I was invited to London to create a vocal workshop for the Moon Choir, an experimental improvisatory choir, based on the Site Singing project. It took place on the 23rd of April at St Leonards Church, Shoreditch. It was an amzing experience, which I am keen to document as part of the whole Site Singing project, and I remain deeply grateful to have been given the opportunity.
Pre-workshop outline of the session
Site Singing vocal session for The Moon Choir
Guided by Ellen Southern
Ellen Southern will be bringing her field-recording based project, Site Singing, to the Moon Choir, for the next step in the development of a new vocal live work.
Following on from recent live debut at The Arnolfini, Bristol, this workshop will be the latest testing ground of a new experimental vocal work in-progress. Participating singers will work directly with sound, vocal elements and approaches developed through solo field trips to heritage sites in the South West. They will be encouraged to adventurously explore their voices, while fully utilising the acoustic characteristics of the space as an instuement, to share in generating new material toward a new experimental live work in-the-making.
This will be a practice-based session, where live work and recordings (both digital and analogue) will be layered, treated and played back as we go. Participants will also be invited to discuss the work while being able to view and physically handle maps, photographs and drawings created over the course of the project so far. We will present a rush or ‘scratch’ style performance, of the resulting material for the Sun At Night evening session.
A hint of what to expect? Think spatial sound, immersive voices, sonic layering, unexpected harmonies, microtones and harmonics, combinations of live and recorded voices, some amplified treatments and effects, distance and proximity, interesting vocal dissonances and textures, improvisation and exploration.
Audio from the workshop
At the start of the workshop, I invited the singers to consider the whole space as an instrument, just waiting to be ‘played’ by out movements and voices. Singers were given hand held cassette tapes with which to move around and vocally explore the space, and we then played these tapes out and improvised along, spatially, as a whole group.
Below, I have posted the raw audio material from the 4 cassette recorders, which different combinations of pairs and small groups of singers took on their Site Singing ‘travels’ within the building.
We performed a short version of what we had generated at the Sun At Night live session which followed on in the church. See the video here:
Reflections after the session
Alice from The Sun at Night was telling me a bit about the building, its layers of history, and this site certainly seems to have seen some drama and turbulence here. The chuch now standing is only the latest bulding here, there were previous, including a theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. Its said that the very fist actor who played Romeo is buried beneath this ground.
Listening to the recording we made, I am struck by the drama of it, how active and diverse it is (like London itself). The church now standing seems a sanctuary from the noise and bustle around it, but maybe thats the thing, thats just whats there now. Somehow the combination of us in the space brought out many sounds and gestures both big and small, and I remember at the time being struck and impressed at the huge range of ways the singers heard and explored the space, from whispering to the ticking of the old clock to wlld open-throated yells resonating the stone halls. When a siren wails by outside, and its sound integrates into the fabric of the improvisation, it could just as well be a voice.
If you listen to this recording loud with stereo speakers, it helps you hear just how many layers of activity are going on here, the wonderful spatial quality to the sounds, the varied textures, and how they respond to each ither over both time and space (the place is huge with upper galleries, back stairs, etc, but also we had cassette recorders of sounds we had just made and ‘collected’ placed around and playing out, so time itself was also layered). For me, these layers we collaborativley created now reflect both the past activity and drama here, and also the way countless people will have had so many intimate collective and personal experiences on this site over a very many years. I feel I can hear something of it all here.
With heartfelt thanks to Conny Prantera and all the women who are part of The Moon Choir, and to Alice and Kayleigh from The Sun At Night.