Saturday 7 July 2012

Sounds of belonging and loneliness

Dixon Clark Court Symphony, by Sarah Strang with Nathaniel Robin Mann and Daniel Merrill, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, Union Chapel, London

The day of the performance of the Dixon Clark Court Symphony (DCC), I tried to encourage my handful of Twitter followers to go along too. I discovered it was quite difficult to describe the project in 140 characters, not least because I only had a vague idea myself, despite the benefit of press releases and flyers. In the end I went for ‘Live, site-specific sound installation’, which is so woolly as to be nearly meaningless. But the novelty is what appealed to me: going into a performance without a clear idea of what the parameters are is rare indeed. The piece is built out of over 165 sounds collected by artist Sarah Strang from the Dixon Clark Court tower block and the nearby Union Chapel. The assembled soundscape has then been threaded through with music by composers Nathaniel Robin Mann and Daniel Merrill, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.

Islington’s Union Chapel was built by non-conformist Victorian architect James Cubitt, who resented the segregation imposed by traditional chapel design, and whose manifesto was grounded on the need to produce ‘a grand and beautiful church in which everyone could see and hear the service’ – which makes it pretty handy as a performance space, too. For the DCC Symphony, the recorded element was played through four speakers surrounding the central seating area, while musicians from the LCO were dotted around the church, mainly in the galleries (though I’m told there was also a bass drum hidden somewhere in the roof!). I think praise should be heaped on the LCO for being so flexible and unfazed – it was fascinating, for instance, to watch how conducting duties were passed around as the particular section of music demanded.

The work itself, the programme informs us, ‘seeks to articulate in sound how individuals or communities may respond to, or articulate, loneliness and belonging’. The one thing I found problematic about the piece was that it was a fairly bleak portrait of the place these individuals and communities were supposed to belong. That may be a reflection of the truth, of course, though I very much hope not. If I were a resident, I think I would have hoped for something a little more life affirming.

The experience was enveloping and immersive, very much assisted by the chapel’s booming acoustic, which the musicians played into with glee (memorably, the machine-gun clatter of two snare drums grew into a deafening roar). It was interesting from the perspective of someone who is used to writing about performances in which music is the thing, to find it being used perhaps a bit more functionally, as a mood or colour to illuminate a point the artist wanted to make. My overall impression of the piece, in fact, was of a manner of psychogeographic documentary with soundtrack. The images are left to the imagination, and I wondered if residents of the DCC towers found the piece much more personal than that.

Although I’m sure the live element added to the viscerality of my experience, I am looking forward to seeing how the exhibition version works too.

Dixon Clark Court Symphony by Sarah Strang Photography© Daniela Sbrisny

Dual-site Exhibition

Friday 13 July to Sunday 12 August 2012
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, London, N12 XD
Friday 3pm to 6 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 pm to 6 pm

Management Office, Dixon Clark Court, Canonbury Road, London N1 2UR 
Monday to Friday 9am to 12pm

Debate: Is there space for a subjective response to community?
7.30pm, Monday 17 September 7.30 pm
Union Chapel, Upper Halls, Compton Terrace, London, N12 XD
Doors and Bar open 7pm

Further information

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