Manu Delago interview
Hailed as a ‘sensitive and masterful musician’ (The Telegraph), virtuoso Hang player Manu Delago makes his debut in the Eclectica series on 28 March 2012 fresh from Björk’s Biophilia tour and an appearance on Later with Jools Holland. A Hang is made from two deep drawn, coated steel sheets and produces a mesmerising, shimmering sound. Manu talks to Isla Jeffrey about what it’s like playing and composing for such a strikingly unusual instrument.
How did you find touring with Björk?
The Biophilia project is not like a conventional tour, more like residencies in various cities. We stayed in Manchester for five weeks doing concerts there, and then we played nine concerts in Reykjavik. Next year we'll do residencies in other cities and also some festivals around the world. I've been a Björk fan for many years, so it's pretty amazing to work with her now. It's great how she manages to be in total control of her art and still leave a lot of space for the other musicians’ expression and input. Apart from Björk and a female choir, there are only 2 musicians on stage, so she keeps us quite busy during the show! For me it's great to be in a challenging project where I can play the Hang, but also have the chance to play acoustic and electronic drums, xylosynth and other percussion.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to your duo ‘Living Room’ [with bass clarinettist Christoph Pepe Auer] and extracts from your album, ‘Colouring Book’. What was your thinking behind choosing to actually record in people’s living rooms?
Our very first concert five years ago took place in a living room and we love the atmosphere and sound of small gigs. We enjoy playing at various festivals and bigger venues around the world but the more you amplify the quiet instruments, the more they lose their soft quality and exquisite detail. So for 'Colouring Book' we went back to the living room idea and offered private concerts to our mailing list recipients. They had to apply with photos and a short letter and then we picked our favourite seven living rooms, and travelled there with a sound, light and camera team!
You play such a great range of music in every possible genre; I especially loved your cover of Smells like Teen Spirit! What would you say was the quirkiest arrangement you’ve ever made for Hang?
Because there simply wasn’t any music written for Hang, I started composing for it. At some point I also started arranging music, just to challenge myself and to get out of my own compositional habits. Our Hang & Bass Clarinet Megahits are quite popular on YouTube. We’ve enjoyed making all the arrangements, from Bach, Beatles to Beyoncé but the most fun cover we’ve made so far is probably John Cage's 4'33"– we are actually in the middle of a public vote for part 10 of the series!
You’re clearly just as active a composer as you are player, writing works for Hang, marimba and even ‘acoustic toothbrushes’. Firstly, what is an ‘acoustic toothbrush’? And secondly, what’s the strangest object or ‘non-instrument’ you’ve written for?
It’s just that there are two kinds of toothbrushes: electric and acoustic – we’ll be performing the acoustic toothbrush piece in March so you can come and find out for yourself! I find it inspiring to write for 'non-instruments' like pencils, paper, dice, windup nuns and other toys, whereas I find it ‘strange’ or maybe rather, just difficult to compose a piece for solo violin, mainly because as a composer I'm always trying to be unique. I want to write and play interesting music, giving the audience a concert experience that they haven't seen before. Often 'non-instruments' create interesting effects or simply entertain musicians and listeners but everything has to have limits, so I'm trying to get the right balance in my work.
What are you most looking forward to about your Eclectica concert at LSO St Luke’s?
The first note played by the LSO strings, ‘bowed with no bow’.
If someone wasn’t sure whether or not to come to your concert, what would you say to persuade them?
Go on YouTube and type in my name. If you like it, come along. If you don't, send all your enemies!
Manu Delago and Friends appear at LSO St Luke's on 28 March 2012