As Whore of Babylon I am sitting grasping a child’s battered quarter size cello between my knees, and whispering a consonant-only deconstructed excerpt from the Bible’s Book of Revelation:
“Sitting on a Scarlet Beast, she is dressed in purple robes, carrying the glittering golden cup of the filth of adulterers.”
Composer Line Tjornhoj (left) is giving me directions for my part in her latest project, “Portrait – a dialogue between child and adult:” “You will wear no makeup, no jewellery.”
The Whore of Babylon without mascara?!!!!
Working with Line is always an unpredictable experience, often pushing personal boundaries, from which I’ve learnt much.
As wise Chinese proverb say: “The gem cannot be polished without friction”.
We are in Aalborg, a spotlessly clean, moneyed town on the opposite far end of Jutland.
A few kilometers further north is Skagen, a thin strip of land famed for its painters who gathered there to capture the unique Northern light on canvas. These unmistakably Nordic beams illuminate the glass of Tüborg on the Aalborgian café table in front of me. It is 10.30 pm and still they glow with a pale white purity.
Line’s project “Portrait” began over a year ago along with social anthropologist Birgitte Stampe Holst in the schools and youth clubs across Denmark, talking to 14 years olds about whether they felt they were children or adults.
The context at the time was the controversial law that allowed criminally convicted 13 year olds to be imprisoned. The new Danish government revoked this ruling a few months later, returning the age of juvenile liability to 14, thus somewhat taking the wind out of the project’s sails.
Sexy sound engineer Morten Elkjaer (right) on location at Platform 4, Aalborg, working on his MAX MSP patch for Line’s sound sculpture.
It is Line’s passion that Birgitte’s academic presence blur the boundaries between science and art, opening up new possibilities in site specific performance concepts.
Distinguished media artist Signe Klejs came on board at the start of the project to help the teenagers make short films representing their views and assemble a short documentary of Birgitte’s interviews with them plus teachers, MPs and an extremely sinister priest.
Signe filming Birgitte making her anthropological speech.
A year later, these films plus 15 minute introductory speech by Birgitte are part of Line’s multi-genre performance concept that includes an audience interactive sound sculpture put together by MAX MSP wiz Morten, Signe’s live film projections on the wall, and me doing the Scarlet Beast bit plus amplified bowing on the inverted body of a quarter size school cello.
Counter tenor Daniel wearing original Charlotte Østergaard. iPic taken by me as part of our off-project “Vogue Shoot”.
All are linked together by the glorious counter tenor voice of Daniel Carlsson who sing/speaks imitations of the interviews in a piece reminiscent of Cage’s “Aria”, plus a couple of Line’s pieces with pre-recorded electronic textures, all of which could stand on their own in a recital context. He has a heartbreakingly pure and beautiful voice, unspoilt by the diva antics so common to opera singers, especially those with this pitch range.
Daniel Carlsson is a huge talent. Book him now before he gets too expensive.
We are all kitted out in custom made outfits from distinguished fashion designer Charlotte Østergaard, who’s shop in the heart of Copenhagen’s old town attracts highest level clientele seeking tailored wedding and evening wear. I got to play around in this exquisitely tasteful boutique whilst going for a fitting from Charlotte herself. To keep creatively buzzing, this hugely gifted designer also dresses dancers, actors and musicians in her spare time.
Wedding dress by Charlotte Ostergaard in her typically sculptured style created from hand-creased fabric that creates these classy structured shapes, a feminine take on Issey Miyake’s constructions.
The venue in Aalborg is Platform 4, a community arts space and youth club set in a mini park that is being regenerated as a public garden, art and performance area for 2013. We are scheduled to make 3 performances of our 50 minute piece for each of the 3 days in Aalborg.
With the exception of four people on day 1, and four people (all relations of project participants) on day 2, including a producer flown in from New York, we had no audience. Literally, none. During the shows that go ahead, bored-looking youths chat and play guitar in the café adjoining our performance space, someone hoovers noisily a few feet away, phones ring.
What this has to do with teenagers I trust the audience to figure out.
Out of our Østergaards, Daniel and I home in on a nearby café run by mad Hungarians selling the strangest and most delicious dessert I’ve ever had: flower cake.
“Blomsterkage”, a mad Hungarian confection of bitter chocolate crumble on top of a sort of fruit cream thing. Delicious and weird beyond compare once you summon up courage to actually eat it.
Within moments of setting foot in the door, we find ourselves drinking Hungarian champagne with Istvar, the homesick and completely stoned proprietor of this wonderful art and jazz café “Budafest”.
The wives of the men who work in the café are all high- powered psychiatrists, who presumably get paid vastly more for their services here than back in Hungary. You only have to look at the pale faces of the suppressed Aalborgians to know why their presence might come in handy.
“Zoya”, Istvar whispers to me, with all the seductive gypsy intensity of his homeland, “Zair are no sexuella vimmin in this town”.
Birgitte the anthropologist shares her views with me over company dinner one night: that, basic physical characteristics aside, there is no intrinsic difference between the human genders other than that imposed by cultural conditioning.
She has clearly never had an affair with a Hungarian man.
Here’s Erik the sound man enjoying a poetic moment at Vordingborg’s beautiful coastline. He comes from a place on the Danish/German border called Tønder where (unlike my Scarlet Beast text) his native dialect uses ONLY VOWELS.
Incredible, but true.
Next stop for “Portrait” is Vordingborg. Like Platform 4, Vordingborg’s Big Wheel Studios are a community arts hub, set on the top floor of a former psychiatric hospital.
Signe somehow managed to turn the space into a convincing art installation with all the visual equipment, and the whole project suddenly started to make more sense.
She placed Daniel and I in a long dark spooky corridor leading off the main media room, as a fixed art installation rather than concert performers, mirrored by the sound sculpture in an opposite corridor as entrance hall. Brilliant.
Here’s Signe looking as effortlessly hip and beautiful as ever whilst turning a former psychiatric ward into plausible art installation.
The venue is close to the ruins of a castle built in 1175 by King Valdemar as a base from which to run raids on Germany. Legend has it that the golden goose which perches on top of the 26 metre spire (almost invisible in this painting) was installed by the King to taunt passing Germans.
One can only imagine their perplexity at the sight.
The Goose Tower, Vordingborg Castle. Johan Thomas Lundbye (1842)
The audience for our 2 days of 7 performances here increased by a few 100%. Perhaps Valdemar’s attitude to controversial art installations has rubbed off on his descendants.
On considerably less than a hundreth of the mythological budget apportioned to Portrait, Signe Klejs and I spend our day off in Aarhus making a film of a short piano/voice piece I recorded during my DIVA time in Copenhagen, in her wonderful local theatre Bora Bora.
Filming in Aarhus with Signe, assisted by makeup artist Linda Jessica A. who speaks five languages including three from Ghana. She tells me that there are 48 languages in Ghana.
Signe began work in this theatre as a dancer (you can see why), then graduated to lighting design and film, learning her craft on the job. Since then she has risen to fame in Denmark for her work with music, dance, theatre, design and in collaboration with her life partner, composer Niels Ronstadt (about whom more in earlier posts).
Young über talent Jane Christine Munch (right), a student at the Margrethe Skolen in Copenhagen (where coincidentally Charlotte Østergaard teaches), has dressed me for the shoot.
“Punk, fetish, hooker, gothic, S&M, alternative, club” were some of the words I threw at Jane a few months back when describing what I was after. A mere 48 hours later she had already made this drawing, along with several other equally arresting designs. Staggering.
She’s completely avoided the obvious rubber, leather, latex thigh boot thang that my description might suggest, and come up with something totally original and utterly off the wall.
Book this girl before she gets too famous
My song, called “Red Room,” is about a prostitute who observes her situation with drugged up lucidity, seeing herself objectively as if through a camera’s lens, which allows her to become whatever men want her to be. Not exactly a victim, but still trapped by her own sexual power, here symbolised by the red cords that literally tied me to the floor during the shoot.
Still from Signe’s film (right).
In certain Buddhist mystery schools there is a belief that whenever people have sex, energetic red threads are formed between them that can only be broken by conscious effort of applied thought. I hadn’t told Jane about this…
Likewise, with almost no discussion, Signe instantly “got” the essence of my little song and came up with the inspired idea of filming me as if sitting on a chair, but lying on the floor, thus distorting spacial perception with the camera in a trippy way.
In my experience, when creative projects work they feel like playtime. All the elements fall effortlessly into place, governed by the underlying creative intent itself rather than mind-based struggle. One can still work with great intensity, but uplifted by the process, as happened here. I have a good feeling about the film. It will be bonkers but strong. Watch this space.
Jane’s attention to detail shows in these hand-made leather straps that create interesting textures around her outfit.
And now, officially stripped of my 3 month DIVA residency status, a mere mortal once again, I return to England with some sadness as I have made many friends in this land of multi-media collaboration and green-eyed Vikings.
But something tells me this is not the end of my Copenhagen story…
Before setting sail on our separate adventures, Line has given me a generous parting gift of edible Danish delicacies and a Sailor Song we made together during our former collaboration. Its mood fits the occasion.
To allay any worries about career progression, I am reminded by a classical scholar friend of mine that the next step above Diva (f. of Divus/Divo) in the Greek goddess hierarchy, is Dea (f. of Deus). The best Dea in residence gig is Dea Moneta, the Goddess of the Mount after whom money is named.
I hear the post is empty…
Stay tuned for the next episode of Z-Blog
from across the water…