Where did these songs come from?
Looking back on previous projects, Cân Y Graig - Slate Voices (1990) seems like a landmark and leap forward in my work. It managed to bring together many different strands in a way that added up to more than the sum of their parts - new instruments, improvisation, sculpture, textiles, industrial and social history, language, song, visual imagery . It was immediately after this that I gave my company the name resOnance to indicate the focus of the work. My creative collaborators on this project all made exciting and highly original contributions, but there is no doubt that one of the key inputs was the voice and performing of Sianed Jones. Her particular qualifications for the job were that she was a Welsh speaking singer and experimental musician, but she plunged into the project in such a way that I immediately felt she both shared my vision and was able to give uncompromisingly of herself.
Ever since, I have wanted to write more for Sianed's voice. Until now (apart from a short radio project in 1996) our two lives haven't been close enough to manage it and I haven't found the right context. We have both moved on.
Between 1995 and 2000 I developed two projects which never saw the light of day, both of which had a large vocal element. "How Near Is Krocas" was a proposal for a live performance which was intended to create the culture of an imaginary place called Krocas. This culture included a special singing style called kroccing and had a particular attitude to sculpture and the materials it used. "A Sweet Noise In My Head" was a radio project that related a woman's life through song, spoken word, recorded sound sculptures and natural sounds. Both projects, of course, were tailored to my particular interests and skills and fitted my life path as it was mapping itself out. (I would never make the claim that it was I that mapped out my life!) So, in a sense, although it was frustrating that I wasn't able to realise these projects the work was not lost because it served as development for future projects, such as this one.
Since moving to France in 1998 I have spent most of my time developing my sound sculpture work and have exhibited and installed widely. At the same time I have been working musically with the trio "Slate" (with Pierre Corbi and Benoît Keller) and have integrated my sculptures into the music. In a sense both the sculptures and the music had reached a different world than the one we occupied with Cân Y Graig - Slate Voices, and so it seemed the time was ripe for working with Sianed again. So in September 2001 I asked her, and she was into it. The process of making "Song Sculptures" started.
How did I approach writing the songs?
I'm used to writing my own music and I'm used to writing my own words and I'm used to writing songs. I'm less used to putting the three things together. I've written single songs before, but for bigger projects I've always worked with writers. This is the first time I've written song words for a whole project. This was a challenge I wanted to take on. I've always enjoyed collaborating with writers, but this time I wanted the whole project to be mine. I wanted it to come from inside me, to be intimate and even revealing. At the same time I knew I wasn't going to sing any songs myself or even narrate words to a concert audience! So I was going to ask Sianed to sing these songs. This led to a lot of conceptual and philosophical thinking, some of which has gone into the words of the songs, but more of which has gone into framing the project and developing an appropriate way of presenting it.
The question I asked was "How can I write a song from my personal feelings and experience, and ask someone else to sing it?"
Or in detail, if I write "I" in a song can Sianed sing "I" or should she sing "He". And if she sings "I", which "I" does the audience hear? Sianed's or mine?
The question isn't new of course, but I felt I had to confront it to do this project. The answer at one level is obvious. The audience doesn't hear my "I" or Sianed's "I", but each person constructs their own "I", which relates to both Sianed's and mine but isn't the same as either. So the song creates a person or identity by the coming together of three creative acts - composer, singer and listener. (There's probably a much simpler way of putting this, but I haven't found it yet!)
I've noticed that this creative act by the audience may be done differently in different arts contexts. So for example if you are sitting in a theatre and someone walks on stage and says "I", you will probably assume that they are acting a part that has been created by a writer. If a singer/songwriter on the same stage says "I" in an introduction you may think that they are telling the truth. If they sing "I" in a song it is different again. I don't want to get too theoretical and it is probably enough to say simply that there are different conventions and histories that come into play.
To me it seems that an important part of research in contemporary art - especially in live art and what the French call les arts plastiques - is concerned with developing and challenging these different conventions of "I".
Actually, I could write anything in a song and leave it to the singer and audience to interpret. But I wanted to make this project more self-aware and have its own unique character, so I decided to work within a discipline and set myself guidelines all of which would influence how the "I" was presented. These were:
· I would only include my own feelings and experiences in the songs. I might develop or elaborate these but I wouldn't invent them, or imagine the feelings of someone else.
· I would imagine the voice of Sianed singing them, but I wouldn't imagine her personality.
· I wouldn't change the gender in a song or any other personal details to make it more suitable for the singer.
· I would be quite happy for Sianed to make changes if she was unhappy singing a song, or not sing it if she preferred.
· I would start composing at least half the songs by listening to and watching intensely one of my existing sound sculptures and then working from the thoughts and feelings that come up.
So the songs were built around the sculptures, Sianed's voice and my feelings. I considered leaving it at that, and for the first trial sessions I did. But it was soon obvious that the songs would be stronger, and indeed more resonant, with the support of more instruments and more musical personalities. So I quickly brought Pierre and Benoît in and developed the composition in a way where they would be able to contribute their strong musical personalities and not simply be backing for a singer...
Enough background and theory! We look forward to foreground and practice on April 9th.