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A Woman in Musical Leadership - Jenni & TIC at Club Inégales

March 15, 2019

On the evening of March 8th, Jenni Roditi and the Improvisers' choir performed in the second of two concerts at Club Inégales in Euston, London. The concert was the culmination of a two day Open University conference on Women In Musical Leadership. Coinciding with International Women’s day, the event focussed on what still remains a largely male-dominated sector of musical activity. Jenni was one of two keynote speakers and as a fitting finale, Jenni and her Choir were to be the sole act at the club, curated by fellow musical pioneer Peter Wiegold.

The evening opened with a panel including Jenni, Peter and two members of the choir. They each gave their unique perspectives from their various roles in the world of conducted improvisation. Jenni and Peter initiated the discussion with their insights as directors of their respective projects.

 

I was impressed by Peter’s view on collaboration as working with the “person” not just the instrumentalist. To me this spoke of honouring a person’s deeper voice; of what they had to offer, not just from their technique and training but through their tradition, taste, personality, musical and life experience. It is a more holistic view of a person’s musical capacities, drawing from the whole person and not just their immediately apparent musical mastery. This is certainly evident in his recent Third Orchestra project in which 22 musicians from around the world were brought together, each enthusiastically encouraged to add their unique voices to the ensemble sound. 

 

Jenni spoke of how only fairly recently, we have had the “privilege to be able to experience music from almost any genre, culture or time”. This ability is literally at our fingertips 24 hours a day through our increasingly networked technology. The potential for influence, cross pollination and proliferation of creative ideas represents a vast broadening of our musical horizons. 

 

Jenni and Peter’s projects have both of the above themes at their core and are  fundamental to what makes their musical outputs so rich and their continually evolving possibilities so exciting. 

 

The singers themselves were asked about identity and authenticity from their roles as “persons” or voices within the ensemble. They spoke of being “present but not self conscious”, that is, being in the presence of the sound; to having their “ears open” and adding what the music needs or enhancing what is there. This kind of open listening or unbarred reception reveals an essential principle of how the group works. Moreover, the performer can have their say and contribute significantly more to the music than what is usual, for example, by a performer of composed music. This input concerns actual material, as well as interpretation or expression, and hints at a more dynamically democratic creative process. The decision of what to add comes from the intuition, ideas, invention and discrimination of the performer, drawing from all elements of their musical and personal history and experience. 

 

Delving deeper into the question of authenticity and this person centred approach, the question of “is this art or therapy?” was posed to the panel. Of course, Jenni’s choir did indeed grow partly out of her Vocal Tai Chi (VTC) workshops, coupled with the conducted improvised work of Peter. Jenni was so enamoured by the outpourings of participants of VTC, as “sometimes having the character and quality of a Berio Sequenzer”, that the idea of performance persistently arose. However, to take VTC in its raw form to an audience would be “irresponsible”, as she put it. The volatile and unbridled, sometimes cathartic and deeply personal torrents that sprang from each member might be too much for both audience and contributor. Jenni new that structure was needed and this was where Peter’s conducted improvisation came in. 

When Peter was asked the same question concerning art and therapy, coming from the other side of the platform into which Jenni was peering, Peter could see his person centred approach as a therapeutic practice in itself: “Music emerges from the emotional condition of the person” and his conviction that the musical voice is the person’s voice, speaks elegantly of such. 

 

And so, after this revelatory look into the processes, practices and principals of those involved, the choir took to the stage. This concert would see the choir face a new challenge, however. With the advent of the release of TIC’s first EP entitled Landmass, Jenni decided to recreate some of the pieces from the recording. Being an improvised choir and the EP consisting of completely improvised material, this was a new endeavour for the group. The challenge was well met by all members and each of the pre-improvised pieces gave us a new insight into the talent and adeptness of each singer.

 

Following are some of my responses to the evenings pre-improvised and completely improvised works.

 

Stem

 

An inaugural declamatory phrase was delivered, which the choir answered in echo and a theme evolved. Beneath, a bass pulse nudged in generous nurture. The collective voices wound around the theme, revolving around its core, wreathing it in voluptuous veneers of harmony. Multiple ethnicities of indeterminate origin chanted their inventions of nascent traditions. They met in greeting and in complete consensus; agreeing without sameness, equality without conformity.

 

Bird

 

Birds call, and we descend to a drone. Upon which a wall is made, vowels are laid with mortar of consonant cohesion. Ululation rises, climbs and falls whilst words sing and speak. Intensity builds, collectively then subsides… words continue.

A chorus unfolds from a question of “what the dawn birds sing”? And another wall is laid, curving its way among the pieces on the board: A stage of players, under the branches, where the birds return and sing the song to sleep. 

 

Husk

 

Rise and fall

in ancient organum

waves of breath

 

An Abbess intones

the colours of the overtones

toned over

Drawn out 

and revealed from within

 

A sonic temple

Walls defined 

by pure acoustic space

 

Cracked open

 

Animal instincts

break out 

and riot against the sacred

Profanity exploding briefly

Before placation

and back

into the reverence of silence

 

Bud

 

Ideas

 

tight little buds

born of hidden seeds

are teased to open

 

stretching stems

emergent roots entwine

into an undergrowth

 

interlaced

holding each other

A dialogue of limbs

 

Becoming intricate

Weaving into a carpet

of uniformity

 

and settling into appearance 

of organic coherence

 

Plough

 

Sigh

Breath

and exhale

 

Expel!

 

Revel in the expelling

and the visceral

salivation of air expulsion

 

Wail

Between song and scream

 

“Man” & “Beast”

 

Tribal rotations

anchor

gathered in revolutions

of circular volitions

 

Sow

 

Yawning and unison

shaped mouths

sculpt a drone

into an envelope of tones

 

At altitude she soars,

swoons and glides

in effortless increments

ascending

 

Focussing an energy

up my spine

towards a higher mind

 

Rhythm becomes multiplied

and subdivides

 

Sweet intervals are held - sustained

Until only they remain

Holding and enfolding each other

in concertina folds

 

 

Second Half

 

 

Seed

 

Born of silence

a sustain

becomes a tremble

becomes a line

A track to trace

in the palm

in the face

 

Its undulations

meanderings

its altitudes and attitudes

elevations and contours

 

Waves of meaning perhaps

sent on ripples from mouth

to ear 

Orifices offering 

Chalices proffering

 

Root

 

Sweepings & brushwork

Raspings & breath work

 

Granular oscillations

of subsonics

and infrasonic openings

 

Haunting humanity slides in

Harmonics highlight

add dimension and illuminate

 

Low frequencies return

and submerge

in additive synthesis

of raw humanness

 

Open Form 1

 

Song is embrace

 

A person speaks and personalities meet, allowing each other in welcome embrace.

 

And the embrace is “song”!

 

A success of sets, communing in diversity, join each other and try each other out; More than mere accommodation, they support and sustain in balanced differentiation of enhanced embrace.

 

Spurring and urging onwards, the whole embolden’s the one. Each filament is fortified by the collective and fostered to thrive in the communal mass of encouraged embrace.

 

And the embrace is “song”!

 

Open Form II

 

Vocal codes

 

Sensuality of an inflection

a slight down turn

tiny slides between

 

Click 

smack of the tongue

The voice - a cavity

beat the tattoo

on taught skin

Chamber muse

 

Roll off the tongue

tremble off the lick

stutter off its flick

 

Be ridiculous

Be sublime

 

Release the wild - tame the mild

 

 

 

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