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From the Archive: Sounds and Visions

Nothing Concrete text
2 Sep 2020

This week we're travelling back in our audio archives to May 2018 to Sounds and Visions, a series of 18 concerts and film screenings curated by composer Max Richter and artist Yulia Mahr.


You know, a piece of music for me is – it's a narrative form, but it's also a place. You know, you're trying to discover a place in a way

From the Archive sees us dig into our extensive contemporary and classical music and cinema podcast archive as we rediscover interviews and discussions with artists, with our long-standing producer and presenter, Ben Eshmade. Subscribe to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify, iTunes or wherever you find your podcast

Transcript (part 1)

Ben Eshmade: Hello and welcome to Nothing Concrete the Barbican podcast, here to help inspire more people to discover and love the arts. I'm Ben Eshmade and this week we're travelling back in our audio archives to May 2018 to Sounds and Visions, a series of 18 concerts and film screenings curated by composer Max Richter and artist Yulia Mahr.

Yulia Mahr: It's a map of our enthusiasms, this festival; the festival we’d just like to go to.

BE: Over the last few decades Max Richter's music has been something I've learned to depend upon on record to relax or inspire. It has moved me in live performance and added depth and weight when I'm watching films on the big and small screen. The Barbican has been one of the places where we've had the opportunity to experience his music being performed by the composer himself on stage, normally directing for the piano, whether it’s with his ensemble or some of the leading orchestras. Sounds and Visions: this curation, was the next natural step in the relationship with the venue, digging deeper into his influences and passions.

Max Richter: It’s that sort of kitchen table, cup of tea moment and that's just so fruitful.

BE: Opening eyes and ears to new sounds and visions, this three-day event series included a rare performance of Infra by Max and the 12 Ensemble, Three Worlds from his Woolf Works and the Chineke! Orchestra with a live performance of his score to Waltz with Bashir. Plus, the curators invited the likes of the London Syrian Ensemble, Colin Stetson’s EX EYE and Caterina Barbieri and many more to perform across the Barbican, LSO, St. Luke's and Milton Court Concert Hall. On the first of two podcasts. I speak to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: That it's kind of like gardening where what can I do to make this, you know, have the best conditions to grow?

BE: And Jlin.

Jlin: So before the world hears it, my mother hears everything. It doesn't… yeah, that will never change.

BE: First, I travelled to Oxfordshire to join Max and Yulia over tea and some rather nice biscuits at their studio base to discuss, well, everything.

MR: Well, how did we meet? Well, I was playing a concert at the Edinburgh Festival way back at the beginning of ‘Piano Circus’. We're playing Steve Reich, ‘Six Pianos’ and Terry Riley ‘In C’, and on one of my days off, I went to see sort of, like a theatre project, wasn't it, of the ‘Mahabharata’, the Indian epic, which was performed by a large number of people in a gym, somewhere on the outskirts of Edinburgh. And one of these people kind of caught my eye and I thought, wow, this amazingly beautiful woman playing that, playing that character there, and then I went, you know what, you're never going to see her again, so just calm down, you’ll forget about her, you know? And then lo and behold, I did see her again in London a couple of years later, and in another theatre, and yeah, you know, that was it.

YM: I didn't know any anything of that at all, I had no idea. I met Max because I thought he was a composer I was going to interview for a job and so I just interviewed him and he got the job. I was an assistant director at that time at that theatre. It was this amazing space and so that was, this was part of this amazing kind of experimental theatre space for young people. And so I’d interviewed Max and we sat in the back rows, didn't we, just chatting about life, the world and everything, a lot about art. Twenty six years later, here we are.

BE: So what was your first collaboration? Was it ’Sleep’ or something before then? MR: Well, in a way we've been working in parallel and joined up in lots of different settings. I mean, we… I guess it sort of crystallised in the Berlin years. We had the studio where there was sort of my studio, Yulia’s studio in this building, in a factory in Mitte. And then there was a gallery there, and so I was doing music and there were photographic shows and sort of artwork being made. And then these things sort of slowly started to join up, and I guess, even recompose? We worked together on some of the visual material of that and the design side of it and the ideas. And then ‘Sleep’ is probably the next step in that process.

YM: Yeah, I was thinking it probably goes back even earlier than that, doesn't it really? I mean, we had conversations about ‘The Blue Notebooks’ and ‘Memoryhouse’ in the very beginning. It’s the kitchen tables now he’s talking about, I mean, especially because I'm from Eastern Europe, and that features quite strongly in Max's thoughts about the world and about the journeys of the last century and my family had incredible journeys across Europe and were refugees – and so I think that whole conversation feeds into the work doesn't it? And the kind of texts that we both read and are interested in and writers, and there's always been a back and forth.

MR: Creative work is… it's talking. It's having conversations, you know, obviously with your audience but also, you know, with the people around you and that's very natural and Yulia and I have always just sort of, you know, we're sort of always turning things over in our mind, aren’t we? One way or another and it's really part of part of our process.

YM: I’m very fiery, as a person. Max's taught me a lot about patience and the long view of art. I'm like, ‘Oh, this is terrible! This is good! This is bad!’ There’s this straight, you know, big reaction straightaway, it makes us more like come on, just to see the journey of it.

MR: You know, a piece of music for me is – it's a narrative form, but it's also a place. You know, you're trying to discover a place in a way. And that, for me has always been very important, but, and I guess that's one of the things that, you know, our, sort of, preoccupations we have in common which is: people in society, art and society, and sort of ‘why art?’.

BE: Is there a, sort of, a line between the studio and home in the sense of you try not to listen to or be influenced by other things in the studio?

MR: Well, I'm not listening to music if I'm writing. No, I'm not, I tend not to do that. Unless it's, I mean, I listen to you know, Purcell and stuff, but nothing that's remotely sort of on my planet. Yeah, I sort of try to keep away from anything which has got a sort of kinship with what I'm up to, just because it's, you know, I mean writing is really a process of sort of hunting down material, hunting down ideas, and you have to stay sort of quite focused in that state.

BE: I think a lot of people listening will know your music, but maybe don't know Yulia’s work as well. So I think it's worth asking, could you maybe describe or pick a piece that we should maybe hunt out to try and understand her perspective, and maybe that guides us through the festival in some way?

MR: Yeah, I mean, Yulia’s work isn't easy to summarise. I mean, she's a sort of multi-pronged creature. Very sort of diverse in their enthusiasms but I mean, it's all united by an interest in, ‘visual anthropology’ is the word, it’s a sort of a construct. And that's to do with, you know, how images and people sort of connect in society and sort of we take meaning from that and that sort of creative space. In terms of like, how it relates to what we've done together. I think the, the films Yulia made for ‘Sleep’ are really, I mean, they're amazing. But I think they also talk a lot about your enthusiasms, you know, because the big thing I take from those films is how the people are and anyone who hasn't seen those would, I think, you know, find those really interesting.

BE: We should move to the festival. Where did you start?

YM: We started at the kitchen table again, didn’t we? We had a fun time just looking at all the artists that we really like. I mean, it's a map of our enthusiasms this festival, it’s the festival we’d just like to go to. And so it was really a matter of just sitting down and I mean, we could fill a month, you know, we had a lot of our artists, we were shuffling around names and looking at everything they were up to and how they connected and so, yeah.

BE: And how much did you think about what you would like to perform? You've chosen a few more rarer gems, shall I say?

MR: Yes, I mean, we wanted to play ‘Infra’ because, you know, I haven't played it that much. And it's a piece which seemed to chime with, you know, the overarching theme of, you know, society and creativity because the piece is about the London bombings of 7/7, and you know, the social dimension of that. We also had an opportunity to play it with a larger ensemble, which I was interested in, you know, because normally it's the quintet and we've actually got the 12 Ensemble, so it’s a bigger band. And then I wanted to play ‘Three Worlds’ because I haven't played it in London, and that's a piece we've played a couple of times and it's been a really wonderful experience to play that music which was you know, it was written for ballet, obviously for Wayne [McGregor] at the Royal Ballet. And to just play that as a musical object was really exciting.

BE: There's a lot of free concerts, which I think is a really nice aspect of it and free screenings as well. Was that important?

MR: Yeah, sure. Yeah. I mean, one of the aspirations of the project really is to try and sort of go beyond boundaries. Both in terms of genre and in terms of, yeah, audiences, and of course, you know, to try and be as open as possible. And so yeah, we've got quite a lot of material available, which is just, people just wander in, you know, which is really cool. You can't encounter things you weren't expecting to encounter unless they just sort of are happening around you. Yeah, it's a, very sort of open space, the festival, as much as we can possibly make it. Yeah.

BE: Could you talk about the screenings then?

YM: I mean, so the music part of it, we were really interested in interdisciplinary conversations. And then I thought, Okay, well, I want to do something similar with the screenings. But in a way, people have seen the films around at the moment that are doing that, so I thought, okay, I'm going to delve a bit into the past and go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when people were doing the same kind of interdisciplinary work and – in a very different way, of course, but – and so a lot of the films are connected somehow, either through the people working on them. So we have kind of the Charles and Ray Eames doing Elmer Bernstein, but then Charles and Ray Eames also worked with Herbert Matter, and Herbert Matter did the film about Calder, and Calder’s score was done by John Cage, and he also worked with Maya Deren, and Maya Deren's there. So I tried to work it like that: a little map of people who might be working together, and you know, got Shirley Clarke and all these kind of people. And then also I put in the Moog film because I thought, you know, not everybody knows about analogue synthesisers and here's a very great film that is a very good introduction to what's going on in that world. And I thought well, hey, there's so many of these things going on in the festival that why don't we programme this film too. So there are occasional films out there that are slightly different. My favourite film is the Stravinsky film, you have to – have you seen the…? It’s fantastic.

YM: It's Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, who were working at a National Film Board of Canada, and they were they were very innovative filmmakers that were working at the forefront of Direct cinema that was coming out Canada at time, that was very, very fertile ground. And they made this beautiful film about Stravinsky, and about the recording of –it's absolutely brilliant, isn't it? It’s a recording of ‘Symphony of Psalms’. You know, the first half of the film is the recording of ‘Symphony of Psalms’, so you get Stravinsky – this maestro – and this orchestra, who has this adulation in the room, and then you get the guys in the box who are trying to record the thing, who are just like tearing their hair out! And they're going crazy with the whole – and they don't know how to how to talk to Stravinsky, because there he’s the master, but oh my god that was so terrible, that piece. And then you get them on a ship going to – and he's eighty and he's going on a ship to Hamburg, one of his last journeys, and he's talking to Nabokov who is one of his old friends. And they're talking in Russian, and they're talking Italian, and they're talking French, and they're talking about the film crew, and they're having a whiskey and it's just a beautiful film. It's a beautiful film. So yeah, so there's odd ones like that, just films that I absolutely love as well.

BE: And it's interesting because you learnt with [Luciano] Berio, and he makes an appearance in one of the concerts again. A composer that I don't know a lot about, if I'm honest.

MR: Well Berio, yeah, Berio was my teacher, sort of, post grad and ‘Sinfonia’ is an amazing piece. It's in a way, it's like a giant mashup. There's something very contemporary about it. He takes a whole, enormous number of, like, other repertoire works and sort of mashes them together. It's full of quotations. There's a whole movement about Martin Luther King. It's very political. You know, it's a kind of storytelling, social narrative, full of energy. It's a brilliantly made piece of music. And yeah, very influential to me in terms of, you know, ways of thinking about how, you know, music and stories can sort of impact and connect with society. So I really wanted to include that in the festival and it's kind of a monster and if people haven't heard it, I mean, it really does… it will floor you. It's amazing.

BE: It’s the difference between hearing something on record and hearing it live and I think sometimes perhaps the more challenging or the more interesting, or deeper works, you have to really first step inside that concert hall.

MR: Yeah, I mean, the physical presence of those sounds, you know, and the energy coming off the stage. I mean it really makes an impact, I think and, you know, recording is, you know, it's a little bit one dimensional by comparison.

YM: I'm really looking forward to that programme.

MR: Yeah, it's going to be an amazing night.

YM: I'm looking forward to the Ives as well.

BE: Yeah, I was going to mention Charles Ives, I mean, of all the composers he was one that was not appreciated at the time. He was doing something completely, vaguely insane I suppose, you know, in regards to the clashing of harmonies… but now it sounds so modern.

MR: Yes, Ives, he's a really, you know, when people say, you know, use the word ‘visionary’, I mean, that was invented for Charles Ives. I mean, he was a guy working really in pretty much in isolation. And he, you know, developed all kinds of ideas about music, which were, you know, considered to be revolutionary when they were sort of invented, so called, in Vienna, sort of around about the same time. But, you know, here was this guy who was, he really was a sort of an inventor, the unanswered question, which is, you know, you've got three kinds of music coexisting in this space. You know, it's really, really bizarre. You have the kind of the string sort of background radiation, and the sort of odd interjections from the winds, and then this sort of really sort of mysterious trumpet motif, which bears no relationship to anything anyone's ever heard before. And yeah, he wrote this in 1907 or ‘08. I mean, it's extraordinarily modern, and it's kind of architectural thinking, everything about it. And then of course, he you know, put it in a drawer for 30 years and didn't hear it. I mean, it's an amazing sort of origin story of an amazing piece.

BE: And the last thing on that programme is the Reich.

MR: The ‘Tehillim’, yeah. Well, I mean, that piece is, I mean, it's just a, it's a masterpiece, right? I mean, it's extraordinary. We were talking about this earlier. And I was thinking about, you know, I mean, it is a setting of the Psalms, you know, so we're used to the idea of, you know, liturgical music as this kind of solemn, sort of dusty thing, either from the past or, you know, deadly serious 20th century music. I guess the only, you know, going back over the last sort of twenty years or so, the only really notable composer that sort of, you know, made an impact would be Arvo Part, whose music is, you know, it's sublime, but it is very, very sort of, in a way sort of low energy. It's sort of ritual music in a way. Whereas the Reich has got, it's sort of really groovy – and it's got a sort of ecstatic-ness, you know, which we just don't have that in religious music.

BE: I love the fact that there's this there's some real burning talents on this bill.

MR: Yeah, that's right. I mean, obviously, Jlin and Kaitlyn are sort of, you know, have sort of come through in the last couple of years.

BE: Next, I spoke to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: For me, voice is my main instrument, even though I'm not a singer, I would never, I would never classify myself as a vocalist, but it's the instrument that's always with me. That's where everything starts, is I always begin with just something that's in my head, and then I sing it and then I figure out what instruments gonna have it what's the notation or like, then I create the MIDI and then I decide, like, where's that gonna go or I play it on the instrument. But a lot of times when I'm travelling, I just really record a lot of different vocal tracks and then figure out where the instruments, like how they're gonna fit in. Yeah, it really depends.

KAS: A lesson that I learned when, and that I'm still learning all the time and I, that I hope to always hold on to, this lesson is trying to be objective about what I'm making so that it's kind of like gardening where I'm like, ‘What can I do to make this, you know, have the best conditions to grow’. So it's less about my personal attachment to it, and then that just makes it more comfortable for when there are moments where it's like, ‘oh, no, I have to start all over’ because it's, you know, it's not going in the right direction. This is a reference, that is something that my husband and I have been watching recently, which you might get a kick out of, because I guess a lot of Americans are watching right now, but the Great British Bake Off. I love how that hosts go around and they're like, ‘It's just a cake, don't worry, it's just a cake’.

And I feel like that's kind of the attitude that I'm hoping to have with creativity, it’s like, be passionate and love it and devoted to it. But also remember that it's just, you know, it's just this piece of music. It's not everything.

BE: You're like a mad magician, for a better phrase, when you're performing live across all the different keyboards and loops and sounds.

KAS: I hope I'm not mad. I mean, I love movement. It's been a lot of fun to like, think about that each time that I'm making the new live set of like, oh, what are all the gestures, and then it feels like this fun playground to just like, learn the language of gestures, which, you know, aren't, separate from like the sound being made, but just like for instance, in the live set currently, I have a foot pedal that does a lot of different things and so that creates this gesture of like ‘move my leg’, and then it's a more vertical setup rather than horizontal, so I have like this motion of up and down, and then there's like a cross, and then there's patching like a lot of patching in the current set. And then I play a lot of the rhythms with my thumb and my feet, and then there’s singing. And so there's, like, a lot of fun gestures to play around with.

BE: Speaking about the upcoming performance at the Barbican, it's an audio-visual performance. Could you talk a little about the visual side of what you'll be doing?

KAS: Yeah, I love the visuals for this set so much. My husband made them who, he also made the last visuals with another friend – it was a collaboration on the last one. The way that they're working in this live set they're talking to each other through MIDI so they're perfectly synced up. That's all I'm gonna say.

BE: Finally, Jlin.

Jlin: I basically, I mean, I started at the end of 2007. It started as something, you know, I was trying to do and then it escalated into something that I was actually doing. Planet Mu had reached out to me in 2010, late 2010, early 2011 with the last track I had done ‘Erotic Heat’ and they wanted it on the compilation’ Bangs and Works Vol. 2’. That's kind of how it sparked. That's something I've been talking about, you know, how my career was with me actually music-wise, just started off just something I was trying, like somebody had given me a not so legal version of FL studios and I, just that's how it started. And then it just kind of went from there.

J: The first person who listens to every track I do is my mother. Everything. So before the world hears it, my mother hears everything, so, and it is still the same. It's still the same way. I build everything from scratch. So building everything from scratch like that, it depends, like, I start in the percussion section, sometimes it starts with a certain sound or, you know, a bell or you know, something like that. Like I love bells, Tibetan bells. I love the hand drum. You know, I love different, I love the marimba, you know, different sounds. It all depends. Or sometimes it could be something, the sound of a chainsaw – like I have a very, very broad hearing of sound. There are certain tracks, like a broad perspective of going from like, a ‘Carbon 12’ or a ‘Blue i’ to like, a ‘Guantanamo’. Like for me, you know, it's just, it's a very broad, very changing direction. I think versatility is really important.

BE: Let's move on to dance more generally, before this you have worked with the Wayne McGregor company.

J: Yeah. Wayne, working with Wayne McGregor, that's like, that’s family. Wayne accepted me like, I was family. Working with him is like, you learn so much from Wayne because Wayne has, he's so direct and to the point. I met him at the end of 2016 in Chicago and the, we didn't even jump into the work when we first met, we just we wanted to get to know each other. ‘What is it that you do? What is it that you're looking for you?’ And, you know, when I did look, I wasn't starstruck by Wayne and Wayne wasn't, you know, falling all over me. It was really two artists sat down and said, ‘How we're going to make our worlds merge?’ I thank him because he allowed me to do something that nobody has ever done before. But he allowed me to express something that I always had inside of me that nobody had ever heard. You'll hear though, in October. He just he let me like, actually score because I knew I could, but I had never done it. So like, I wasn't working within, of course, the BPM that I would normally work in like a 157 or 155 or, you know, whatever, 161 or whatever, I literally, this was like maybe 119 110. You know, I was actually really doing something I had never done and so, like, the world will get to hear it. You know, so.

BE: What will you be presenting at the Barbican, could you tell us more about that?

J: Nope, I don't talk about that! You just have to show up. [laughs]

BE: But it's a new dance piece. Can we say that?

J: Yeah, you could say it's a new dance piece, but I don't talk about it. You just show up and then you can critique it later. Now, this is something different, this is something entirely different. This is something that we actually had, with a totally different dance… I'll tell who was involved? If you ever saw my video ‘Unknown Tongues’, Lillian Steiner, she's involved. So I'll say that. This is a totally different thing.

BE: When we return for our second exploration of what was the Sounds and Visions weekend, we speak to director Ari Folman and Chineke! Orchestra founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku about award winning Israeli animated war documentary ‘Waltz with Bashir’. Ari Folman: ‘I think it's much more than all the separate elements you have in it.’

BE: I'm Ben Eshmade. Thanks for listening to this archive edition of the podcast. Subscribe to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts. And if you can, leave us a review to help us get the word out.


Transcript (part 2)

Ben Eshmade: Hello and welcome to Nothing Concrete, the Barbican podcast here to help inspire more people to discover and love the arts. I'm Ben Eshmade and this week we're delving once again into our archive, looking back to May 2018 and Sounds and Visions, curated by composer Max Richter, and artist Yulia Mahr, and with them I'm exploring the meeting point between sound, vision, literature, dance, and film.

Max Richter: You know, everything connects to everything I think, in terms of creativity.

Yulia Mahr: I love the fact that it's such an adventure. I love Max's curiosity and the fact that every everything is an experiment and journey.

BE: on the second of two podcasts. We speak to director Ari Folman.

Ari Folman: I think all films are very personal. And I think whatever you do in a film, you close a circle in your life.

BE: And musician and founder of the Chineke! Orchestra, Chi-chi Nwanoku.

Chi-chi Nwanoku: As I walked back to Waterloo station, I kind of looked to my right and to my left and then I and I said, ‘No, no, it's me. I've got to do something about that’.

BE: They’ll be speaking about the live score performance of animated documentary ‘Waltz with Bashir’. First, though, Max and Yulia continued our conversation.

MR: I mean, every project, every idea has its hinterland. And actually, you know, that's one of the most interesting things about it, you know, where's it come from? How is it joined up with other things? And yeah, both in the music programme and the film programme, you know, we've tried to, you know, draw out those lineages. I think Caterina Barbieri, I think, is a really interesting, sort of, quite tough-minded, sort of, analogue synth person, really, I’m really looking forward to that. Claire M Singer, organ music, that'll be interesting. I think Colin Stetson’s new project’ EX EYE’…

BE: Oh yeah.

MR: Which I…

BE: That’s gonna be loud.

MR: That is gonna be loud. That is going to be loud. I don't think they’ve played in the UK before, Roomful of Teeth haven't played in the UK before either, right?

YM: The first time the ‘Partita’s – I couldn’t believe it – it’s the first time the ‘Partita’s have been performed in the UK.

MR: So yeah, so lots of lots of new and or at least unknown things coming up, so, exciting.

BE: We've touched on synthesisers, obviously Kaitlyn, but there's also the Will Gregory and the Moog Ensemble. The ‘Switched-On Bach’ albums, I presume are quite important for you.

MR: Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, I mean, I, look, you know, I'm, I'm a synthesiser junkie, I freely admit. And you know, I did it, I heard those records and I was just like, ‘Oh that’s amazing, it's crazy.’ I mean, they're sort of, they're kind of, in a way, like a lot of early electronic music, they sort of hover between incredible and kind of cheesy, you know, in the way that some of the Kraftwerk stuff is sort of deliberately sort of a bit clunky or funny. You know, there's always a slight sort of twinkle of humour about it, and I think some of the ‘Switched-On Bach’ is a bit like that as well. And I mean, apart from the fact that they, you know, they're amazingly played, very clever, huge amount of effort went into them. But yeah, I loved those records when I was a kid.

YM: You know that I programmed the ‘Powers of Ten’ because you liked it as a kid as well.

MR: Right? Okay.

YM: Thinking of you as a ten-year old, with your ‘Switched-On Bach’, it was also ‘Powers of Ten’.

MR: Right, well, that films amazing, but actually the score is utterly bizarre. It’s an Elmer Bernstein electronic score, wow, his only electronic score and you might think for a good reason, you know, because it's just like it's just like really… it’s a really strange score.

YM: You know though that Charles Eames said about the film that he wanted a ten-year old to be able to appreciate the film, and that made me think about you and how much you’d loved it, as a ten-year old

MR: Yeah, I did. [film clip]

BE: Do you see barriers, again, in regards to both your artwork? In regards to who should see them? I mean, there's an interesting concert at the end of the series where your [Barbican] Box I think, has been travelling around schools and that looks like, whether that, that will be the most revolutionary part of the festival?

MR: Well, I hope so. I mean, it's been really interesting that. So the Barbican Box project, of which this is the, sort of, latest iteration, is a wonderful idea where you basically get to make, to get a box and fill it with stuff which you think will catalyse, sort of, young people to make creative work, to make music. And so we just filled it with stuff. And the kids have come along with some amazing responses to that. Very personal, and… great, you know, so exciting. We're going to see all these performances, of their own work, made in response to this material we put in the box. So I mean, yeah, it's a thrill.

YM: And we're so excited about that bit, aren’t we? Because we both arrived in this country as children who didn't speak English and we both were fairly, sort of, ostracised at our respective schools because of that. I was nine I think when I, eight or nine, I came to this country and Max was a bit younger, but we both found refuge in our art teachers or music teachers, and who kind of allowed us to just survive, in a way, that experience.

And obviously, we've talked about that a lot in our, you know, conversations over the years, but what was so beautiful about this project in a way is it's talking about that too, you know, it's letting the kids tell their personal stories, some of which will have been similar to ours, or much more difficult stories, perhaps. Literally music and art saved me when I was a child and allowed me to survive, and I think that's the thing that's so rich and to read or to see art about other people's personal journeys.

BE: That possibly unifies a lot of artists on this, on the weekend, in the sense that you don't necessarily need all this information about them. You just need to walk into the concert and you will soon get a reaction to what they're producing.

MR: Yeah, I mean, that's the wonderful thing, isn't it about creative work, it has a kind of a directness, it's a one to one conversation. And, you know, if people come in, you know, without preconceptions, you get these wonderful surprises, don't you? And I think there's something, there's something very kind of authentic and fundamental about, about sort of, that creative response, that creative conversation, which is, yeah, I mean, it's one of the sort of richest experiences we can have as human beings.

BE: I wanted to mention ‘Waltz with Bashir’, you've obviously done a lot of, now, film music and film associations.

MR: Yeah. I mean I, at that time, I hadn't scored any films. And this was really a sort of cold call from Ari [Folman]. You know, he sent me an email, ‘I've written’, you know, ‘I've written this film, I've been listening to your music, now you've got to score the film’. But they sent me, Ari sent me a trailer, which he'd cut together of about 90 seconds of animation and I was just floored you know, I thought it was spectacular. And obviously you know then I invested in reading the script and coming to an understanding of the themes and of the storytelling language. I just thought it was really a masterpiece and you know, obviously something I wanted to do.

[film clip]

BE: Director of ‘Waltz with Bashir’, Ari Folman.

Ari Folman: I think all films are very personal and I think whatever you do in a film, you close a circle in your life. Even, it can be very much related to you, like this film is like autobiography, okay, so it's about me, but this is a rare example. It's like how many films are told like this one? It's always personal, any kind of filmmaking is personal, in my opinion.

AF: I, when I ever do movies, I always try to open my mind as much as I can and not come with the concept, not go in like with strict ideas of what I want to do. So basically, I advertise on the internet that I'm looking for stories. This was, there were stories from the first Lebanon War, because since then there was another one. And from the first three months, and I got a response from more than 400 ex-soldiers, and I got some unbelievable stories. It took a year to record and hear everybody and then I just, I thought that the only way to deal with it was to do it on a very personal level. And I eliminated like 95% of the material, just to stay with the people that gave me one strict story to deal with. I always knew it was going to be animated anyhow. Before I started I already took the decision it was going to be animated.

BE: The animation you mentioned there, what does that bring?

AF: The animation gives you a great opportunity to deal with the subject of memory. Of dreams and dimensions; conscious, subconscious; loss, fears; and still stay focused. I'm sure that we wouldn't be sitting here talking if it wasn't an animated movie. It will never grab the attention. And it was just a good language, I think to treat the subject like this. First, we thought about the colours that will dictate the entire movie. And we decided it's going to be orange and dark colours and black, from the, what we call the super scene, which is the dream about Beirut. And this dictated the entire atmosphere of the movie. From there on, you know, it was just making the movie, but we knew the feeling very early, from a very early stage.

AF: It’s the most simple software that you can find, especially back then. It's like, it's Flash, you know, every kid could download it and do his tricks on it. And we manage with six animators and basically one designer to make a feature film that went all the way to the American Oscars. So, I think we were on the wave of an invention because we come from a society in a country where there is no tradition at all of animation, nothing. And we were like pioneers, and it's good because we don't have a path to follow at all. And you feel very, very free to do all the tests you want to do.

BE: I need to move on to the music. What brought Max Richter into the picture?

AF: Well, I wrote this script… it's like, unbelievable, but I wrote it in four days. I went to Haifa in the Galilee and I had the research and I knew what I wanted to do, and I wrote the script. During that period of time, that few days, I don't know why, but I listened only to a couple of Max Richter, the albums I had back then. It was 2004, I think it was, ‘The Blue Notebook’ and ‘Memoryhouse’. Basically, he was writing the score for the screenplay, although he never knew it, right? because I was deeply influenced from this. When I finished it, I looked looked for him on the internet. He had a website that I wrote in this very short letter, that I'm an Israeli filmmaker, and I told him the story, probably sounds really, really stupid. And I told him since you conducted the music for the for the script, maybe you want to write the music for the entire movie. And he said something, ‘Yeah, why not?’ So I said, ‘Okay, can we meet?’ He said, ‘Yeah, come over, I’m in Edinburgh’. And we never spoke, by the way, never by the phone, nothing. I took a plane and I went to Edinburgh and we met and this was the first time we met. We set a few days, with the animatics, the video boards, there was no animation, back then. And it was like, very easy. It was like love from first sight, like really easy. He did the sketches in two, three weeks. He recorded it, like at the end of the process and it was like a really fantastic collaboration for me.

MR: It was interesting because obviously I'd never really had any intention of working in film. So I had –not at all – and so I had no idea how to do it really. So, it was an interesting sort of lab process, you know, me sort of basically finding out how to write music for a film by writing music for a film. And it was a wonderful sort of collaborative journey actually.

YM: Didn't you get, didn't Ari come over? You guys spent four days talking about Bob Dylan that was the sum-total of the spotting session, which is never, nowadays spotting sessions don’t happen like that, do they?

MR: It was, I mean, Ari is a cool guy, you know, and we just yeah, we went out and you know, had some beer and we were just sort of chatting and then that was it, you know. It was it was great.

BE: And interesting because the Chineke! Orchestra will be performing that as well.

MR: I mean, I became aware of Chineke! I guess a couple years ago, something like that, when they started, and I mean, they're a fantastic orchestra and, you know, just, you know, really first division band on that score. It should be really interesting.

BE: Next I spoke to Chi-chi Nwanoku. Chi-chi Nwanoku: It comes from the east of Nigeria, the southeast of Nigeria, the Igbo people. It's an Igbo word, the Igbo people in their language, the word ‘chi’ means God or guardian, and they believe that every single person on the earth has their own unique Guardian that guides you from your cradle to the coffin. ‘Neke’ means the creation of all good things. Even the rain, the trees, the grass, and all diverse aspects. And therefore, ‘Chi-neke’ together kind of means the spirit of all good creation. And it's used often in the Igbo language as a real exclamation of something amazing. When something alarming or amazing happens. Or sort of a gasp of excitement, they might say ‘Chi-neke!’, and that's why I've always had the explanation mark after the word, to sort of lift it.

BE: Was there one particular moment where you decided you needed to form this orchestra? Or was it a feeling, something that grew inside you?

CN: A bit of both? For the answer to that question. Of course, I'd been aware that I operated as a sort of single entity as far as ethnicity was concerned in classical music and in orchestras, throughout my entire career. I was going to hear the Kinshasa Orchestra from the Congo, playing at the Africa Utopia Festival at the Royal Festival Hall in September 2014. As I walked back to Waterloo station at afterwards, I kind of looked to my right and to my left, and then I and I said, ‘No, no, it's me. I've got to do something about that.’ The Monday morning, I was on the phone to everyone: Southbank, Barbican, government, British Council, Conservatoires UK; and I just announced that I was going to create an organisation that actually tackled this issue of the lack of visibility of people of black and minority ethnic in our sector of the creative industries. And that's, so Chineke! Really, literally, went off in my head at that concert.

CN: One of the things that several people have said to me, how did you recruit? Well, I got to know people, you know, some of the people in the orchestra are international soloists, you know, like Ty Murray, who's leading – in fact, she led the first concert – she's leading ‘Waltz with Bashir’ as well. I knew of her, she's American, and she now lives in Berlin. So, I had one or two people that I kind of knew, but they didn't live in England, I hadn't ever played with them before. I recognised right from the start that the Chineke! Orchestra, the professional orchestra, was going to do something right at the very beginning, which would kind of challenge the status quo. And at the same time, immediately change perceptions of whoever comes to hear the concert, will see the concert as well, won’t have seen an orchestra looking like this before.

You know, there were 62 musicians in our very first concert, and we represented 31 nationalities, and it looks largely People of Colour, it’s majority people of colour; but you know, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Caribbean islands, African countries, I'm Nigerian/Irish, you know, born in England, and so, there's so many combinations amongst us. So many mixtures, no one section, or even no one stand is from the same ethnic background. With Chineke!, from our very first concert, we knew we'd sold out, but I didn't know who was going to be in the audience and walking out onto the stage for the first time in my life, playing Beethoven and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Brahms, we were faced with a packed out hall, of an audience that looks like the community that we live in.

MR: I think they again, obviously, sort of embody this idea of creativity and this being a social project. Those two things sort of going hand in hand and I guess we felt this was an ideal opportunity to give them a different kind of platform, you know? Because they've done a lot of traditional repertoire and they've sort of played proms and stuff like that. So this was a way to, yeah, connect them into, you know, a different kind of situation, and also, I mean, for us, it's wonderful to have, you know, a really first division band on that score. It’s going to be really interesting.

YM: I think it's going to be, because they're not the original band, it's going to be so interesting to see what they bring to the score because obviously, it's going to sound very different from the original band, who were kind of quite under your instruction at the time, and you were quite on it, and now you're going to be sitting in the audience just watching the band take over and…

MR: Well, yeah. I mean, you say original band, but I mean, they're almost, I mean, there were five instrumentalists on the score for ‘Waltz with Bashir’, because there was no money, it was like no money at all. So it's basically just me sweating with the samplers for like months on end trying to make this, trying to make it sound like I’m about 80 players. So yeah, so I mean, it’s always really nice.

YM: They’re up against the machines!

MR: It's always really nice to hear it. Well we played it live a couple of times and it's wonderful to hear it with real players, yeah.

YM: I was thinking about memories of what, especially for me, are being incredibly poor and having no money and trying to raise two kids on no money in a composer’s, you know, existence, in a Napster era. It was just, like, hellish, wasn't it?

BE: You are very fortunate that your music has caught on. That it is now, it's everywhere, to a certain extent, and which is a beautiful thing. But you have, like this festival, you have been given a platform, so you're not I presume you're not taking that for granted?

MR: No way. No, I mean, it's a huge privilege to be in the position I'm in, you know, I mean it's, to be able to pursue your enthusiasms and just sort of make work and have people hear it at all, to be honest, is incredible. And I sort of still kind of can't quite believe that that's going on. And I mean, I've sort of always felt a little bit there is a sort of, there's a kind of a psychological ecology or something, a principle? That, you might you might call it that, to do with, like, trying to put things out that you can stand behind from sort of every aspect, you know, not just the kind of musical aesthetic aspect, but maybe the sort of social political aspect as well. And that's informed a lot of the choices I've made in terms of you know, cinema projects, I mean, that you know, from ‘Waltz’ to sort of ‘Wadjda’ to ‘Lore’, all these sorts of projects, which have a kind of social dimension, ‘Miss Sloan’, you know, all these kinds of things. That's always part of it. But yeah, I mean, in general, it's always a kind of a bit of a miracle that people are listening to be honest.

MR: You know, we're always just listening to stuff and exploring. I mean, that's the great thing about, you know, working in some creative disciplines is that it's always just experiments, you know, you don't really know where you're going. I mean, that's the nice thing about it, though.

YM: You have quite an internal journey with music, don't you? It's really about, a lot of your music is about, your own life and your own journey and I mean, you have music going on your head the whole time. That's quite… we’ve programmed people who aren't like you.

MR: You know, everything connects to everything, I think in terms of creativity, and you know, these are all things that I'm enthusiastic about, or love, or I've always wanted to hear, or I'm curious about and I mean that sort of curiosity is really the thing that drives us I would say. You know about… and sort of making connections, you know. There all sorts of strands in in the festival, from, you know, the idea of, you know, the synthesiser which is a kind of a lab, to other stuff like, you know, there's a lot of Bach sort of hovering around one way or another, or we've got, you know, music and image collisions, you know, like, ‘Waltz With Bashir’ or what Clark has done for the Stan Brakhage [Dog Star Man]. There's all kinds of…

YM: Obviously, as artists, we're all living through this time, aren't we? This very taxing time, physically. And it's about what do you do about that? I mean, obviously, you can make art about these social situations which Max has been doing for twenty-odd years, but there's also living as an artist and kind of living what you believe in and I think everybody has to take that stand. You know, we believe in, in a society of acceptance and diversity as a fact, I mean, how can you even question it? And this festival is also about that somehow, it's also about, you know – like there are young people, there are older people , there are more established people, there are people coming up, you know, there are all sorts of connections and all sorts of variety.

BE: And are they on an equal level as well?

YM: Absolutely, because of course it should be on an equal level. I mean, that's what amazes me that people think that it shouldn't be on an equal level somehow. And I think traditionally all art forms, there's been a lot of kind of, ‘that's bad, that's good. That's bad, that's good,’ and a kind of differentiation: ‘I'm on this camp, and I'm on that camp’. And, well, maybe there was a space and time for that, I never really believed in that, but maybe there's a space and time for that, but now there isn't really, I mean, you have to really live with what you believe and as artists, and I think most artists do, but I believe in, you know, in equality and…

MR: You know, people don't encounter work via categories. I don't think anyone wants to think of themselves as limited, you know, ‘I only like this, or I only like that’. Or, you know, I mean, actually people just, you know, naturally sort of go beyond boundaries, they pursue their enthusiasms, they get into stuff that they love. And it's, you know, that's, you can't, like, prescribe that and I think that's, you know, one of the, sort of, points, I guess, the programme is making is it's very broad. It's very interdisciplinary. It's got a lot of, you know, sort of jumpy stuff in it, which hopefully will sort of provoke, you know, and I think that's part of it too.

BE: If you enjoyed this podcast do go back and listen to the first edition, which alongside the curators, I chatted with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Jlin.

Jlin: He thinks before he writes, if I had to say. Or I should say, he really thinks before he puts it out. I think it takes, it takes wisdom to write in that manner.

BE: I hope you enjoyed those interviews. So I've been living with Max's music for such a long time, it's hard to imagine a world without those violin melodies, organ arpeggios, or the slow reverberating bass drum sound. Back in the early 2000s, it made me realise there could be a new kind of classical music: one that was exhilarating, emotional and highly addictive.

I'm Ben Eshmade, thanks for listening to this archive edition of the podcast. Subscribe to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts. And if you can, leave us a review to help us get the word out.

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