Thursday, 21 October 2010

Writing & Sound Workshops

Tired but glad to have seen the amazing Mid and North Devon countryside on the way there and back, we've just finished another set of sound and writing and storytelling by sound workshops for a Science of Sound Week at a school in Woolsery near Bideford. The workshops went well, although the age group which mine was aimed at didn't seem to get the hang of it as well as the last class with whom we hosted the workshop. However, for the soundscapes part, some participants did come up with some very poetic suggestions - sounds that reminded them of time travel, museum exhibits coming alive at night time, roundabouts moving by themselves at midnight, zombies emerging from the grounds of a haunted house, the stars twinkling, going cosmic in worlds dancing, and other striking visual images called up by the sounds. The maximum number of words collected was 85 - and mighty pleased with themselves that participant was! very justifiably. Deor's workshop was something of a triumph, as while tailored for younger pupils, it was not intended for those who could not yet read nor write! so when some six year olds came in, he had to think on his feet! But we found ways to help them along, and out of the groups creating sound tableaux, 'when dinosaurs roamed the earth' was an absolute winner! I had had no idea what they were going to try and recreate the sounds of, but guessed from the large creature noises followed by the chopping and cracking of bones as they ate small mammals! Also brilliant were the group that chose 'inside a volcano' - the rushing lava and explosions were just great. The other thing that probably impressed me most was the distinction between normal footsteps and the sound of footfalls on stairs!
   Both these workshops run risks - the noise based one that of descending into cacophony, if everyone starts making their own noise without regard to others, and/or gets sound confused too much with movement and so thinks that acting or movement will do just as well. The sound words one, always risks the participants using films, serials, videos and readymade imaginings instead of using their own inner eyes. But we each think that these risks are worth running, because - as well as managing to keep in check both the 'not listening to others becoming too obsessed with one's own noise' and the 'giving readymade visuals as examples without using one's own brains' phenomena - when participants do come up with incredibly clever and convincing sound tableaux or beautiful and unusual poem-sentences or descriptive fragments/quirky word suggestions, it's very rewarding, and you can see it expanding their conceptual base when it comes to new ways of looking at sound, whether for communication, paying attention to the world around them, or for literary, accuracy of terms and making better definitions to identify the world around them and the ideas which it evokes and inspires. So another successful day's work - and the trees on the way, all gold among the still deep greens, and blue washed sky with grey smear flying saucer clouds and a delicious bronzy gold antique old masters long low slanting light of sun, reminded me of nothing so much as our colours workshops...

Thanks to the Head teacher for finding us such an excellent speaker for the sounds, our workshop assistant and most of all to Yolande of Bideford College for booking us yet again.   

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Word Command at Epicentre Book Cafe

It was a really good night at the Word Command spoken word evening held at the Epicentre Book Cafe, hosted by Bryce Dumont. We were headlining, and so did something ambitious - i.e. tried to showcase a whole range of different genres and styles that we did. Well, when Bryce chose publicity images, he chose one of each! So we started off with storytelling, doing one of our trademark tales for an adult audience, with cloaks, helm, staff, tricorn hat etc., and then followed with a narrative poem of mine. For our second set, we mixed contemporary American fiction as monologue, Stand Up Philosophy and performance poetry. The Stand Up Philosopher doing Marx, followed by a new piece from the forthcoming 'Book of Convictions' (by me) then an early geometric poem (both referring obliquely to the pieces before and after - as the first Philosophy piece referred to Martin Luther, and the poem to Martin Luther King, and the second piece was from Spinoza, and so written as geometric proofs!). And finally condensed axioms from Ethics by the said Spinoza. Having started off with a contemporary American story (see a previous blog on 'Performing Contemporary American Fiction') performed by myself as a monologue, to begin with. So were showcasing; storytelling, stand up philosophy, monologue, and three types of poetry - narrative/monologue/confessional (though I don't exactly like that term, but it conveys something) speech style, satire/declamatory and literary/geometric. All performed, the last with movement as part of the poem. Several different 'heads' were involved! which I always find strangely difficult, but it paid off, they all went down well, and we got a lot of laughs for the storytelling and prose fiction, and many kind compliments. 'Beautiful', 'wonderful', 'fantastic' and 'brilliant' mainly, which made it feel definitely worth the effort!
   Also performing were the excellent Susan Taylor with a new collection concerning Pixies! Simon Williams being very witty, and the fluid Jennie Osborne with a mixture of compelling words and movement, among others. Bryce served hot soup, coffee and cakes, and the Epicentre Book Cafe is a lovely venue - full of books of course, knitted cakes (!), pictures, it's bright, airy and friendly. Bryce got everyone to contribute to a group sound poem, which once finished, he performed really well to both laughter and acclaim. Also tributes to poets whom he had admired and who had recently passed away.
   I had to buy a lovely travel journal with a cover of antique maps, and all in all it was a really good night.
   Huge thanks to Bryce, for inviting us and hosting the evening with such aplomb, and cooking for everyone! and to Susan, Simon and Jennie for being so good to perform with - long live the Epicentre Book Cafe! It deserves the rave reviews which its gathering.

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Second Radio Show

Corks! (as they say in old teen novels of the 1930's) I don't vouch for this morning's radio show, as it was one of 'those' experiences. We got into the building (thnakfully the doors were open), and entered the right code to get into the basement studio...but when we got into the space itself, half the lights were off, and the headphones I was going to use were dead, so I couldn't tell if any of what I said could be heard - or indeed if the show was coming out as static or silence! And there was no one there - just the automated system, called, I believe 'Myriad'. It was scary! Meanwhile, Deor the unflappable went ahead and figured out how to turn the latter off, and told me to begin, meanwhile not being able to get the CD player to work... I fought the desire to say aloud that I thought no one could hear, etc., etc., instead saying my lines abstractedly, and writing a note to say the headphones were down... The hour seemed LONG, without being able to break it up with music, and especially in the semi-dark and not knowing at all how it sounded (if audible at all). Of course you can sit and press buttons randomly, but without a manual or advice, the dangers of doing that...struck us as not worth it. The next DJ arrived at the dot of 10, just as we were wondering how to put 'Myriad' back into action, and he showed us at least the CD mistake, and commiserated about the headphones, before taking over, much to my relief.
   If it sounds a bit ragged therefore, the reason is that seven minutes being shown buttons by one person who wasn't expecting you during their show followed by five minutes refresher instructions by the person on just before you, doesn't equip one all that well if things have all been switched off, rather than taking over something already running!
   Oh well, you live and learn...and hopefully that will be one of the hardest shows we ever have to do - speaking non-stop for an hour while trying to figure out what's wrong!
   And we did still manage to discuss storytelling and tell some tales, do two more poems and another riddle from the C10th Exeter Book, Episode 2 of 'Porlock the Warlock', and John Masefield's 'Sea Fever' - so it can't be all bad!

Meter 10 at the Exeter Poetry Festival

A busy Saturday getting a Spoken/Written and CC Press stall together for the networking meeting held by Apples & Snakes and Cyprus Well as part of the Exeter Poetry Festival (the city's first). The evening went well, with lots of folks I knew there, and we were given a good BIG table for the stall, and covered it with signs, leaflets, books, chapbooks, sign up book, posters, laminated info sheets, past editions, information file to look through, cards to take away, Viking wristbands (free with each copy of the 'Porlock' novel), Widsith & Deor badges...! There were brief addresses from Rachel McCarthy of Excite (the country's biggest Poetry Society Poetry Stanza), Gina Sherman of Apples & Snakes S.W., and Tracey Guirey of Cyprus Well, and then people mingled. Subscribers who I knew came and said hello, poets signed up who'd not yet done so, some folks dug into their pockets and paid their subscription fees there and then! And it was lovely to meet some subscribers who I'd only known through e-mail beforehand. Met also some other really interesting people like the guy running the Waterstones stall, and the guest poet of the evening, the both riveting and utterly charming Dorothea Smartt, who did a compelling set with her lovely voice making sure you heard and paid attention to every word she said, to round off the event. I especially liked her line - (something like) 'denial is just a debt with interest that's yet to be paid' (on the issue of slavery/denying responsibility for past wrongs), and her powerful list of names/things to call someone - from son and father to dissident or rebel to criminal or slave, and so on. It was very evocative and telling.

   All in all, it was worth carting boxes and files of stuff on a Saturday evening into town, and I don't think it could really have gone better.
Special thanks to Alex and Gina for all their organizing and making it - and indeed the whole Festival! - go with such a swing.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Hectic End of the Season

Chaos! Trying to rehearse for a headline spot at Epicentre Book Cafe's spoken word evening Word Command next week, hosted by the cultured and intrepid Bryce Dumont, sorting out next week's radio show, the Storyclub tonight (which we'll be trying to record some of), preparing for the writing and sound workshops the week after next, trying to get the next Edition of Spoken/Written off by the end of the week, attending the Apples & Snakes / Cyprus Well hosted network meeting this weekend, and hosting Spoken/Written stalls before some of the evening events at the Exeter Poetry Festival this week and weekend...! Plus it happens to be the time of year when all the props and gear needs sorting out and mending after a full summer of hard use, and then of course the fact that the garden needs attention and things could be tidier in general having hardly been here until this last week and a half! All this and 'The Book of Convictions', the fourth in The Books of...Trilogy of serial poem chapbooks is being put together even as I type! When will I get a moment to e-mail the friend I most want to catch up with, finish making the Cabinet of Curiosities and continue with the other craft projects in hand? As for sitting in the garden to eat a meal - in this amazing late summery weather too! but there's just not the time... Writing more of 'The History of this House in Twenty Objects' will just have to be squeezed in at random stolen moments...isn't most writing?


This is the time of year when Majical Youth (theatre and production company who work at many festivals including organizing areas in the Kidz Field at Glastonbury, the craft area at the Beautiful Days, the Kid's Field at the Buddhafield Festival, stuff for Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, and others) invite all their crew and others who have worked with or for them over the season to come to their base in West Wales for a big party/small festival, which also involves renovating their kit from carnival stuff and costumes to craft gear and vehicles... What a great idea. I sometimes wish I could arrange the Collective to all come and spend a weekend at HQ doing the same! But as we're a rather smaller operation, guess who most of the clearing up and clearing out falls to? Yep....


But at least the storytelling van is now emptied and swept (ready for wood collecting duty and tip runs - if you share space with artists there's ALWAYS more stuff to throw away!), and most of the props are about where they should be or will live until needed...most of the craft gear sorted...still some of the fabric and leather to mostly cleared of random willow annoyingly lashing you as you try to get to the compost bin...most of the costumes put away, homes still needing to be found for the new things... And there's a pterodactyl covered in red wax standing outside waiting to be let in...(the less said about the goblin falling asleep against the wings of a green demon, the better...)