I’ve never experienced a residency like this before, and I can’t imagine myself lucky enough to find another – it is truly in a land of its own.
In short, I’m creating music with the LSO and the National Trust in response to the breathtaking home of the late Khadambi Asalache at 575 Wandsworth Road – a polymath who wrote poetry, worked in the Treasury, was the son of a Kenyan chieftan, and, over thirty years, filled every wall of his house on Wandsworth road with self-made intricate wooden fretwork.
Khadambi’s companion, Susie Thomson, initiated this two-year residency as an LSO Patron, and generously hosted its launch on Monday. We projected images of the exquisite fretwork into her basket-weaving studio, and there enjoyed scones while hearing from the perspectives of LSO Discovery and National Trust on this pioneering scheme.
Tom Norris, one of the finest violinists around, had only just got back from an LSO tour in Hamburg and kindly premièred the piece I wrote for him to kickstart the residency, based on Khadambi’s poetry. I set my mum’s Ferrograph reel-to-reel tape player turning to provide a drone for Tom. It was created from a recording of actor-director Seta White reading The Cave Painter in Khadambi’s study.
The Cave Painter
an hour passed
a week passed
a year passed.
Then one day he
heard far off
a secret struggle;
an outline on
the far horizon
an animal horn.
He touched it
with his brush
suddenly a startled
it's way through
the fresh paint.
Like with the electro-acoustic process of I am Sitting in a Room by Alvin Lucier, I played this recorded poem back into the room, and recorded that sound, over and over, until the resonance of his study settled on pitches. My score for Tom moved around these frequencies and shapes, gradually increasing in hiss and harmonics with the tape.
The tape texture thickened with recordings of Khadambi’s thumb-piano (mbira), which he kept to the side of his writing desk, under a shelf of LPs.
Once the pitches on violin and tape had narrowed to a single-tone ebb, the Ferrograph concluded with A Poet, by Khadambi.
The music was so ‘new’ I’d hurriedly recycled the tape from my previous residency at Handel House. By mistake, I hadn’t fully wiped it, so the gentle voice of Jimi Hendrix suddenly burst into my Cave Painting piece without warning! I wonder how this shy resident of Brook Street would have felt about upstaging an intimate concert for the LSO.
Anyway, these two poems inspired my first steps into Khadambi’s house, and encouraged patience in creativity. The time spent recording and experimenting in Khadambi’s creative space, with gradual results, followed the very process expressed in his words. I love his illustration of how a fresh idea, like a startled deer, can leap forward after a long time waiting; and how an idea can be transported, like air from another time and place entirely, by the vehicle of writing. It was a calming, focussed afternoon I spent there, and while waiting to record each loop I noticed a new painting on the wall, a new carved corner, and a new place for my music to find inspiration and residence.
Back at home, writing the violin part for Cave Painting, I took breaks to decorate a wardrobe, applying my interpretation of Khadambi’s approach of subtlety and space to my amateur brushwork - leaving gaps to ‘refresh’ the eye… However, when a loved-one returned home to see my masterpiece of colour and door-knobs, they unwisely said “It’ll be great when it’s finished”! Perhaps I should stick to music and words for now.
Exploring Khadambi’s words is providing both a direct and abstract way to get to know his ideas and influences, and it is powering my next steps following the launch.
I’m creating music for a series of workshops with the LSO players this year to develop new ways for me to respond to his work, and introduce new audiences to the National Trust’s tours of the house. The first two workshops will set Khadambi’s poetry for community choirs and LSO players, with guests Seta White, and violinist Levon Chilingirian.
The next workshop will expand on my electronic experiments, as I plan to create a fretwork installation for visitors to the house to interact with. And at the end of the first year, there’ll be an open showcase where I’ll try out some ‘eyemusic’ scores for the LSO players. I’ve spent the last few years developing scores where traditional notation is dictated by physical structures on the manuscript paper – such as windows cut through the the staves in the form of the Georgian facade of Handel House (my last residency) to reveal fragments of the movements beneath, causing subtle shifts in material.
So with much to look forward to, it leaves me to thank Susie Thomson, Claire Mattison, Maria Devaney, Guy Jones, Chris Rogers for coordinating the launch, and the kind volunteers who helped carry all my unnecessary ‘back-up’ equipment (we’re talking spare amps, a suitcase of a cables, even an emergency harp!). Special thanks to Tom Norris for bringing so many great ideas to my sketches, and capturing the space with such sensitivity.
If you tune into the LSO Soundhub show on Resonance FM this Sunday noon, I’ll play some recordings of the event, and a film will follow…
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, March 2015
Photos: Kevin Leighton, Jo Johnson (The Cave Painter manuscript), Barrie Wentzell (Hendrix) and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (eyemusic)