Richard Bowers and the Sound of Aircraft Attacking Britain.

The Velvet Lantern Fork 1: Barricade

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Barricade

The Velvet Lantern series:

Voice: Grace Curtis
Video editing: Anna Bowers
Venue: Walcot Chapel, Bath.
Thanks to Scarlett and Arran of Fringe Arts Bath.

DEDICATION

IT SEEMED IMPERTINENT
TO AESTHETICIZE
THE BARRICADE
MAKING OBJECTS OF REPULSION
AND RESISTANCE
AN ARRANGEMENT
TO ADMIRE
WAS MY WISH
(I WASN'T THE FIRST)
BIRTHING THERE
IN THAT MORTUARY CHAPEL
SO PEACEFUL
WITH ACOUSTIC INJECTIONS
OF TRAFFIC
AND BIRDSONG
AND GRASS CUTTERS
PRESSING OUTWARD
IN A MANNER OF SPEAKING
WOMAN'S VOICE
FRONTAGE TO AN ANGRY WALL
OF TIMBER AND PAINT
ELECTRIC WITH WHITE AND YELLOW ARCS
LINKING PERSONAE
CHANNELLING POWERS EACH TO EACH
OF INFLUENCE
AND OF LOVE
OF POWERS RETALIATING

THIS OPERA
OPEN IN FORM
WHICH IS TO SAY
THE ELEMENTS
MOVE INDEPENDENTLY
AND CYCLE ENDLESSLY
SO THAT TIME'S ARROWS
UNFEATHERED
ARE KNOTTED
UNFLIGHTED
CHANCE GIVING
A HAPPY ACCIDENT
OF ELEMENTS IN SYMPATHY
AS HAS HAPPENED AND SHALL HAPPEN
DEMANDING PATIENCE
WITH THIS OPERA
DEDICATED
TO THE MEMORY OF LUIGI NONO
IF THAT IS NOT ALSO IMPERTINENT
THAT HIS WORK A BARRICADE
CLOSED THE STREETS TO SOME
OPENED A WAY FOR ME

'Barricade' is my entry into writing for the voice. As a text for the singer Grace Curtis, I used some lyrics from Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde set to my own music. Tristan is talked about quite a bit in the video 'scrapbook' that accompanies this show.

Opera is the big theme of the installation. Opera is a mongrel art form that still needs a shake up for many reasons, one of which is its insistence on decorating drama with music or, put another way, showcasing music through drama. Invented in Venice in 1597, the first opera is thought to be Dafne by Jacobi Peri. The word 'opera' means 'work' in Italian.

It remains true that for the established canon at least, the music and - strangely - the words remain sacrosanct yet new productions can make free interpretation (to the point of absurdity) of the scenography. Maybe it's a case of money, or of required effort and imagination, or, quite likely, resistance from singers of having to re-learn parts with new lyrics, that the text is not rewritten to suit the fresh interpretation. It seems a perfectly reasonable way of freshening up what, in many cases, is a poem of little importance as literature. It's a problem with the art that keeps its one foot in the camp of serious music and the other in something akin to sideshow entertainment. Each camp offers the other no support and the spectator has to twist their head around some awkward dramatic paradoxes. Taking Tristan as an example, it takes the turn of a blind eye to reconcile talk of swords, flags and love potions with the image of the characters speeding along on the Paris Metro.

In Barricade I made an attack on this paradox inversely by taking the words and setting them to new music. More than that, I ensured that the sung words - after being recorded and sliced and diced digitally - would be largely asemic, no longer conveying any legible meaning (this was an approach I took to the speech in Marginalia). Then, by relating the singing arbitrarily to another text by way of the convention of surtitles, the work took on a level of absurdity that surpasses what would be found in any opera house. But that's the way I like it. It is an iconoclastic statement expressing my distaste at what most opera productions hold sacred.

A metatext accompanies the singing, scrolling slowly upward on a screen towards the side of the 'set'. This is an explanatory text of considerable allusiveness and elusiveness. I think of it as a scrapbook containing notes towards something that might be called an opera libretto. It presents correspondence, diary entries, and other ruminations from certain cultural figures from the 19th and 20th century. It also appropriates passages from opera texts (both sung words and stage directions), plays and film scripts. These are all collaged and interleaved in and around my own text to give an indication of what an opera libretto might look like given the chance. Here, I call it a metatext because it properly exists outside of the work presented - as if you had a programme to read. As a slowly scrolling text, it has a fixed duration of about 5 hours.

And the structure? This is the barricade as a sign for civil resistance. The time span of the 'scrapbook' text covers a period roughly from the French Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall and drops in on the Dresden uprising in 1849, which Richard Wagner personally engaged with, allegedly organising the manufacture of grenades and certainly keeping watch in the Kreuzthurm. It also passes through Paris in May '68.

But the barricade is also alluding to heraldic motifs, so there is a feeling of the mediaeval about it, I think, and perhaps the nautical, as one visitor pointed out. It is playfully abstract with touches of bellicosity. I have aestheticised it.

Where next? In order to finally bring in material produced for, and within, Sunlight and Dirt, I intend to work the voice into the 14 x 41 minute sound works and produce fourteen short operas on the subject of opera, now that I have found my language. A conversation at the chapel with a singer of Early Music has given me a key as to how I might proceed.