Performance at The Cube Microplex, Bristol, November 2011
Ellen Southern and Ensemble
Performers: Fiona McAlister, Ellen O’Driscoll, Namvula Rennie, Nichola Richards, Holly Anne Rolfe, Ellen Southern, & Kelly Thompson (vox), Tom Bush (guitar), Adel Sahnoun (flute) Alex Scatturo (double bass).
Special thanks: To Kayle Brandon and all at The Cube, Namvula Rennie for photography, and to Tom Bush for compositional input.
Of The Brilliant And The Dark was composed by Ellen Southern in response to an invitation by artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White to create a creative commons licensed manuscript remixing the original 1969 score The Brilliant And The Dark (Malcolm Williamson & Ursula Vaughan Williams) for Simpson and White's project of the same name at the Women's Library, London, in 2010.
The performance at The Cube was to promote the remix score and encourage artists from a variety of disciplines to remix my composition, so as to create a live event of remixes alongside this work. This happened in London in October 2012, at The Others artist-run space. New remixes are always welcome - email for a score: firstname.lastname@example.org
Audience reactions -
‘Magical and nourishing’
'I was transfixed'
'Experimental and yet so accessible, with beautiful melodies'
'Truly new, beautiful and inspired'
'The visuals and music together transported me into another world’
“I went along to the Cube Cinema yesterday to see/hear/experience Of The Brilliant And The Dark [...] I experienced something quite extraordinary - in terms of music/art/performance - mesmerising, atmospheric and almost haunting in quality... simply stunning. Please convey my thanks and appreciation to all concerned and I wish you every success in encouraging others to become involved in future performances. Very many thanks and regards” - Steve Broadway, Southville, Bristol
DIGITAL RELEASE AVAILABLE FROM ITUNES, SPOTIFY, NAPSTER AND AMAZON MUSIC
Danny Bright, Bog Standard Audio
REVIEW - freq.org.uk/reviews/ellen-southern-ensemble-brilliant-dark
About the song cycle
In parallel to working on the remix score, I created a 20 minute performance in the form of a song-cycle, to be debuted site-specifically at the library. Using my ‘remix elements’ as the basis, I wove an emotive arc, or collective ‘life cycle’ to form a continuous vocal work. Combining both traditional and experimental compositional techniques, one song transforms into another through ‘transitions’, in which a musical motif is heard differently each time. My aim, to explore the original material in the context of a small-scale intimate ensemble, was a deliberate contrast to the huge scale of the original opera, which featured full orchestra and 1000 female singers assembled nationwide from voluntary WI choirs. Some fellow vocal and instrumental students from Morley College agreed to perform my piece, and with amazing dedication, the singers learned it week by week as it was being written, a process I will never forget. Female choir Gaggle were also invited to remix the original, and the two distinctive new projects were first showcased for Simpson and White’s live event as part of the Women’s Library’s Out Of The Archives.
Since then, I have developed my song cycle and performance further, forming the final 30minute work now performed. I worked increasingly closely with the ensemble to allow their individuality to come through and influence the work. Some of the singers even contributed personal lyrics when I was working on a theme they felt close to. The main themes in the cycle are transformative experiences-in-common, such as youth, grief, defiance, self-assertion and finding inner peace. These are points of connection; they also feature as the core themes in various archetypal characters’ sung testimonies in the original opera. So the themes echo through different lifetimes, and resonate anew each time. While writing the work I imagined the singers as the ‘embroiderers’; the small choir who sat at the side of the stage in the original opera, sewing a ‘bayeux tapestry’ of women’s history through song. It was this small group that I wanted to give ‘centre stage’. It’s a poignant metaphor for me, since women as ‘makers’ in the arts are, and have historically been, under-represented and marginalised.
I feel our performance has its own contemporary character, but is lovingly ‘haunted’ by the original. I feel it creates an active, experiential shared space where performers, audience and the ghost or spirit of the original opera all interact. The physicality, yet also other-worldliness, of women’s voices in harmony is an ancient and powerful shared instrument, which I find endlessly fascinating in its variation and capacity for expression. There is something elemental about women weaving a story together through song.