further five days.

Reports tell how copies of the novel were handed round the court during the trial, to the jury, witnesses and to the judge, with the players occasionally leafing through the pages in search of a particular passage. The judge, however, was given a copy of the book at the same time as the jury first received it, on day one of the trial, before proceedings got underway.

Lady Byrne

It seems that at some point Byrne shared the novel with his wife, as we are told that most of the markings in the book and all of the separate notes are in Lady Dorothy Byrne’s hand, with a few annotations apparently made by her husband. Accounts suggest she worked on the text before the trial (or perhaps during the jury’s reading days), with her husband adding notes during proceedings as she sat next to him. Lady Byrne is also credited with making the bag.

This all suggests that the couple worked together, with Lady Byrne taking the leading role. Moreover, they did so despite Griffith-Jones’s question to the jury on day one of the trial: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

How then did the “judge’s copy” journey to Bristol? The Byrne family auctioned it in 1993. It came up for sale again in 2018, selling to a private individual in the US. In an attempt to keep it in the UK, the book was placed under temporary export deferral and expressions of interest were sought. At Bristol we put together a case to acquire the book and fundraising efforts began, with contributions coming from organisations and individuals.

As a result, the “judge’s copy”, notes and bag now reside alongside the Penguin Archive and trial papers of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin’s solicitor. Given its history, however, I wonder if we might begin to reconsider how we refer to this Lady Chatterley. Because of her work, the judge’s wife seems to deserve credit; it is not only the “judge’s copy” it is also very much “Lady Byrne’s copy”.The Conversation

Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History , University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

25.10.20

Daylight saving time: five tips to help you better adjust to the clock change

Time changes interrupt our internal “body clock”. Roman Samborskyi/ Shutterstock

Daylight saving time was first implemented during the first world war to take advantage of longer daylight hours and save energy. While this made a difference when we heavily relied on coal power, today the benefits are disputed. In fact, emerging research suggests that moving the clocks twice a year has negative impacts, particularly on our health.

During the first days after the clocks change, many people suffer from symptoms such as irritability, less sleep, daytime fatigue, and decreased immune function. More worryingly, heart attacks, strokes and workplace injuries are higher during the first weeks after a clock change compared with other weeks. There’s also a 6% increase in fatal car crashes the week we “spring forward”.

The reason time changes affect us so much is because of our body’s internal biological “clock”. This clock controls our basic physiological functions, such as when we feel hungry, and when we feel tired. This rhythm is known as our circadian rhythm, and is roughly 24 hours long.

The body can’t do everything at once, so every function in the body has a specific time when it works best. For example, even before we wake up in the morning, our internal clock prepares our body for waking. It shuts down the pineal gland’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and starts releasing cortisol, a hormone that regulates metabolism.

Our breathing also becomes faster, our blood pressure rises, our heart beats quicker, and our body temperature increases slightly. All of this is governed by our internal biological clock.

Our master clock is located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. While all tissues and organs in the body have their own clock (known as a peripheral clocks), the brain’s master clock synchronises the peripheral clocks, making sure all tissues work together in harmony at the right time of the day. But twice a year, this rhythm is disrupted when the time changes, meaning the master clock and all the peripheral clocks become out of sync.

Our body is controlled by internal 'clocks' which regulate all our body's functions.
Our internal body clocks control all our body’s functions. kanyanat wongsa/ Shutterstock

Since our rhythm is not precisely 24 hours, it resets daily using rhythmic cues from the environment. The most consistent environmental cue is light. Light naturally controls these circadian rhythms, and every morning our master clock is fine-tuned to the outside world.

The master clock then tells the peripheral clocks in organs and tissues the time via hormone secretion and nerve cell activity. When we artificially and abruptly change our daily rhythms, the master clock shifts faster than the peripheral clocks and this is why we feel unwell. Our peripheral clocks are still working on the old time and we are experiencing jetlag.

It may take several days or weeks for our body to adjust to the time change and for our tissues and organs to work in harmony again. And, depending on whether you are a natural morning person or a night owl, the spring and autumn clock change might affect you differently.

Night owls tend to find it more difficult to adjust to the spring clock change, whereas morning larks tend to be more affected by the autumn clock change. Some people are even entirely unable to adjust to the time change.

While any disruption to our circadian rhythm can affect our wellbeing, there are still things we can do to help our body better adjust to the new time:

  1. Keep your sleeping pattern regular before and after the clocks change. It’s particularly important to keep the time you wake up in the morning regular. This is because the body releases cortisol in the morning to make you more alert. Throughout the day you will become increasingly tired as cortisol levels decrease and this will limit the time change’s impact on your sleep.

  2. Gradually transition your body to the new time by changing your sleep schedule slowly over a week or so. Changing your bedtime 10-15 min earlier or later each day helps your body to gently adjust to the new schedule and eases the jetlag.

  3. Get some morning sunlight. Morning light helps your body adjust quicker and synchronises your body clock faster – whereas evening light delays your clock. Morning light will also increase your mood and alertness during the day and helps you sleep better at night.

  4. Avoid bright light in the evening. This includes blue light from mobile phones, tablets, and other electronics. Blue light can delay the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, and reset the internal clock to an even later schedule. A dark environment is best at bedtime.

5) Keep your eating pattern regular. Other environmental cues, such as food, can also synchronise your body clock. Research shows light exposure and food at the correct time, can help your master and peripheral clocks shift at the same speed. Keep mealtimes consistent and avoid late-night meals.

Following a Europe-wide consultation, in March 2019 the European Parliament voted in favour of removing daylight saving time – so this might be one of the last times many European readers have to worry about adjusting their internal clocks after a time change. While member states will decide whether to adopt standard time (from autumn to spring) or daylight saving time (from spring to autumn) permanently, scientists are in favour of keeping to standard time, as this is when the sun’s light most closely matches when we go to work, school, and socialise.The Conversation

Gisela Helfer, Senior Lecturer in Physiology and Metabolism, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

21.10.20

Dylan Thomas: ‘lost’ fifth notebook reveals how the great Welsh poet changed his style

       
New insights: Dylan Thomas’s fifth notebook shows how the poet’s creative process developed. Photo by John Gay © National Portrait Gallery, London

It’s the dream of every researcher to get their hands on a hitherto-unknown manuscript by the author in whose work they specialise. As you’d imagine, most never realise that dream. But on December 9 2014 at Sotheby’s auction house in London, I was lucky enough for it to happen to me. A school exercise book that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas, filled with 16 of his poems in his handwriting, was bought by my then-employers, Swansea University, for £85,000 and given to me to edit.

A PhD student, Adrian Osbourne, was funded to help me in my labours. A greater honour, and a more daunting, more thrilling task, would have been hard for either of us to imagine.

To begin at the beginning, however, some context. From April 1930, aged 15, Thomas began copying his completed poems into a series of school exercise books. In his short story, The Fight, the “D. Thomas” character notes how: “In the evening, before calling on my new friend, I sat in my bedroom by the boiler and read through my exercise-books full of poems. There were Danger Don’ts on the backs.”

A red school exercise book belonging to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Lost until 2014: Dylan Thomas’s fifth notebook. Swansea University, Author provided

In a letter of 1933, Thomas referred to an “innumerable” number of such notebooks. And, unlike most poets, he hung onto his juvenilia, carrying them around with him and raiding them for material until 1941. At that point, in the darkest days of the second world war, hard up and with a family to support, he sold the first four, which run from April 1930 to April 1934, to the library of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Scholars were given access to them and they were published in 1967 as Poet in the Making: The Notebooks of Dylan Thomas.

No more notebooks emerged during Thomas’s lifetime, nor – despite much speculation – did any appear after his death in 1953. Thus, the Sotheby’s notebook is the only one to have appeared, and it covers the period summer 1934 to August 1935 – making it a direct continuation of the first four.

Scrap paper?

The fifth notebook’s extraordinary nature as an object is matched by the story of its survival. Two notes contained in the Tesco’s bag in which the notebook was found allowed us to establish this. The first, a brief description by Thomas himself, shows that the last time he was in possession of it was early 1938.

After marrying in summer 1937, he and Caitlin Macnamara lived with Caitlin’s mother at her home in Hampshire until early 1938. The second note – by Mrs Macnamara’s maid, Louie King – revealed that after Dylan and Caitlin’s departure she was given the notebook, with other “scrap paper” they left behind, to burn in the kitchen boiler. King, however, withheld the notebook from its fiery fate – out of curiosity, sentiment, or for some other reason we know nothing about. When she died in 1984 the notebook passed to her family, who kept it, still a secret to the outside world, until 2014.

We now had three tasks – to transcribe the notebook poems, deciphering, if possible, Thomas’s many corrections and deletions. We then set out to compare them with the published versions and to work out what light – if any – they shed on Thomas’s poetic development.

It should be said that the fifth notebook poems are all published ones. Unlike its predecessors it contains no unpublished items (this may be why Thomas does not seem to have minded losing it). Where it differed was in the number of corrections it contained. The poems in the first four notebooks are almost always clean copies. In the fifth, many poems undergo radical revision, allowing us to trace Thomas’s creative processes at first hand.

Two pages from a handwritten notebook of poetry containing revisions.
Unlike the four that preceded it, the fifth notebook contains many of Thomas’s revisions. Swansea University, Author provided

Luckily, we were able to realise most of our aims. Thomas’s handwriting is clear, so most poems and corrections were easy to read. Some problems arose as the notebook progressed, and the poems grew more complex and worked-over. Usually, educated guesswork (not to mention my colleague’s keen eyesight) carried us through – although in a handful of cases we called in a technician armed with a super-photocopier. In the end only five words were unresolved.

Changing style

Among the deleted passages were many of great beauty and originality, some of which Thomas reworked elsewhere. There were also three stanzas, in two of the poems, which had never been seen before.

Everywhere his incredibly rapid development as a poet was evident. Sometimes, even the tiniest item could alter our understanding of a poem; in I Dreamed My Genesis, the notebook confirmed that a comma should replace a full stop found in three print editions, making better sense of eight lines of the poem.

At the other end of the scale of significance, after poem eight, When, Like a Running Grave, we noted that Thomas had, unusually, written out the date in full: “26th October 1934” – the eve of his 20th birthday – with an emphatic line in the centre of the page. We know from the number of poems he wrote about birthdays (they include Poem on His Birthday and Poem in October) that they held great significance for Thomas. So we feel it is no coincidence that the poems that follow this point, beginning with Now and culminating in Altarwise By Owl-Light, the final poem, differ from these before it, and are the most experimental he ever wrote. Agonisingly aware of human mortality, of the end of youth, this emphatic dating marks the exact moment of Thomas’s momentous decision to adopt a more daring style.

The notebook, then, represents a kind of hinge in his early career, and this is something we could only have learned from the notebook itself, since the stylistic shift is completely obscured by the non-chronological order in which When, Like a Running Grave and Now were published. It grants us the privilege of witnessing, for the first time, the young Dylan Thomas at the height of his powers, seizing and reshaping his poetic destiny.The Conversation

John Goodby, Professor of Arts and Culture, Sheffield Hallam University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

29.9.20

Royal Ulster Academy of Arts Features Artist Brian Parker

The exciting announcement that the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts Exhibition will be continuing this October, and the contemporary visual artist Brian Parker is proud to be exhibiting and using the opportunity as a chance to return to Ireland and discover more about his Irish ancestors.

Fine art is such an important culture for us all to embrace during these difficult times, visiting exhibitions, viewing artworks and escaping just for a moment into the canvas. Parker’s work concentrates on colour & form and his entry for the exhibition ‘Light into the Dark’ highlights this well.




10.9.20

Performing in winter: creating COVID-safe super venues and sharing the stage


Tuur Tisseghem/Pexels, CC BY-SA

You pass through a wide doorway to a large space with good air circulation. Inside, an usher behind a screen scans your ticket and sends you onward. Signs on the carpet direct you to the large auditorium, which is arranged in clusters of seats, one per household. In the middle of the room, the stage is set for a full orchestra. Tomorrow the same stage will be used for a theatrical production. The lights go dim; the music starts.

If we think creatively, such a situation could become reality. The arts sector is in a dire state, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Paul Whitehouse, among others, continue to plead for venues to reopen on behalf of the embattled theatre sector and its many jobs. But winter is coming and with it the unappetising prospect of a second spike of coronavirus cases. Things are likely to get worse before they get better.

With many audience members over 65, it is not just a question of R values and daily cases but how safe people feel. It is extremely unlikely that traditional venues will cater to large audiences for at least six months and possibly until a vaccine is created and widely administered.


Read more: Performing for no one – the important work of in-studio audiences


Notions of “hygiene” have been observed as a major narrative in the reinvention of urban space for centuries and being hygienic in COVID times presents real difficulties.

The search for space

Observing even a 1-metre rule takes most venues to below 50% capacity and feels, frankly, almost pointless, except in larger halls. This puts the performing arts in a dire position, seemingly with a choice between loss-making performances to the few, or contributions to the vast pool of online content. Increasingly, it feels like the latter’s proximity to the live experience only dilutes its satisfaction – like giving plastic food to the hungry.

It is time for governments and local authorities to take action and create performance conditions that can function in all but the most stringent of lockdown situations. It will be no small effort, but if a large-scale live performance is to see us through another winter, it must be done.

What is needed is space. Space to circulate, space to sit apart, space between venue staff and audience. Outdoor events will be difficult to sustain in a British winter. Churches have limited toilet capacity (if you think that’s unimportant, you have not read many venue feedback forms). Conference centres are in fact the most likely solution. The decimation of large-scale events means they have availability and should be able to accommodate large numbers of people and flexible seating arrangements.

Just one viable stage could to bring comedy, music, small-scale opera and theatre back to a city, though the specific stage requirements of dance may prove more difficult. The seating must be flexible rather than in strict rows, probably with the stage in the centre of a large room. It may not be the perfect aesthetic experience, but it beats another half-watched livestream or playing to a handful of people.

To take Scotland as an example, one super venue in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen could resuscitate the country’s three major orchestras and much more besides. The Lennox Suite in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, for example, has a maximum capacity in normal times of 2,000 and has a movable floor. If 40% of that total were achieved it would start to offer something akin to regular income for organisations.

Technical and stage management teams from theatre and music are used to making things happen in a short space of time. Together, they would be unstoppable. The acoustics of these spaces could be delicately enhanced by amplification in the case of theatre and electronically assisted resonance for classical music. The latter can provide startlingly natural reverb, as was used for decades in London’s Festival Hall.

Sharing the benefits

Though the initial costs will be significant, this scheme is beneficial because it allows organisations to bring in revenue and give their box office and temporary workers some much-needed employment.

Currently, we are paying institutions to limp on and will count it a success if they come through this period with half their staff intact. Government support to a widespread commandeering of spaces would be a far shrewder investment and will give large institutions the means to better support themselves, though this emphasis should be coupled with similar efforts on behalf of smaller organisations and freelancers. Indeed, this could be an opportunity for smaller companies to share the stage and draw a bigger and more diverse crowd to their programming, while also sharing the income generated.


Read more: Arts rescue package: by all means protect Britain's 'jewels' – but don't forget the rest of the crown


There is also the issue of the venues that are left behind in this search for space. Taking away the orchestras and theatre companies that are their main draw hardly seems to aid their cause. I would argue, however, that there is little financial security in housing concerts for 200 people, not to mention the risks of being closed down again if the virus returns. Limited but more secure employment for staff and the ability to repurpose smaller venues – whether as a university lecture theatre, space for smaller performances or community hub – is more likely to see them through this time.

One of the lessons of lockdown is that a life without the arts is a very grey existence indeed and that if there is a replacement to the live experience, it is yet to be discovered. If performances can go ahead as safely as entering shops or eating in restaurants, then the arts world and society should be given every chance to take advantage of their life-enhancing effects. All it requires is the government to lead on this issue with decisive and positive action.The Conversation

Neil Thomas Smith, Composer and Postdoctoral Researcher, Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music, Maastricht University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2.9.20

Ars Electronica 2020: Gare Loch Duality Trailer

 

Gare Loch Duality Trailer

Part of Ars Electronica 2020: Festival for Art, Technology & Society, 9 -13 September 2020. Two new films by B.D. Owens followed by a live Q&A with the artist and NEoN Director, Donna Holford-Lovell.

29.8.20

Charlie Parker: celebrating a century of the genius who changed jazz forever

Charlie Parker at the Three Deuces New York, 1947. William P Gottlieb/Flickr, CC BY-ND

His audience knew him as “Yardbird”, or more usually, just “Bird”. The variety of sobriquets given to jazz alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, who would have turned 100 on 29 August 2020, is indicative of his different personae – most important, of course, his musical personalities.

Parker was a legendary soloist, inspiring bandleader, daring composer, ingenious innovator and a source of inspiration for many generations still. A jazz idol, full stop. But his off-stage personality revealed a more tragic figure: a drug addict and alcoholic.

Bird lived hard and lost his performance licence, several jobs and attempted suicide twice. All in all, his physical and mental health were already waning at an early age. That he died young then, at just 34 years old, was not really a shock. He passed away a week after his last public performance, on 12 March 1955. This last concert took place in the famous New York nightclub Birdland – aptly named in his honour.

Charlie Parker is considered “one of the most striking performers in the entire history of jazz, and one of the most influential”, according to the Rough Guide to Jazz. The more authoritative encyclopedia in academic circles, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, qualifies him in comparable terms and characterises Bird as a “supremely creative improviser”.

Early Bird

Parker was born and raised in a musical family in Kansas City, Missouri, which was known for its vibrant music scene. He started to play the saxophone when he was 11 years old, taking lessons at a local music school and joining high school bands.

But he chiefly developed as a musician by carefully studying his older peers. Inspired by the big bands of Bennie Moten and Count Basie, Parker embarked on the blues and swing tradition of his time. Yet he felt something was missing.

His aural vision was to strut out to the quarter-note pulse of swing. But the adventurous Parker sought distractions from this predictable performance convention by making off-beat accents, syncopations and beats against the metric grain. At the same time, he also deemed the melodies of the standards musicians played in his era rather passé.

While leaving the original harmonies of songs basically intact, he took off to replace their melodies with creations of his own. These new lines and their subsequent improvisations generally included formulas like the “ya-ba-daba bebop” transcribed in onomatopoeic “scat singing”.

Bird and Bebop

Through Parker, complexity in jazz grew considerably. He aimed – and flew – higher, literally, by performing melodic lines that jumped to the next octave, overtly appropriating notes from a higher register. Like an alto riding piggyback on a soprano, and vice versa. This progressive musical concept required alterations in the supporting chords too. It enriched the accompanying harmonies with additional notes from these very same higher octaves.

To summarise Parker’s innovations in jazz is to describe the genre of bebop, of which he was one of the founding fathers and main protagonists. Bebop became the dominant style in jazz from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s, when it was subsequently overshadowed by new directions including free jazz and jazz-rock.

Bebop was then rediscovered in the 1970s, to ultimately become accepted as the “classic” style of jazz. And Bird is the epitome. He not only influenced his own generation and inspired his fellow saxophonists up to the present day. Every self-respecting jazz musician – no matter what their instrument – must study Parker’s unique playing style that essentially boils down to about a hundred different formulaic lines, which he sewed into his improvisations like a patchwork quilt.

Bird and Beethoven

Parker’s modernisation of jazz affected every single parameter of music, including instrumentation. With Parker and his associates, the big band era made legendary by the orchestras of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and the like, drew to a close.

The smaller ensemble, or combo, with a modest rhythm section of drums, bass, piano (or guitar or vibraphone, for that matter) and a few wind instruments, became the new milestone of jazz. Parker’s own quintet – which included, among others, Miles Davis on trumpet and Max Roach on drums – was, once again, trendsetting.

Given Bird’s far-reaching influence on the evolution of jazz, it’s no surprise that many aficionados consider Parker on a par with classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven. Such qualifications consider jazz as equal to classical music, and are testament to it being taken seriously as a mature musical genre. Jazz can be regarded as America’s original contribution to music history – and, by consequence, an important topic of academic study.

Parker’s centennial is currently being celebrated worldwide with new (re)releases, radio and television documentaries, and tribute concerts. And rightly so. Once you’ve been seduced by the Bird, you will never stop listening to classics like Confirmation, Scrapple from the Apple, Billie’s Bounce, or the one with the most amusing, yet appropriate title: Ornithology.The Conversation

Emile Wennekes, Chair Professor of Musicology: Music and Media, Utrecht University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

14.8.20

The rise and fall of Black British writing

Malachi McIntosh, Queen Mary University of London

In many ways, the current state of the world seems unprecedented. The last few years – but especially 2020 – have brought shocks that no one could have foreseen.

Although much headline news has been cause for anxiety, there have been a few notable moments of hope. For me, like so many, the worldwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd have been among them.

To call the uprisings “unprecedented” would be to potentially undersell how much tensions have been bubbling beneath the surface and all the work that was already being done by activists to draw attention to these issues. Among the uprising’s hopeful surprises has been the way they’ve torn open space for conversations about race and racism in the UK.

Why don’t we teach all British schoolchildren about colonialism. Why does it take so much more convincing to have the statues of slaveowners removed than those of others responsible for past atrocities? Why were so many young people of colour so quickly mobilised to say “the UK is not innocent”, in solidarity with their peers on the streets in the United States?

With the boom in interest in the histories of colonialism, empire and the British civil rights movement in response to Black Lives Matter protests, has come an aligned boom in interest in Black British writing.

Candice Carty-Williams and Bernardine Evaristo won significant firsts for Black authors at the British Book awards – book of the year and author of the year, respectively. Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, became the first Black Briton to top the paperback non-fiction chart, while Evaristo topped the fiction list.

Across social media and newspapers, reading lists proliferated, apparently responding to a hunger from readers of all backgrounds to gain knowledge of issues and the history of race and racism they’d never received in schools or universities.

For many in and on the fringes of the publishing industry, it’s felt hopeful that a moment of real recognition for Black British writing, in an echo of the attention being paid to Black British lives, has arrived.

But has it really? Although the accelerated pace of interest feels unique, the pattern – social unrest triggering readerly interest in the works of writers of colour – is, unfortunately, not.

Post-war Booms (and Busts)

Immediately after the second world war there was a similar boom. Britain was about to enter a long phase of decolonisation, and its demographic make-up, through waves of colonial then ex-colonial migration, was on course to permanently change. This opened up space and piqued curiosity for works from the most visible group at the centre of social transformation – at that time Caribbean emigrants.

As detailed in Kenneth Ramchand’s book The West Indian Novel and Its Background, from 1950 to 1964, over 80 novels by Caribbean authors, including classics like In the Castle of My Skin by by George Lamming and A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul were published in London – far more than those published in the Caribbean itself.

Book cover showing children at school sitting at desks.
To Sir With Love (1959) by the Guyanese writer ER Braithwaite is a semi-autobiographical novel set in East London. Wikimedia

What’s most significant about that spike is that it didn’t last. As Caribbean migration waned after the passage of a series of restrictive immigration acts from 1962 to 1971, so did the opportunities for writers from Caribbean backgrounds.

This was evident in the fortunes of most of the those published in Britain post-war. The likes of Edgar Mittelholzer and John Hearne - then known and widely published - and even Samuel Selvon - now widely known and respected - found their works falling out of print.

Attention then shifted to Black writers from the African continent – primarily those from west Africa, like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka – where the progress of decolonisation was taking dramatic turns. But this interest also waned.

There have been more recent booms, for example in the 1980s after the New Cross fire in 1981, which sparked protests in south London after 13 young black people were killed, and the Brixton uprising of the same year in response to excessive and, at times, violent policing in the area.

Then, around the turn of the millennium, rechristened “multicultural” writing rose, alongside visible demographic change, through the successes of Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Monica Ali and others. These were breakthroughs significant enough for Wasafiri, the magazine where I work and which has been championing Black British and British Asian writing since 1984, to declare in 2008 that Black Britons had “taken the cake” of British letters.

Yet in 2016, eight years later, only one debut novel from a Black British male author, Robyn Travis, was published in the UK.

The Future

In her memoirs, the British writer and editor Diana Athill calls the post-war boom in writing from then-colonies a result of short-lived “liberal guilt” combined with curiosity about the peoples and nations disconnecting from Britain. There are concerning signs along these lines in our present.

In their recent report on UK publishing – a result of over a hundred interviews with those in the field – Anamik Saha and Sandra van Lente reveal that British publishers feel that they ought to publish more writers of colour, and that those same writers belong to a particular niche with limited quality and limited appeal to their target readers.

Novelist Bernardine Evaristo wearing a denim jacket and glasses
Bernardine Evaristo has questioned the growing body of Black writing. Jennie Scott/Wikimedia, CC BY

Anticipating this conversation in her 2019 essay What a Time to Be a (Black) (British) (Womxn) Writer, first published in the book Brave New Words on the eve of her Booker Prize win, Bernardine Evaristo both celebrated and questioned the growing body of Black British writing.

Something, she notes in the essay, is definitely shifting, but she wonders how far it will really shift. If Black Britons are being published in greater numbers but on singularly narrow terms. Like their forebears in the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and early 2000s, are there only certain stories Black writers are allowed to tell? Only certain messages they’re expected to convey?

While it is far too early to make a judgement on how long the current boom will last, the way this moment repeats a pattern of social change followed by publishing frenzy is at least worthy of attention - and perhaps scepticism. So often the present seems unprecedented, but in order for it to be truly revolutionary, novel, status-quo shifting – liberating – the changes we see within it have to be sustained.The Conversation

Malachi McIntosh, Emeritus professor in British Black and Asian Literature, Queen Mary University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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