Wednesday 7 May 2014

Sounds New Festival 2014

It's festival season at the moment.  No sooner have the last lines of Wise Words finished echoing off the Cathedral walls than Sounds New starts!  Sounds New is a Contemporary Music Festival that takes place from the 2nd-9th May around a plethora of venues in the heart of Canterbury.  It's been going for donkeys years, but was recently given a bit of a spit and a polish in 2011 and is now huge.  37 events in 7 days huge.  That's a lot to take in.
My Festival kicked off with me sprinting down the hill as fast as possible (all right, driving responsibly within the speed limit.  It just isn't the same) after work on the Friday to get to the Sidney Cooper Gallery for the launch event and a pre-view of the Cloud / Cuckooland exhibition. 
Cloud / Cuckooland looks into the 'Canterbury Sound', in particular the creativity of Robert Wyatt and his Cuckooland album.  Robert Wyatt was a founding member of The Soft Machine, who, along with Pink Floyd helped to transform the late 60's Psychedelic scene in the UK into something more lasting.   His influence on the exhibit can be seen on the side wall with a full history of him and his connection to Canterbury, and also the 12 cuckoo boxes that instead of cuckoos, have headphones living in them.
However, this festival is all about New Sounds, and so the Cloud / Cuckooland exhibit also includes Radio Daze, a new sound installation created specifically for the exhibition by Janek Schaefer, one of the UK's most distinctive sound artists.
Around the walls in the gallery there is also artwork from Sam Bailey's Piano in the Woods residency.  In May 2013 a piano was put in some private woodland near Canterbury. Each month for a year Sam Bailey has played the piano, improvising in response to the instrument's changing state.  These performances have also included musicians, dancers, poets and filmmakers and the entire project has been documented by photographer Neil Sloman.  It is his works that dominate the clinical white walls of the gallery, with headphones dangling enticingly next to them.  Around the room there are 12 photographs and 12 audio recordings, one for each month of the year.  You can listen to the audio from the piano, which, with the bleed from the Radio Daze sound trickling through your consciousness at the same time, is a truly eerie experience.  You are effectively listening to the sound a piano makes as it dies (which, as a pianist, although admittedly an extremely ad-hoc one, was more upsetting for me that I had thought it would be).
On the rear wall the entire exhibition is dominated by a flickering projection of the piano in its dilapidated state.  Shadows move alongside it like forest sprites, an impression emphasized by the performance art that sporadically takes place.  These are the same performers that danced alongside the Piano at its past open-air concerts.
There is also work by Sound Art students from Canterbury Christ Church University, including 2 short films by Ben Rowley which shows the piano being moved into position in the woods and the piano again in 2014.  The improvised music reflected on the 100-year history of the piano, which was built in 1913.  The films are all shot on a hand processed 16mm film taken with a clockwork Bolex camera which gives a vintage, disjointed element to the film, similar to that you would have seen in films of the era in which the piano was built.  There is also an audio documentary by sound artist Ben Horner which features interviews with people involved with the project.  
This launch was an introduction to the spirit of the Sounds New Festival.  Festival Coordinator, Matt, said that he wanted people to treat the festival as they would treat a food fayre, to explore and taste and sample new sounds and new concepts that they have never tried before.
Sounds New features a vibrant mix of musical concerts, electronic music events, sound installations, poetry slams, gallery exhibitions and education projects.  It is aimed at a broad range of audiences, from those who have an interest in contemporary music to those who have never listened, from those who like chamber music to those who have a passion for experimental electronic jazz.  There is contemporary dance and sonic art installations.  The spirit of the Sounds New Festival is a willingness to open your ears and your mind to new sounds, to discuss and discover and engage with others in a shared spirit of enquiry.
Sounds New music is also linked with Sounds New Poetry and Free Range poetry, the award winning experimental concert series featuring a variety of late night events. 
Sounds New wishes to portray Canterbury as a cultural hub – a City of musical and poetic pilgrimage surrounded by four European capitals drawing on the rich history of “The Canterbury Scene”. There is Indian classical tradition and African groove in various venues, from the ultra modern Beaney Library and Colyer-Fergusson Concert Hall to the ancient Eastbridge Hospital and concerts out in the woodlands and in local restaurants and cafe's.  This is an extremely diverse festival and with such a huge variety of events, there is something there for everyone.
I can't wait to see what else this Festival has in store for me.

The festival is running until the 9th May - you can check out the programme of events here, see them on Facebook here and also follow them on twitter here.  Don't forget to use the #SoundsNew2014 to join in the online chat!

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