Sunday, December 5

‘Come with me on this journey’: Elaine Mitchener, Britain’s most daring vocalist | Experimental music


PPerforming her Sweet Tooth piece, Elaine Mitchener’s hands become someone else’s. The meat is pricked, the buttocks are slapped, the breasts are grasped. Her fingers slide into her mouth, hooking her cheeks in a grimace, and other unseen drag her across the stage. His breathing becomes shallow and panicky, in a natural and imperfect response. It is extremely difficult to see and hear, and it is supposed to be so: it is evoking a slave inspection. “It’s about: I want you to experience this with I, because we are the same, we are human beings ”, he says. “It’s too simplistic for people to say, oh, it’s just provocative work, or they’re just pissed off and hammering it. No, we are talking about humanity and our existence. “

Mitchener is a vocalist (possibly the UK’s boldest operatic voice), movement artist (“dancer” is not quite correct) and composer whose work spans music, theater, dance, art and research. Its power is in its ability to generate intense collective empathy in a room. “If you come to see what I do, you are not left behind,” he says. “People are exhausted afterwards. I ask you to accompany me on this journey and we are on it together. It’s about trust, and I take it very seriously. “

Her remarkable CV demonstrates her range: working with visual art stars such as Christian Marclay, Marina Abramović, and Otolith Group Turner Award nominees, and experimental composers. George lewis Y Tansy davies. Until 2026, she is an associate artist at London’s Wigmore Hall, an August classical music venue, but her voice can also currently be heard improvising a traditional Jamaican song for sound artist. Ain Baileyat the Wysing Arts Center in Cambridgeshire and on the next album by the American avant-garde vocalist Mother Moro. She is also a member of the avant-garde ensemble Apartment building, and the electro-acoustic power-jazz trio, the Rolling calf.

In Aberdeen, you can see their installation, [NAMES II] an evocation, adapted from Sweet Tooth, a 2017 article on slavery and the sugar trade in the Caribbean, as part of the British Art Show 9. In it, you hear a list of the names and monetary value of enslaved people from a plantation mixed with Jamaican work songs and Gwo Ka drums, a percussion tradition that survived the Middle Pass, the stage of the slave trade in which people were transported from Africa to the United States; Mitchener’s images are enclosed in stained glass in a dimly lit space intended for contemplation and reflection. The names are just a few of the 2,000 of a plantation that are in the inventory of its owner when he died. “I thought about how bad sugar is for you, the way it is made, the human cost of fueling this addiction thousands of miles away, and the wealth that it brought. Do we ever think about it in that sense? I started thinking about how they taught me about this, or not. “

Mitchener doesn’t describe violence, worry, or pleasure, but he does it, deeply needed work at a time when culture warriors refuse to accept the facts of these more violent stories. “I was talking to someone about doomsday in Canada, after the discovery of nameless graves of First Nations children, and to me, Sweet Tooth is all about this,” he says, also mentioning recent research on sexual abuse in Lambeth Council Homes for Children. “Those lives destroyed, how can we allow that to happen? One of the survivors said that we need this to be looked at properly because it is about society, this affects everyone. That’s the kind of compassion I mean when I say come with me on this journey. We have to share this because we have to care for each other to prevent this from happening again … I may be telling the same story over and over again, but I will continue to do so until people understand and acknowledge, and then we can have the kind of relationships we should have. “

Mitchener at Wigmore Hall
Mitchener at Wigmore Hall: “I feel like a conduit to expressing what should come out.” Photograph: Linda Nylind / The Guardian

Mitchener was born in London in 1970 to Jamaican parents. He found a love of performing in church and was able to learn to play an instrument thanks to a progressive local authority. Her parents listened to Funkadelic, gospel, ska, reggae and dub and watched pop and musicals on television, but she also clung to the noises in her surroundings, which she attributes to having pushed her toward experimentalism. “I have strong memories of cranes moving sand in a glass factory,” he says, “and hearing the cargo boxes crash together during the day along the train track, which passed through the farm.”

In church he saw “young people who looked like me, playing the drums, singing amazingly, playing the piano. I saw it and wanted a part. “She joined an a cappella girl group and performed all over London on the church circuit. She later studied classical singing at London’s Trinity College of Music, but took a break after wrestling. for finding the technique he needed to make the sounds in his head.He began singing again in 2007 and in 2008 began studying with opera singer Jacqueline Straubinger-Bremar, who understood his ambitions.

Mitchener is a mezzo alto with a vocal range of three (and a little) octaves. His astonishing palette of vocal sounds encompasses uncomfortable glottal constrictions; high-pitched gasps and agitated exhalations; syllables that stutter as if caught in a steering wheel, repeated with inflections that change meaning, along with mouthfuls of exquisitely beautiful song. “I build on what I hear around me,” he says. “Watch the little kids, they are making the strangest sounds. Only when we are teenagers are we told to stop. My ears are always attentive, it is this library of information. “

He began working with choreographer Dam Van Huynh about 15 years ago, mixing movement with his vocalizations after discovering that standing in front of a microphone was not enough. He learned to fall to the ground and to get up, boosting his physical abilities. “At first it was like teaching a baby to walk before crawling,” he says. “It took me months to learn to walk the stage without looking scruffy.”

A key aspect of his work is to recover, perform and celebrate the work of black composers. See his recent performance based on a piece by the African American concrete poet NH Pritchard, whom he recently discovered and has been using as sheet music – “I’ve never seen anything like typography, how it feels to recite it. It’s so musical! he exclaims, singing enthusiastically.

He has also developed a repertoire called Vocal Classics of the Black Avant-Garde; reinterpreted work of the choreographer, singer, sound poet and composer Jeanne Lee; and worked on a Radio 4 documentary about the composer who describes himself as a “gay guerrilla”, Julius Eastman. I ask him if he’s trying to “decolonize” the canon, but he cleverly deflects the question: he wants Archie Shepp’s brilliance and Eric Dolphy speak for yourself, don’t get carried away by a culture war. “My role is to present a variety of work that speaks loudly, or that makes people think, reflect and enjoy,” he says. He points to George Lewis’s writings on how to restore balance to the classical repertoire and says that the works he performs, whether associated with jazz, poetry, or experimental music, hold their own in classical settings.

Next, at Wigmore Hall in September, Mitchener will hold the UK premiere of Then + Now = Now, a series of “auditory images” on the responsibility of remembering, where the bass rumbles and his voice sings loudly. and clear. against samples including the Windrush speech by Labor politician David Lammy. “I am always developing. I’m pushing, pushing, pushing, ”he says. “I feel like a conduit for the expression of what should come out. Friends who have dared to come to see me, who are not involved in this sector, say that they do not recognize me, is it you !? I say yes! That’s me! When I’m on stage, I have to be 100% on it, otherwise what’s the point? What I need to communicate is more important than me ”.

Elaine Mitchener performs Then + Now = Now at Wigmore Hall, London, on September 2. British Art Show 9 will be at Aberdeen Art Gallery until October 10. Ain Bailey: The version is at the Wysing Arts Center, Cambridgeshire, until August 22. Moor Mother’s album Black Encyclopedia of the Air is released on September 17 in Anti-.


www.theguardian.com

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