Finding current conditions conducive to creating new work, Susanna tells about a new project which she hopes will resonate with hope and peace.
Thankfully my commissions have been paid so I have used this time to concentrate on developing my creation of installations with soundscapes, music and video that I started in my opera Quilt Song (2018). I have taken my lead from works like The Cave by Reich and Korot: 1993 in which there is an intimate interchange between the content of video and sound. Reich observes that
As a composer, the image in a videotape composition, for me, is simply the ‘sync image’ of the soundtrack.(Reich,2002: 83)
My work has also been facilitated by memories of my early encounter with John Cage in the late 1980s. I worked intensively with him for a week preparing and performing his work Aria (1960). The score is graphic rather than notated and features rising and falling bending lines accompanied by different colours and disconnected but evocative words. From this starting point Cage enthusiastically encouraged me to research and adopt a wide variety of vocal practices ranging from coloratura soprano to smoky voiced jazz singer, from baby voice to Chinese opera.
Unable to obtain Cage’s pre-prepared Fontana Mix, we’ve replaced it with audio from the local radio station near the Banff Centre in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The programme happened to be a discussion about types of tyres crucial to driving in the snow which created a surrealistically zany backdrop. In addition, black boxes drawn in the score could be interpreted as a scream, a slap, a tongue click, a moan or just about anything else. The performance was electric with surprise and hilarity, the audience fully engaged, Cage was on song. Reflecting decades later on the liberation I felt during this performance, I’m seeking to emulate a practice that is similarly daring. My first installation since lock down is titled: Silence: John Cage meets 2020 and includes narration by Michael Christie.
During this current time of self-isolation I have been making early morning bicycle rides to the secret springs in Little Walsingham in North Norfolk. Clearly these symbolise the very source of life. This led me to reflect how John Cage would have loved the multiple burbling springs whose hopefulness is contrasted by a surrounding desolate wood.
Cage’s words speak directly to us in a section from his ‘Lecture on Something’ in his book Silence while the film explores the pond. This paves the way for an intense operatic ceremony. From the woodland Greta Thunberg delivers her emotional speech. She emerges from the earth like Erda in Wagner’s Ring. Both warn of destruction.
After Greta’s speech home-made instruments play: a primitive violin, two out-of-tune ukuleles which are reminiscent of the tintinnabulation of cathedral bells. These instruments are inspired by Cage’s prepared piano and Harry Partch’s invented instruments.
Forced to self-isolate we make music with what we have available to us at home. The installation ends with man-made synthesised sounds set against silent dead leaves. The future choice is stark’.
Read more about Susannah Self’s Silence: John Cage meets 2020 here.