WH: I’m your host, Will Howarth. Welcome to TL Life: Crosscurrent.
Cue: Spruce by Matthew Norriss extract 1
You have just heard an extract from Spruce by 4th Year violinist Matthew Norriss. Expect more later in the podcast, along with an introduction to Rude Health at the Southbank Centre by composer James Fawcett and thoughts on the English language with Dr Koel Chatterjee.
First, I would like to introduce you to current Dance Teaching and Learning Diploma student Yanaëlle Thiran and alumnus pianist Michaella Livadiotis who together have formed cross-arts improvisation group Company Concentric. Here’s Michaella performing an extract from their new work, Play On.
Cue: Play On extract 2 by Michaella Livadiotis and Company Concentric
Interview: Yanaëlle Thiran and Michaella Livadiotis (Company Concentric) Part One
ML: My name is Michaella. I met Yanaëlle whilst I was doing my Undergraduate at Trinity Laban which finished June 2018 and in September the same year I started a Masters course in Contemporary Piano at the Royal College of Music.
YT: My name is Yanaëlle. I grew up in Belgium and I’ve been living in London for about six years now. I trained at The Place at London Contemporary Dance School and graduated three years ago. I’m currently studying part time at Trinity Laban on the Graduate Diploma in Dance Teaching and Learning. It’s really relevant to my practice at the moment because I do teach children, teenagers and also older groups and community groups.
When I started studying at Trinity Laban, I was quite curious to find out about the music side of the conservatoire and got to meet Michaella who was studying the piano then.
WH: How did you first start collaborating?
ML: I was speaking to Joe Howson (alumnus and Trinity Laban accompanist), our mutual friend, about finding a dancer who might want to improvise with me – which is something that I’ve been doing for a very long time, since I was young – and he mentioned a dancer that he was working with who also liked improvising and he said, “I’ll put you in touch”.
We met up in a Trinity practice room and I think we spent an hour, an hour and a half from the beginning just improvising and I think we didn’t stop. We looked at the time and we realised, “oh my goodness, we’ve been here for a while” and we said we should try and meet regularly and see what comes of it.
WH: So you’d say it was an instant connection?
YT: I think it was, yeah, because that was two years ago and since then we’ve been meeting quite regularly doing mostly improvised performances together. And then we took part in an improv competition here at Trinity Laban.
ML: That was the Gladys Puttick improvisation competition.
WH: Which was 2017 and I think you won.
YT: Yes, yes we did. I think they really liked our partnership and the way both of us were playing our instrument, our body, together. I think on that day we both really felt like we had to keep going and we had to continue working together. And so we made a piece together last Spring as part of New Lights Piano Festival here at Trinity Laban. We had set music called Musical Toys, so introducing again this idea of playfulness in the score for you and then in my movement responses.
ML: The score, it’s Musical Toys, it’s a collection by Sofia Gubaidulina.
YT: So that was last Spring and then we decided to take that piece further and make a 20 minute piece which we’re currently working on. That one is called Play On and it’s going to be performed at The Place at Resolution Festival on 23rd January 2019.
WH: Tell me what the starting point is for your improvisation.
ML: We started by talking about the idea of playing the piano and playing dance and what it means to maybe play each other’s disciplines and the relationship between a dancer and a musician and how far we can swap it around or maybe make that really ambiguous.
YT: Yes. The first thing that we did was to list a series of games, so we came up with Musical Chairs; Chess; Snakes and Ladders; Grandma’s Footsteps; and we wondered how we could embody these games or play these games on the piano. So we started from a very much improvisational perspective – took the name of the game, played, danced to it, saw what came up. And then we started editing and selecting a few little movement or music cells and so this is what we’re trying to set now.
The performance will be largely scored. It won’t be all improvised. There are elements and sections like Chess particularly which is extremely set and then other sections will be a bit freer, so more really playing around the idea of the game and also leaving room for you as audiences to interpret each of these sections your way. So you will also be playing your part with us, really.
ML: I think the title as well is referring to the fact that you couldn’t necessarily repeat this performance. That’s the idea. Some bits are highly structured, but then there are other places where there is movement for improvising in a way that we feel is appropriate at the time.
WH: I wonder if you could tell me why it is that you’re keen to have these unforeseen elements of the piece.
YT: I think there’s a little bit of a comment on habits and what we tend to do on a day-to-day basis – constantly watching videos and replaying the same things over and over again on social media. And our interest lies in the real experience of living the performance in the moment and witnessing something that cannot possibly be repeated.
What most excites us are really these unexpected interactions, the moments of synchronicity that aren’t planned for but that do happen –
ML: – because we’re so connected.
YT: Exactly, because we have been working together for so long.
ML: I really like the element of risk and spontaneity. Not even the performers know what might happen. For me, it brings something to life a little bit more because if we do something that really works and have that moment of eye contact, it’s real for us as well. It’s not something that we’ve planned and we’re just re-creating it – it’s happening in that moment. I think a combination of the two things is quite magical sometimes.
WH: Does it worry you then that, when you have these moments of improvisational brilliance, if that isn’t documented, that moment is lost forever and that you can never show anyone that one moment. So I suppose it’s a question about the transience of improvisation.
YT: It reminds me of this quote from Merce Cunningham, the American choreographer, and he said that dance is the most sort of fleeting art form because it doesn’t give you paintings that you can put on the wall or recordings – music that you could have recorded and play on a loop. And I think that’s the beauty of it as well. That’s the essence of our work. It’s a live form, it’s a performing art, and so that’s why it can be that it just happens and then disappears. And because our partnership continues and there will be more performances. Nothing really dies.
ML: I think that’s quite exciting actually because it becomes this one moment that you were either there or you weren’t.
Cue: Play On extract 1 by Michaella Livadiotis and Company Concentric
WH: Thank you Yanaëlle Thiran and Michaella Livadiotis. We’ll be hearing more from them a little later. Next up, an introduction to Rude Health at the Southbank Centre.
Interview: James Fawcett
JF: My name is James Fawcett. My year of study – I’m in the second year of the Postgrad Composition MMus.
Rude Health is a three-day event in which three of the six years of the Composition Department present pieces. Everything about the evening is determined and run by the students. One of the things that is encouraged is to try and do stuff that’s ambitious. This year was particularly impressive because of how slick everything was. Last year when I went to see the event, I noticed that a lot of attention was paid to the individual pieces. But this year, particularly on the Thursday and Friday, their was real care and attention paid to the evening as a whole which meant it was much more of a piece in itself, an evening as an event.
WH: Could you just say a bit about what the piece you presented was?
JF: Yup, sure. I was very interested in the relationship between rhythm and pitch. So if you speed a polyrhythm up like 3 against 4, you get a consonant interval.
Cue: James Fawcett‘s polyrhythm –> consonant interval audio illustration
JF: I was also interested in ambisonics. Ambisonics is positioning sound within a 3D space. I had attempted to set up an ambisonic rig which is like a cube of speakers. And these sped-up polyrhythms and the pitches would move within the space, so the rhythms would start underneath, low, and as they’d speed up they’d appear above the audience.
WH: You’re taking Rude Health to the Southbank Centre in January. Is that right?
JF: That’s correct. We’re taking aspects of Rude Health and we’re adapting them to work within the Friday lunchtime slot at the Southbank Centre in the Clore Ballroom near the foyer. So it’s going to be quite different for various reasons. One of them: it’s at lunchtime. So most of the events were designed for night-time, they’re designed for small rooms. But the space is massive in the Southbank Centre. And the walls, from the outside, they’re glass. So it’s like a big fish tank, actually. There’s none of this separate space where you can have semi-soundproofed walls where there’s not very much leak. It’s going to be a challenge adapting things for that environment, so it’s potentially going to be very different from what we experienced for Rude Health.
WH: The Rude Health concerts that we had at Trinity Laban consisted of maybe something like 4 hours of material. How are you condensing that down to 1 hour? How are you choosing which works to use?
JF: Well, first of all, we thought about if they were feasible, if they could happen. And within that vein, how many of them were similar in their set-up and could be grouped together as opposed to individual pieces dotted around. The next way was things that were visually appealing. The audience, spectators, passersby are going to notice something visually before they hear it.
It’s likely that there’s going to be three stages, or three areas. There will be a main stage some of the more conventional pieces will be put on where it’s a performance with a start and an end and there’s players. There’s quite a lot this year use of projectors – more straight audio without performance, so we’re thinking of creating a cinema space.
WH: Could you mention a few of the pieces that we can expect to hear and what we might see?
JF: Sure. Ben Leigh-Grosart (BMus3) – his pancake piece, which we thought was excellent. Ben‘s piece involved a jazz group and Ben himself cooking pancakes in a manner like a cooking show. All the hits, all the beats in the cooking – for example, when he cracks the egg – and as he’s going through the process of describing what he’s doing – is matched, is synced with the band. It’s great fun and at the end there is a result. There’s the pancake, there’s the smell. It’s very immersive and interactive. What we were thinking actually: we were wondering if we could get more than one cook. So if we get five or six cooks and they’re all doing exactly the same as Ben, then you would have six pancakes a pop and with this going on the whole time you would be giving food to everyone. It would be a great way of engaging and catching people’s attention.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I was wondering if you could give me a hidden gem listening recommendation – a piece of music that you love that you think no-one else has come across.
JF: It’s not one song in particular but I think the whole album is great. It’s Wintersun by Wintersun – Scandinavian melodic folk death metal. I used to listen to them a lot when I was younger. I actually got to see them play live. Just incredible musicianship. You really feel like you’re part of some sort of epic fantasy computer game or something. It’s really good fun. There’s Sadness and Hate.
That’s a fantastic one. But Beyond the Dark Sun is the one that will get you going. Yuh.
WH: Many thanks to James Fawcett. You can find his hidden gem listening recommendations along with further details on Rude Health at the Southbank Centre on TL-Life.com . Now, let’s hear a familiar voice from the previous episode.
Interview: Dr Koel Chatterjee
Dr KC: I’m Dr Koel Chatterjee and I’m tutor for the new Integrated English courses that are being run. Yeah and it’s the first year we’ve started it. We started off with a majority of Foundation students but there’s an Integrated English pathway at Diploma, BA and MA levels as well so we’re hoping that it’s going to grow because it seems to be something that has a market. A lot of people have enquired about it.
WH: Good. I’m wondering where the students come from. Are they largely from within the EU, are they from outside or is it a complete mixture?
Dr KC: It’s a complete mix. I’ve got students from Denmark, from Portugal, from Spain. I’ve also got a couple of students from Japan, one from Taiwan. It’s a very good mix of students and it’s very good to see them all interacting in their English classes because they’re forced to speak in the same language and it’s interesting to see different cultural influences coming into the way they use the language.
WH: One of the facts that you sent me that really intrigued me was that English is the national language of England but not the official language.
Dr KC: The Norman Conquest had such a big influence on the English language. Actually, documentation, legal processes, all have Norman French as the official language.
WH: Perhaps part of the reason that English isn’t the official language is that there is no English Parliament. There’s a Welsh Parliament and there’s the Scottish Parliament, but England doesn’t have its own – it’s just the UK Parliament. And so if the UK Parliament were to declare its official language as English, there’s a possibility that we might offend the Welsh and Scots, who have their own languages, which might stir some separatist sentiment.
Dr KC: That’s actually quite fascinated because I hadn’t thought of it like that. For a lot of Commonwealth countries, English is still the official language – for instance, India, because it has so many languages within parlance, English is still used as the language of commerce and law.
I found another thing that I thought was quite interesting. There are of course also ‘ghost words’ – words that appeared in the dictionary because of printing errors. They’re there in the dictionary because no-one uses them.
WH: Did you find any ‘ghost words’?
Dr KC: The non-existent word ‘dord’ (D-O-R-D). It appeared in the dictionary for 8 years in the mid-20th Century and that’s, I think, one of the first recorded ‘ghost words’.
WH: What I found out about ‘dord’ was that it was basically an error by an editor of the dictionary. The index card entry for ‘density’ had written next to it ‘D or d’ – that’s capital ‘D’ and lower case ‘d’.
Dr KC: Oh, I see.
WH: I came across a couple more ‘ghost words’ – two more I’ll mention. One was ‘phantomnation’, meaning ‘the appearance of a phantom’. But actually this came from Alexander Pope’s translation of The Odyssey in which he refers to ‘phantom-nations of the dead’. That’s ‘phantom-nations’ hyphenated. But at some point during the process of transferring from the translation to the dictionary that became a single word which someone then guessed a definition for.
The other word I found was ‘esquivalience’ which is the only ‘ghost word’ which is a deliberate error – either a joke or just to mislead people. So the definition of ‘esquivalience’ was listed as ‘wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities’.
I wanted to talk a bit about new words being added to the dictionary whose origin is social media rather than literary. So the two most recent examples are ‘hangry’, a conjunction of ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’, and ‘mansplaining’ which, as far as I understand it, is a man patronisingly explaining something to a woman which might be what I’m doing right now because you’re probably aware of this.
Dr KC: Yes, yes. There’s been a lot of discussion about that. ‘Hangry’ has become very fashionable nowadays and I think it makes sense and it’s such an appropriate word, isn’t it? I think all of us feel hangry at least once a week. ‘Mansplaining’ on the other hand is rather tricky because it’s not always meant to be condescending. I think it’s just that men have a habit of explaining things in very much more detail than, I think, women do.
English is probably one of those languages that has ten thousand synonyms for every word. Interestingly, though, ‘synonym’ doesn’t have a synonym. That’s the only word probably in the English language that doesn’t have an alternative.
WH: And its antonym is ‘antonym’, which is quite nice as well.
Thank you Dr KC. Next we’re going to hear more from Yanaëlle Thiran and Michaella Livadiotis on collaboration and their future artistic plans.
Interview: Yanaëlle Thiran and Michaella Livadiotis (Company Concentric) Part Two
WH: In your experience of Trinity Laban, would you say that there was a lot of crossover between the music and dance faculty?
ML: Uh-huh. I think CoLab is one of the main selling points of Trinity Laban and I think it’s a great thing to do. But unfortunately it doesn’t continue throughout the year and I think it would interesting if we had musicians playing for dancers’ classes or having classes together like Alexander Technique. Maybe some theory classes. But definitely it’s one of the best places, in terms of conservatoire, to meet dancers, and that’s a great thing too.
YT: For sure. And I think there’s already some crossover. I do take yoga classes in the Laban building and I’ve been going to the Yoga For Musicians class recently.
ML: Yeah, so do I.
YT: I agree, I feel like CoLab is one of the most exciting experiences at Trinity Laban but, again, it’s only a week-long project and when we met and started improvising together, what we wanted to develop was more of a year-long or an on-going relationship and I wish there was more space for that within the curriculum.
ML: Almost in the same way that you would meet with a chamber group. The resources are here, the opportunities to meet are here, the rehearsal spaces are here, the performance opportunities are here. I guess it’s just a matter of getting people excited about meeting and working together.
YT: Yeah, and just telling people that that’s an option, that they can just send out an email to all dance students of they’re a musican – “look, I’ve got this piece of music, I’m looking for dancers.”
WH: I’m wondering if you have any plans for new work or to continue with Play On after Resolution Festival.
ML: We’re hoping to develop this piece and possibly create a workshop out of it ewhere we can work with other musicians, other dancers or performers and really explore that idea of cross-disciplinary improvisation.
YT: Yes. We’ve devised 10 movements for this piece so we’ve got 10 sets of rules for games that both musicians and dancers can play and most importantly that dancers and musicians can play –
ML & YT: – together.
YT: So these are the games and the scores that we would use for workshops and that would be starting from the Summer.
Now, we’ve got a very exciting company name and company website coming up soon. We’re currently working with a graphic designer from Belgium who’s designing the company logo for us. The name is Company Concentric, like concentric circles, with the idea that we’ve got a shared starting point, but all of us – so pianist, dancer, we’re working with a costume designer and a set designer as well – are sort of gravitating around this central point and just bringing our different disciplines and our different perspectives. So soon you will have Company Concentric on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all social media. But for now, just follow my profile: Yanaelledanse to find out more.
WH: So you’re interested in cross-disciplinary arts. I wonder if there are any other kinds of art forms that you would consider incorporating into your work. For example, there used to be a venue called Jamboree at Limehouse and I remember going to quite a few gigs there would be people painting at the back. They had a big canvas up and they would make these abstract paintings inspired by the music that was currently being plaeyed.
ML: What we’re most interested in is creating art together as opposed to, like you said, having an artist at the back of the room. Why not bring the artist onto the stage and have them create the set as you go? Ideas like that, I think, we’re most interested in, as opposed to having your two disciplines happening at the same time and maybe they’re complementary but they’re not created together. They don’t depend on one another’s actions.
YT: And I think in the process with our costume designer and Sally who’s making the set, it’s been exactly like that. All four of us are talking about what we’re doing together and I’m going to give Sally ideas for the set and then she’s going to come to our rehearsal and comment on the music and the movement. So we’re really inviting this sense of swapping roles and swapping ideas.
ML: We’re giving questions to each other. What happens if my costume makes a noise or is part of the music, or the set has something to do with movement, as opposed to being a static set.
YT: We’re going to have costumes that make sound – some sort of sound. I’m not telling you more at this point. And the set is going to be part of the choreography, yes.
ML: For sure.
YT: So it’s all very closely connected.
ML: Yes. This is a sample of some music you can expect to hear.
Cue: Play On extract 3 by Michaella Livadiotis and Company Concentric
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I’d like to ask you for your hidden gem listening recommendations. These are the pieces of music that you love to listen to but you suspect no-one else has ever come across.
ML: I’ve been getting into jazz-rap recently. A Tribe Called Quest, which is amazing. Jazz-rap uses sampling of jazz music as a basis and then builds rap on top of it. It’s different to jazz in that the improvisation comes through the spoken word as opposed to the instrumentation. I’m going to recommend Excursions. Yeah, that’s a good one.
YT: I’m constantly looking for new music for my dance classes. I can’t really pick one because I’ve been listening to so many very different tracks lately but the way I’ve approached it is to type a keyword in your music browser – say, Spotify – and see what comes up and just click a few. So what I’ve been exploring in dance classes recently includes symmetry, symmetrical and asymmetrical movements. I came up with the most interesting soundtracks and that was really interesting for my students in the creative task. So I suggest just typing a few words and seeing what comes up.
WH: Thank you Yanaëlle Thiran and Michaella Livadiotis. You can find links to more information about Company Concentric, their performance at Resolution Festival and Michaella‘s hidden gem listening recommendation on TL-Life.com .
Sadly, that’s all we have time for this episode. But don’t worry! TL Life: Crosscurrent will be back.
Cue: Spruce by Matthew Norriss
You have been hearing Spruce by BMus4 violinist Matthew Norriss. Next time on the podcast, amongst others, we’ll be hearing new music from BMus1 harpist Rebecca Morée Galian.
RMG: And I just thought I should do something I’ve never done before so I started created some beats and it’s so radically different from everything I’ve ever done so far.
If you have a project, a piece or an idea you would like to share on the podcast, please do get in touch with me via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the Trinity Laban student body and do not necessarily represent those of the institution as a whole.