Daniel WJ Mackenzie discusses next week’s festival of sound and art at Newhaven Fort, in which the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Philippe Petit, Ex-Easter Island Head and Thomas Köner will interact with an eclectic and distinctive set of acoustic spaces: tunnels, huts, chambers.
How did you become familiar with Newhaven Fort, and how did the idea for Fort Process materialise?
Well most of our group live in Brighton with a few scattered about, so Newhaven Fort looms in the vicinity for us all. Al Kemp lives in Newhaven and knows the fort. For me it was a distant obscurity. These days of course, after plenty of site visits, it’s like a massive, weird second home.
Al Kemp’s initial idea was to set up an event that explores the psychogeography of the fort and the area around it. Over a short amount of time it solidified into an idea to pursue and came together properly upon the establishment of our team – brought about through a consideration of people’s skills, their interests. Fortunately among our friends exist some of the most significant and passionate underground art / music facilitators in Sussex so we coalesced naturally, and swiftly. Then when the funding came in it became really real, happening. Following some developments on the original concept the festival has expanded and morphed into the waiting beast that it is now.
Looking at pictures of the venue, it seems that you’ve really got a variety of spaces and conditions to play with. Have you had much opportunity to scope the fort out and explore the spatial/acoustic persona of each section? I see you’ve paid the site a couple of visits already…what have been your favourite findings?
We’ve been visiting the fort regularly all year, especially in the past few months, for technical, curatorial and acoustic reasons. Some areas are so unbelievably ‘alive’ that sound tests have been essential to make sure we know what we’re dealing with once amplified audio is put into the space. In some cases this has provided some excellent opportunities to work with the sonic characteristics; in others we’ve had to work to reduce such a wild aural environment. Over the programme there is such a contrast in sonic properties that it’s essential we make everything sit together.
The fort is amazing for many reasons but one thing that really strikes me is how we always seem to find new areas that we’d somehow missed before. It really is a remarkable place for exploring – I would imagine a lot of the festival goers will be baffled by it initially. The way you can be standing up high in the ramparts overlooking the sea, then wander down into a claustrophobic, echoing chamber… it’s a tremendously dynamic site.
The line up is fantastic. There are lots of names I’m already familiar with, and all of them have a very distinctive relationship with sound. Were there any particular considerations that dictated who you approached for Fort Process?
The idea was to programme the line up based upon how they would approach the site, or how their material would be affected by its spatial, psychological and acoustic properties. In some cases there was an aesthetic decision to match an artist’s work with the fort – with Thomas Köner for example, who has a slow, dense sound that I think really suits the imposing architecture and subterranean atmosphere – but in others it was more about the opposite, the contrast. Like the programme of contemporary composition in the Grand Magazine… it’s far from a concert hall.
As a group we have an extremely eclectic background – sound art, punk shows, raves, avant garde events, all kinds of disciplines and plenty more have all figured into our curatorial history and tastes. This naturally has led to a large range of artists. It has been interesting to experience it coming together. In one sense it’s partly a music festival if you consider The Artaud Beats, Ex-Easter Island Head etc. but of course it goes way further than that. The Eastern Magazine is effectively dedicated to sound art, which could be an event in itself.
How have you enjoyed pairing up the line up with different parts of the fort? I imagine that’s a great opportunity to consider the dialogue between the artist and their space.
It is yes, it has been great to ponder the interaction between artist and space. It’s kind of related to what he whole thing is about I suppose. As I said, it can be approached with a kind of harmony in mind, or something that suggests a dissonant relationship between the material and the environment… we went for both. It’s the psychological, aesthetic effect the overlap that’s interesting, no matter what the source of its magic.
As Lost Property, the arts collective we’ve formed, we plan to do more events in future that pair up unusual spaces with creative work. It’s kind of suggested in the name, re-purposing forgotten locations, of which there are so many in the country and wider world. I already have ideas for things we could do after this and potential for collaborative events… but I guess I’ll leave that for another time.
Beyond being a unique acoustic space, the fort also has been witness to many prominent events in history. How will the history of the fort feature in the day’s events?
There are parts of the programme that refer to the area and certain aspects of its history, so I suppose that would count. But to be honest we’re not too keen on making too much reference to the fort’s military history, at least not much more than what is implied in its inherent character. This is partly because not one of us is particularly a fan of war, which is a given, but also because this is about re-appropriating the space, promoting what it offers in the context of an arts event, how it responds to something entirely different from its original reason for being.
The event seems to extend beyond just music performance. What else will be happening throughout the day?
A sound art programme is centred around the Eastern Magazine area but spills into other parts of the site – for this we’re really excited to present work by artists including Max Eastley, Zimoun and Liminal. We also have a programme of short / experimental films, workshops and talks in the theatre and classroom. Various pop-up pieces will also occur and, for me at least, the experience of being inside the place is a feature in itself. We’re offering food via an excellent vegan catering company based in Hackney, and also a local vegan brewery is running a bar.
I have fond memories of seeing music in distinctive spaces: Cut Hands last year in the cells of a police station, Martin A. Smith’s live soundtrack to Inferno in the gigantic V22 warehouse in London. Do you have any of your own favourites?
Earlier this week I was at a contemporary arts event that was held on the Newhaven – Dieppe ferry… that was really good fun, with the art happenings mingled in with the often bemused public. Plurals had a gig in V22 actually, so we played that but I went to a couple of the This Is DIY ones as well. That’s great space. There was also this amazing place in Bonn called Grune Spielstadt I was thrilled to have played at with Lorah Pierre, a friend of mine who is part of the Fort Process team, and German experimental musician Ypsmael. Playing and gig-going in churches is always a quietly breathtaking experience too. Somerset House is always lovely – I’ve been to a few events there. And the Hidden Cinema acid rave thing in the woods at Supernormal Festival is great too. What else? There was this great thing at Recon Festival in Leeds last year where Bongoleroos started their weird, sleazy thing in Brudenell Social Club, then it became a free-for-all ‘rough music’ style street procession towards an old cinema where they screened a bizarre homemade film, then it ended with an epically long set from Vibracathedral Orchestra. That was madness.
Fort Process website – fortprocess.co.uk