Whatever Happened To The First Half of 2014?

The sands of time: what an elastically overstretched metaphor! I wonder if time isn’t less like sand, more like grit: swept away in the blink of an eye, but not before it’s caused some sort of irritation.

The insubstantial nature of the grit of time means that it seems only a moment ago that it was 2013, yet here we are, past the Summer solstice, heading downhill. This overstuffed blog post is here to make a record of at least some of what’s happened in the last six months:

Nothing Can Stop Us Now

Much of the beginning of this year was spent working with the wonderful artist Richard Grayson on his enormously ambitious five screen video installation, Nothing Can Stop Us Now, featuring five singers shot on location at various politically and culturally potent London landmarks. I directed the music and prepared the score and arrangement for this, which begins with brief fragments and phrases, the singers ‘humming to themselves’, before they begin to fall into sync, as if by magic, despite being in five different places. In the final three minutes, the music explodes into a version of Willie Johnson’s 1943 song Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.

Stalin Wasn't Stallin'

Nothing Can Stop Us Now (2014) Video Still.

The piece was shot over a beautifully bright, insanely hectic weekend in March, leaving Richard an absurdly small, gritty window of time to edit the piece for the opening of the exhibition at the atmospheric Dilston Grove Gallery in mid May.

You can watch a demo of the whole piece on Vimeo here, but it doesn’t quite have the impact of the real thing – imagine it on five huge HD screens…

The feedback from everyone who made it down has been very gratifying, but it seems there was a little confusion about how the thing works: ALL the sound was recorded on location, sung in the street, by the Thames and in the backs of taxis by the cast: Bishi, Sophie Ramsay, Laura Moody and Tom Herbert, representing a dedicated and supremely talented cross-section of musicians working in pop, classical, jazz and folk music and beyond. Thanks to Matt’s Gallery for the support in making it happen – hopefully there will be some more showings soon.

Denmark / SPOR Festival Report

In early May, I made a return visit (wearing my ‘journalist’ hat) to the SPOR Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. I had a brilliant time last year, and SPOR 2014 was equally as good. For some thoughts about it, read my report for The Quietus here. Otherwise, here’s a picture of me inside Vinyl Horror and Terror’s pleasingly creepy festival sound installation, The Host:

Leo at SPOR 2014

At SPOR 2014 – Photo by Samuel Olandersson.

May – London Contemporary Music Festival

Almost immediately upon returning, it was time for the second LCMF – I was delighted to be asked to participate again, after the intense experience of performing Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together last year. This time, I joined experimental music legend Gavin Bryars and band for a revival of his piece 1-2, 1-2-3-4. The piece is entirely cued by music on headphones, which has the strange, disorientating effect of isolating the players from each other. It’s a psychologically unique experience, and I’m told it sounded great (I have no idea, I was wearing headphones).

Here’s a picture of the performance, in the hall of mirrors set up for the duration of the festival, smashed on the final night by an assistant of arte povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto:

[From left to right: me, Leo Abrahams, Gavin Bryars, Ashley Paul – out of shot: Lucy Railton (cello) and Christopher Hobbs (piano)]:

Gavin Bryars - LCMF 2014

Gavin Bryars – LCMF 2014.

May – Nottingham Reactor Halls / Jennet Thomas

Also in May, I did my one and only solo performance (so far) this year, at the Reactor Halls space in Nottingham, alongside artist film-makers Jennet Thomas and Paul Tarragó, of whose work I am a massive fan (both of them). Jennet provided new visuals for a one-off revival of my ‘dreamscape cabaret album’ Trainwreck/Raincheck

Leo in Nottingham

Performing at Reactor Halls E11 as part of The Dark Horse Moving Picture Show.
Photo: Julian Hughes.

You may remember my previous work with Jennet on her unnervingly excellent video installation, School of Change, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with her again on a new project, The Unspeakable Freedom Device, which is currently being shot in London and Blackpool. I’m providing some music, and also have a cameo role (I’m not sure why I’ve been allowed to act again. I really am a crap actor). Here I am in costume in the East Sussex countryside a few weeks ago, perhaps giving you a flavour of how weird and wonderful the finished piece will be:

The Unspeakable Freedom Device

On location for the forthcoming film The Unspeakable Freedom Device.

Montreal, Canada / Bozzini Quartet

A project which has occupied a fair amount of time this year was an invitation to write a string quartet for Quatour Bozzini and visit Montreal to work on it with them for 10 days last month. It’s really a terribly rare experience (certainly in classical music land) to have the luxury of such an extended period of time to hone something, and rarer still to work with musicians as insightful and committed to experimental music as the Bozzini Quartet. What amazing and generous people.

Bozzini Quartet in rehearsal

Quatour Bozzini rehearsing my piece, ‘The Indistinguishables’ in Montreal.

The finished piece (which includes disembodied voices speaking the names of seventy British moth species and is called The Indistinguishables) will get a performance in November as part of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – I may well blog some more details nearer the time. Incidentally, I think Montreal is a superb city and met some great human beings out there. I also spoke a fair bit of appallingly bad French and only did a modicum of tourist things….

Leo / Buckminster Fuller

L’égoportrait touristique: me outside Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, Montréal.

Apologies for the bloat of information above. I’ve not had a great deal of time to blog here in the last six months, mainly through writing elsewhere. In case you have a burning desire to know my thoughts on other people’s music, I’ve been writing for Sinfini, The Quietus and Tempo, about everything from George Benjamin to Richard Reed Parry…

Plans for the second half of the year are currently in motion.

It is activated.

News soon.

A million thanks for all the support in the last two seasons. Invaluable.

Leo out.