2011 – some thoughts, memories and (re)discoveries …

I tend not to look back at past (passed?) years, preferring to look to the future, but today however, as 2011 draws to a close, I thought I’d share some of my random memories, experiences, thoughts, discoveries and rediscoveries. So much has happened this year, far too much to share here, so here’s a selection of things, in no particular order, with little structure and an obligatory rant (you’ll be pleased to know!). My random ramblings about 2011 -
2011 was, in most part, a wonderful year for me (I could end there but won’t) forging links with the brilliantly explorative Theatre Academy in Helsinki, having another amazing time again with my American colleagues at USITT in Charlotte (marvellous, talented, welcoming, and fun loving hosts), once again being able to accept an invitation to visit those frighteningly gifted students (and professors!) at Yale and finally, of course, meeting all my international friends and colleagues at the Prague Quadrennial.

PQ opening ceremony…

PQ was, as always, amazing, exhausting and a little stressful. It’s so personally fulfilling and affirming to be involved and I can’t thank enough everyone who attended especially those who kept me calm, helped me stay sane, made me laugh and gave up their time to help, organise and ensure things ran smoothly. Also to the record number of artists and designers, many of whom made long journeys, to experience these remarkable ten days in the Czech Republic I salute you! I’ll be forever indebted to the wonderful array of talent who accepted my invitation to come and share their ideas, work and time with us in Prague, many thanks and much love to you all!

I created the sound for the above extreme costume piece…this was composed very quickly and independently from my other PQ responsibilities.

A National PQ Exhibit…

Nova Scena…My place of work and the centre of all the PQ sound events…

The Sound Kitchen…an audience

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The formation of the Association of Sound Designers was a much needed step forward for those of us involved with Sound Design for theatre here in the UK and I’d like to thank everyone who voted me onto the board of this organisation. It’s an enormous honour.

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Sound, theatre and the world are changing quickly and I feel very privileged to be able to make a small contribution to (hopefully) the positive changes which are occurring and also at being able to challenge those decisions which may not be to everyone’s benefit. What remains interesting and encouraging is that despite the financial restrictions being placed on everyone there still remains an air of creative positivity and possibility amongst so many. Although I do fear that in a world where changes are necessary those responsible for implementing some of these are making decisions which are not always for the best. Changes are only good if they are beneficial (in the short, or long term) to those affected by them and when they’re not made purely for the sake of being seen to do something (anything) [often] in desperation. Guesswork and hope isn’t the basis for making intelligent, life changing, decisions on behalf of others, the affects of which may be irreversible. I hope my fears with respect to some decisions I’m witnessing are proved to be wrong.

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Best performance I’ve seen this year has to be The Life and Death of Marina Abramović at the Manchester Festival.  For me this was exactly what theatre should now be about, it stood out because it wasn’t (like so much on our stages), trying to be a film, or a television programme. It offered an alternative to the mainstream which is exactly what theatre makers should be doing. I feel strongly that in order to compete with the enormous amount of other ways audiences can spend their ‘hard earned’, theatre needs to provide a strong alternative to, and not a weak imitation of, the ‘competition’. Unfortunately not that many practitioners (and importantly producers) are brave enough to attempt this, particularly in the UK. It took an American director and Serbian performer to show us how this can be done successfully whilst offering their audiences both a thought provoking and entertaining production. Truly incredible.

A rediscovery of my year is also Serbian, a band called SAT Stoicizmo and their album Mah 2. I first heard Mah 2 twenty or so years ago and was reminded of them again courtesy of someone’s random twitter link, only 500 CD’s were ever made (it’s supposed to be listened to on  continuous looped vinyl!) but I managed to track down a copy. Fantastic. Music to stir the spirit and fuel the anger which results in change.

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I was also really fortunate and very privileged to be offered the chance to visit the new BBC studios in Salford Media City to watch the rehearsal and BBC 6 Music recording of Steven Mackey’s Grammy award winning Dreamhouse. A truly remarkable piece which featured my friend Heather Cairncross as part of Synergy Vocals. It would be more than my life’s worth if I didn’t mention that Heather has a fantastic new CD called At Last available here … I recommend that you buy a copy of this CD (I will also demand a royalty of chocolate cake for this unsolicited plug Heather!)

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There are two buildings I’ve visited this year and found breathtakingly remarkable, the first is the fantastic new Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall and the Sibelius Academy, which I was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes look at just before they opened to the public and students. The Concert Hall is stunning in it’s complex beauty hidden within apparent simplicity. The main concert hall is larger but similar in design to the Royal Exchange Theatre, purely coincidental I’m sure! Helsinki is great city for the soul, a place which seems to value creativity and it’s artists. Many fascinating people and ideas seem to be lurking behind its sometimes brutal architecture. I was also particularity impressed with KIASMA, in fact I think Helsinki is my previously undiscovered city of the year!

Me…talking…in Helsinki

Theatre sound design students work exhibition…Helsinki

Stickers…Helsinki

A Barrel Organ I recorded in Helsinki

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff is a fantastic institution, with some wonderful students (and members of staff!) and also a new concert hall and theatre that has just recently opened and which is the second  amazing building I’ve come across this year. If you’re in Wales make sure you check it out. In 2013 RWCMD will be hosting the World Stage Design 2013 exhibition. What more can I say but this is a real cultural and educational gem, a place which Wales can be truly proud of and the rest of the UK can hopefully take some inspiration from.

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Without fail every day this year I’ve heard some wonderfully inventive sound and experimental music, who am I to recommend, or dismiss, any of this? All of it has such enormous value and the fact about whether I like it or not doesn’t matter, but what remains true is that everything I hear has some kind of affect on me and my work. My hope is that people keep experimenting, exploring and ignoring convention and ensuring they keep embracing whatever it takes to make discoveries and remain adventurous whilst offering us all something which we can be inspired by and learn from.

If I was to suggest a random internet journey of sonic discovery then I’d suggest perhaps starting it here, here, or here and just seeing where it takes you…

My more mainstream music favourites of the  year … so many, so many … but certainly these …

Tame Impala, a wonderful ‘start of the year’ discovery.

Laura Marling, an exceptional young talent.

 Ensembles’ album Excerpts, a beautiful record.

The Fall, rediscovered again after many years, exceptional gigs in Brighton and Manchester along with a fantastic new album, Ersatz GB.

BBC 6 Music for being brilliant, Guy Garvey, Stuart MaconieJarvis Cocker and Cerys Matthews providers of sunshine on rainy days.

My hunt for 70’s/80’s Industrial music … There’s so much out there which I’m discovering hiding where I least expect it.

Another rediscovery after too many years, Wire.

Feist, hold on, yet more Canadian talent.

Still and always there for me once again in 2011 the music of, Pablo Casals – Bach Cello Suites and Zero 7 – Simple Things. Calming for the soul, familiar music when away from home, late night hotel room, jet lag addressing sustenance. A staple familiar diet when in unknown territories.

One of my own favourite pieces this year was something I created for Jen Hingleys Synaesthetic project called T1, T2, T3 … here’s the full version.

T1, T2, T3

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** Rant Alert ** (It wouldn’t be Christmas, or the New Year, without one)

I have a wish for 2012…Here’s hoping for the demise of mp3 … it’s has to happen sometime, be prepared and back up those i(yearn better quality audio)Pods. This may sound negative, it isn’t supposed to be in the least, maybe my wish should read “I wish that everyone was able to experience music and sound at the highest quality possible and not in a way dictated to us by those who own the servers we download from.” Those who are selling us our sounds seem to prefer offering the consumer no more than poor reproductions of an artists often costly and lovingly crafted work. Mp3 has an enormous value as a method of sketch booking sound, or as a convenient way of previewing music but as the main method of experiencing all the sonic delights at our disposal? I’d argue that it falls some way short. Sometime this does feel like a one man crusade, after all the main perpetrators of this rubbish is Apple (that is as in Mac, not Macca’s record label) who after all is GOD … for the atheists amongst us think about it. I’ll accept that an artist has the right to only release their music as an mp3 if that is their wish…but it’s also true that the artist should have that choice, not the middle man. As an idealist and professional nothing but the best is surely good enough for our audiences and ourselves? Nothing but the best should ever be good enough, you probably wouldn’t buy a photocopied Miro would you?

** END OF RANT **

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And on that note … as I fall off my soapbox (I’m sure I was a pushed!) I just want to say…I’ve so much more to share from 2011 but …finally

My Hotel Room of the Year Award goes to this…(thank you Swansea!)

This year has been one of discovery, upheaval, happiness and  at times a little sadness, much like any other…as always I’ll continue to share my likes, dislikes and some sounds here, here and here … and there’s other stuff scattered all around the internet if you ever care to take a look …

Have I mentioned I also designed some shows and have four productions opening between now and April 2012 more news on these soon!

Lastly I’m blessed with some remarkably loving, patient and talented friends, which I’ll be forever grateful for (and in all honesty don’t really deserve most of the time)…and I promise to try and make the next year a little easier for you all :-)x (and I’ll also try to spend a little more time with y’all)

Here’s wishing everyone much happiness, peace and love in 2012.

Steve

http://www.listenhear.co.uk

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2 responses to “2011 – some thoughts, memories and (re)discoveries …

  1. Happy New Year Steve! An intriguing read with loads of great things to listen to and look at (I love the elephants too!).

    On the MP3 front, sadly some of us really can’t tell the difference due to either defective ears in the first place (unlike your’s and Heather’s shell-like) or due to too many hours standing too near to bass speakers while Danny Tenaglia and Tony Humphries did their worst / best!

    Nice blog though – I’ve tweeted you and subscribed via RSS via your discreet little link up top – and a great theme. You need to move it onto your own domain / hosting ideally though just in case you do something naughty and it contravenes the T&C of WordPress.com and it’s only a matter of time, knowing you LOL!

    Nicola x

    • Hey Nicola,

      My mp3 rant is one I’ll never win … I know that, but hey, nothing wrong with ruffling a few feathers and dreaming about a world where quality is key!

      I don’t know what you mean with regards to the unlikely event of me ever contravening anything! :-)

      Happy New Year!

      Steve

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