Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Horses Brawl at Brighton Early Music Festival

The Brighton Early Music Festival starts later this month and so for today's post we are handing over the reigns to guest blogger Adrian Lever the guitarist with Horses Brawl to explain what goes on behind the scenes when organising an event during the festival....
So the Brighton Early Music Festival gig is fast approaching and its an exciting time for us at Horses Brawl, as we're venturing into a new project that has its debut at St. Bartholomew's Church, Brighton.

The story of the project goes back to spring this year when our idea of an extended line-up became reality with the news that the Arts Council grant we'd applied for was 'in the bag'. Brilliant news!!! .... But now we had to make it happen.

Because of the nature of the way we work - magpie-ing tunes from all over Europe whether folk, medieval, renaissance or baroque, borrowing phrases, repeating fragments, changing notes, playing two tunes on top of each other to create new 'pieces' - everything develops out of improvisation. There is no score, no defined orchestration, so it all had to be dreamed-up.

The original idea that was pitched to BREMF was a 7-piece line-up that would consist of lots of medieval fiddles and an extra guitar. A few brainstorms later and we'd arrived at (quite literally!) a paired-down version, with me and Laura (Horses Brawl) and Arngeir Hauksson and Rebecca Austin-Brown of the Bardos Band on guitar/lute and recorder/medieval fiddle respectively.

The idea was that both mine and laura's instruments had a double, and with some effective arrangement we could achieve a much more expansive sound with only two extra players. This line-up was then duly sent to BREMF to go in the festival programme...

...but things are never quite that simple!!

We were still hearing other sounds in our heads. Maybe we were just going mad? Or maybe we needed all those fiddles after all.

We wanted a snappy, powerful and concise sound. But we also wanted to explore some sonic landscapes, timbres and textural effects that weren't quite possible with the quartet.

Cue Alexis Bennett (The Early Music Experiment, Dufay Collective) and Jim O'Toole (Joglaresa, La Serenissima, English Touring Opera). Both fiddlers have wide experience playing early, folk and contemporary classical music, and were up for jumping on board and delving into some sonic experiments with us.

So, a 6-piece was born, and we were getting closer to realising the sounds in our head ... except we didn't feel they were satiated just yet ... Cue the gongs!

Through her Performance Masters at the University of East Anglia, Laura forged links with the Sonic Arts department and entered that whole sound-world, creating pieces for solo recorder and computer using Ganassi-style improvisation, and commissioning a piece for tape, voice, electronics and recorder quartet.

Her partner, Andre Bosman, and friend Alex Sanders were both on the course and we knew they'd be on the right wavelength when it came to adding the extra sonic effects we were looking for. We'd watched Alex's band 'Transcept' using gongs to great effect, and decided that was the way forward.

So the two gongs jumped on board, and we've been working at a mix of rhythmic and textural bowing and soft beaters to give eerie sparkle to some of the slower material and some dramatic depth to some of the faster pieces, completing the 8-piece Brighton line-up.

The whole group will come together on the 17th of October for an intensive day rehearsal at Raveningham church, Norfolk, for fine tuning (and lots of other tuning - around 50 strings altogether!) and getting the whole thing to really gel.

I'm really excited to hear it all together - a culmination of lots of organising, work ... and fun! Also to hear how the various pieces reflect the moods and seasonal rituals we've identified them with for the Harvest Queen programme.

The program consists of brand new material for our forthcoming album and some pieces from our last album 'Wild Lament'. We reflected on all the music and came up with the concept, which takes themes, rituals and personal journeys from points around the whole yearly cycle with the harvest as its axis as fundamental in sustaining life throughout the year. Each musical piece reflects a piece within this cycle.

St Bart's has an amazing acoustic that is both immediate and clear and at the same time richly reverberant, so I think it'll be the perfect place to debut the new project- and at one of our favourite festivals! I hope to see you there.

Horses Brawl and their extended line up perform Harvest Queen at St Bartholomew's Church, Ann Street, Brighton, 7.30pm on Sunday, 24th October. Tickets: £6-£15 from www.bremf.org.uk (no fee for etickets) or Brighton Dome Ticket Shop: 01273 709709 (£2.25 transaction fee)

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