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> > > Review: New Music 20x12 at the Southbank Centre

31 July 2012

Woman and Man sat on chairs on a stage in front of large projection showing the Southbank Centre

Screening of Spinal Chords at the Southbank Centre

New Music 20x12 brought twenty composers together with arts organisations to create exciting new music, which will be performed across the length and breadth of the UK. Richard Downes attended a celebration at the Southbank Centre on 15 July.

In all 20 new pieces of 12 minutes duration were performed together for the first time. 10 were shown on Saturday. I caught 8 of them as I trudged the festival's concrete hills worn down by distance, people, noise and colour, thankful the puddles fail to degenerate into mud. It would be a long time before the claustrophobia these events engendered in me gave way to the fire of inspiration I sought.

Would I find it in a Composers Workshop for Folk where I was pleased to hear, late addition Martin Carthy, in conversation with Aidan O'Rouke and Imagined Village band mate, Sheema Mukherjee? Martin's reminiscences glorified his inspirations but he pointed out that folk music since before his arrival, had been revolutionary, moulds were broken, formats torn asunder and new delights arrived through new learning and technology.

It is a happy state folk seems to have returned to lately. Aidan and Sheema came from different traditions, freestyle and classical. They both learned form before finding their joy in innovation. Sheema took us on a journey through sitar notation emphasising different meanings afforded to notes and mini tones. Her piece began as 'Bending The Da'. This being a heroic note next to a tone meaning disgust, which sadly she felt a pro-Olympic need to leave out.

Skipping past pieces I had missed or felt unmoved by, I attended Sally Beamish's Spinal Cords, turgid music behind a libretto provided by Times columnist and disabled person Melanie Reid - the blurb for whom, would make self respecting supporters of the Social Model puke.

However I remember lessons taught by Co-Disability Equality Trainer, Paul Fagan, who asked after we had destroyed faith in the Tragedy Model for a group of ward medics, "if I went out tonight, got knocked over by a car, would it be a tragedy?" to which the confused medics rendered a positive "No"  and to which he replied; "of cause it would, for me and my family... definitely".

So it was we were led from despairing depths to rehabilitation to milestones along a route to recovery through acceptance that the body remains ours to own, ours to use, ours to move forward. An honest account, but if this is a tale of tetraplegia why did most musicians from the Orchestra of the Age Of Enlightenment remain standing?

Another highlight was Liz Liew's and Andy Leung's XX/XY, a collision and collaboration between classical/ folk styles and modern technology or thought. Commissioned and brokered by Chinatown Arts Space this feast of ancient strings, electronics, beats and video told the story of the ongoing battle of the sexes, from Eden to urban. Walls pulsated as man met and conjoined with woman only to end in an almost post-natal new partnership with the Urban Youth Junk Band who gave heavy thump with stick on empty water cooler bottles. Certainly the youngest meeting, possibly the best of the day.

Save for being enthralled by the story and performance of Aidan O'Rouke's TAT-1 where Gaelic tradition met Edinburgh Jazz to reflect on communication, conversation and the convergence of time engendered by the laying of the first transatlantic telephone cable (from Aidan's home town Oban) and its eventual stretching to hotline Washington to Moscow.

This was superseded by the staging of Sheema Mukherjee's retitled Bending the Dark as performed by The Imagined Village who leap from Anglo-Asian Folk Meetings to cinematic scores to the hottest of rock sounds. If I still collected CD's this would be my next purchase.

Surely I had met the fire that I had started out in search of, but no! Outside, in the square I found myself encircled by choristers hemming me in to a scaffolded pyrotechnic fire site where I stood transfixed by flame, chatting to new friends met in the name of Art.

All festivals must now end in flame.

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