This coming Sunday (May 29th), composer Matthew Sergeant will be presenting his installation/performance “[kiss]” at the Yard Theatre & Club in London. The piece consists of a 4-5 hour violin performance that skirts the perimeters of pitch and audibility; a thin, extended strand of glitch and friction between twine bow and violin string. Emma Lloyd will be performing the piece.
The event forms part of the ddmmyy event series, which is run by London-based composers Tom Rose and Jack Sheen. Each ddmmyy event is an unbroken immersion of interesting sounds in interesting spaces, with a particular emphasis on realising experimental music for ensembles/soloists/electronics. Rose’s own installation/performance, titled “Wisty”, will be making its debut on Sunday.
Below, I put a few questions to Tom Rose on the conception of ddmmyy and the childhood car journeys behind “Wisty”. Next, Matthew Sergeant and Emma Lloyd talk about “[kiss]” and the nature of audience comprehension: the fluidity of what we perceive as “inaudible”, and the innocence that will inevitably lead us to overlook the installation’s sudden, momentary shift in behaviour.
Tom Rose (ddmmyy)
How did ddmmyy start, and what’s the premise behind it?
Tom Rose: When you get to do something, like making a piece of music and then performing it, it can be important to do it on your own terms. This is different for everyone, but as long as you feel right then maybe you’re on one. ddmmyy started as a place to do that: a live platform for a group of friends with a desire to make new music, based in instrumental and electronic composition. New music was written, we worked out a way to play it all in one event, sometimes placing things we liked (newer and older) in the same context. Concerts were free and one-offs. We invited friends and opened the doors to anyone who was interested, and they brought someone along. That’s still the core of ddmmyy now, but with some developments as things have moved on.
I notice you refer to ddmmyy as being “artist-led”. I’m curious to know more on what you mean by that. Is there anything about the predominant form of concert presentation that you don’t perceive to be artist-led?
TR: Deep down, I’m sure that I don’t know. For now, it kind of says that the work and the people making it are doing so without compromise, and the presentation of it all is hand-in-hand with the making of it all. Lead by example? I think ways of putting together concerts which aren’t that, maybe aren’t artist-led.
Each ddmmyy night is named through the generation of a unique code, which is based on the date of the performance and the performers/pieces to be presented. Why have you opted for this method of naming the concerts? I was wondering whether this might be an instance of the series being “artist-led”, given that the name never sets any assumption over the atmospheres/concepts that may arise on the night…
TR: It’s stuck, so far. Yeah, it’s kind of unassuming and quite singular. I think we initially went with it as a way of not attaching too much of a leading vibe or identity to each concert, or from one concert to the next, other than the people doing it and what they’re calling what they’ve done. This has created its own little mannerisms, but it could change. It’s also good fun to create titles and designs by rolling your face around your computer keyboard.
You also take to interviewing the artists that feature in your concert series, and these are all featured on the ddmmyy site. How did interviews become part of ddmmyy, and do you find the concerts more enriching for climbing inside the context of the pieces/performers prior to the experience?
TR: Conversation can’t be contained, I guess. The concerts/events/whatever start conversations, and are a dialogue themselves. We’ve kind of built them that way. Interviewing people was something which a couple of friends, like Laurie Tompkins who I do Slip with and Jack Sheen who I’m on ddmmyy with, were into and up for, so it became part of the process. Panel discussions, pre-concert talks, online interviews (like this… woo-hoo) are all places for thought to unravel, and alongside the live music, can be an alternative way in (or out?) of ddmmyy for audiences and artists alike. I think I’ve learnt things from these discussion forums, and like Tony Benn said, “…and I’ve been enriched by it…”.
How key is the selection of venue for ddmmyy? Do you opt for space that you know will be complimentary toward the pieces, or is there an element of experimenting with the spaces that the music is capable of inhabiting?
TR: There’s always an element of experimenting with spaces, and definitely a different approach for ddmmyy with 290516. It’s important that the space is onboard with what you’re doing too, and becomes part of that “artist-led” environment to an extent. We’re quite new to The Yard (Theatre & Club) in London, and we love it.
290516 (your event on 29th May) features the first realisation of your own installation/performance, Wisty. It’s labelled on the event as an “installation work for computers and club sound”, but is there anything else you can divulge about it?
TR: When I was quite a kid… I couldn’t drive, personally, but would be on long car journeys sometimes. I think I got into the pace, delivery, tone, and other stuff of E. L. Wisty on those trips. I knew he wasn’t real, and I was into Peter Cook anyway, but Wisty was packed full of a lot of real things I’d seen: some of which burst and other things which were just zoomin’ past. Later, I found it interesting that you could bump into him, when he might be on a bench and you’d been out somewhere early in the morning. “Wisteria” might be the hysteria surrounding that encounter, but it’s a plant: either growing out of walls or climbing along a beam (not only, but also). I have seen people with purple hair which sometimes makes me think of it, and Sideshow Bob too. It can be explosive, and overhead, and at once quiet and shocking.
Matthew Sergeant + Emma Lloyd
The programme note for [kiss] states the following: “[kiss] is a performance installation/composition of extended duration made mostly of noises and glitches on the edge of audibility. At a non-predetermined moment within its duration, a passage of music to the absolute contrary [bold/wrought] will sound. Either through absence or innocence most of you will miss it.”
I’m intrigued by that last sentence. Does “absence” refer to the audience coming and going throughout the piece’s extended duration, or an absence of concentration that may occur while attempting to focus on the piece for such a long period of time?
Matthew Sergeant: It’s kind of inclusive of both. Somebody may well not be in the room when that particular interjection sounds, so there is definitely that. But, when you arrive, you don’t know whether that which you’re waiting for has passed, so you don’t know whether you’re in some kind of prelude or some kind of postlude. As such, any given moment seems to occupy a kind of liminal place, defined only by the absence of that which you seek.
Emma Lloyd: Thinking of liminality in this context is important and, I feel, somewhat mirrored in the borderline inaudibility of the music. The extended duration means that any clear sense of direction is obscured – for me as well as the audience. Energy and concentration fluctuate instead, and engagement moves between conscious and unconscious states.
And what do you mean by “innocence”?
MS: I suppose it’s the same kind of thing again. If you’re not sure quite what you’re waiting for – I don’t really specify exactly how bold or wrought music might sound within this context – how do you know for sure whether you’ve heard it or not? In a sense, it’s like the listener is being protected from something, giving them a kind of innocence.
EL: It is important to know that there is something that you might miss in order for there to be that tension – the doubt that you may not have been there or may not have noticed it. This last sentence almost contains a challenge to search for something, as opposed to listening more passively.
Is the fact that most will miss this section of the piece meant to criticise the way in which audiences predominantly interact with the piece, or does it merely observe?
MS: It’s certainly not meant as a deliberate criticism. You’ve got to remember that whilst people are free to come and go as they please, they are also free to stay for the entire duration if they choose – and people have done that. I think it’s more about ephemerality. There’s this thing, this object. And you’re not sure whether it’s happened or it’s about to happen. And in the moment you’re even sort of second guessing yourself as to whether what you’re hearing right now is, in fact, it. From whichever way you approach it, it becomes a question rather than a certainty. It’s innately slightly out of grasp. I think emphasising how “most will miss it” is my attempt to underline that fact.
EL: What is really interesting to me is how differently audience members approach the piece. Some stay for a very long time, all of it even, and others will wander in and out. I think this is one of the reasons it has such a mutable identity – depending on how you observe and interact with it you will come away with your own impression. Quite deliberately, there is freedom here and either way is valid.
Given that this contrary passage is “non-predetermined”, is there anything in particular that dictates when this passage might arise? Is that entirely governed by you “in the moment”, Emma?
EL: There aren’t any external factors or cues that influence when I play the passage—it is a decision I make in the moment, although sometimes I strategise about roughly when I will do it. I say roughly because I have no way of telling how much time has elapsed while I am playing (I guess, and sometimes I am really far off the mark). The “kiss” really could happen at any point in the performance.
MS: I like the way you say that your strategy is warped by the timeframe – it’s like the piece has a kind of agency of its own! And I make a policy of not discussing with Emma the positioning of the insert moment before she gives a performance. It’s something I don’t want to influence, or even have knowledge of in advance.
You’ve presented this piece on numerous occasions already, and in a variety of different spaces. Does the piece feel/operate differently depending on the space in which you’re presenting it, and has it changed much over the course of presenting it? Have you had any particular favourite renditions of this piece so far?
EL: Yes, absolutely. The space and the nature of the event has a huge effect on the identity of this piece. So far [kiss] has taken place in theatres, an art gallery and a prison cell (although, perhaps oddly, not yet a concert hall). The musical and theatrical attributes of the work can be enhanced or suppressed by the surroundings, depending on acoustics, ambient sounds, visual setting and audience behaviour. Each time it has been interesting, exciting and exhausting—I couldn’t pick a favourite.
MS: The prison cell was fun. You could only fit about four audience members inside with Emma, so at times the room was full and there was an actual prevention from accessing what was going on inside. I’ve also enjoyed it in the larger spaces, where the intimacy of the project is weirdly more intense – this solo performer in a vast space, usually with the audience sat within breathing distance. Choosing a favourite isn’t really possible. They’re all different hues of intensity.
Does the perception of what is “on the edge of audibility” change over the duration of the piece? I imagine that, once performer and audience acclimatise to the established volume, the “edge” only drops to a lower level…
EL: Yes I suspect it does, although as the sound source is directly under my ear, I find it difficult to know what the audience hear. Sometimes there is enough ambient noise that even I can’t hear what I am playing! In general I think the very low dynamic encourages very concentrated listening, and people will often sit quite close to me to hear, which lends a degree of intimacy that most musical performance lacks.
MS: I think extreme quiet can change the scale of the listening experience. When you’re straining to hear, your attention becomes like a microscope. Small nuances and timbral subtleties become vast architectural gestures under such scrutiny. It’s like zooming in on something. And under such situations audibility itself stops being a boundary, but more like a zone or threshold that things can pass through.
What do you know about The Yard Theatre? Are you excited to present [kiss] here?
MS: Well, for starters it’s a beautiful space. The amphitheatre form it takes makes it ideal for [kiss]. The audience can sit around Emma. It’s ideal for immersive listening. And what I know of the Yard’s approach to programming is that it always foregrounds the new and the risky – new writing, new performance contexts. It’s great to be a part of that kind of environment.
EL: I have never been to the venue, so I am very excited to see it for the first time. Part of the interest in performing this piece is the challenge of setting it up in a new space and seeing what kind of influence this has.
Facebook event for 290516 – facebook.com/events/1611138089210571/
ddmmyy website – ddmmyyseries.com
Tom Rose’s website – cargocollective.com/tomrose-tcr
Matthew Sergeant’s website – matthewsergeant.com
Emma Lloyd’s website – emmajanelloyd.com