At The Least

Here is the latest set from Martin Archer’s vocal group Juxtavoices, whose distinctive work has reached us before on Juxtanother Antichoir from Sheffield. This particular piece Guardian Weekend Remix (DISCUS 54CD/DVD) is presented here in three versions, one of them on a DVD. It seems to have its origins in a piece of visual artwork created by Michael Szpakowski, itself comprised of or making use of printed words; the choir used this as their “score”, along with some prose instructions from Archer. There are organisational rules about forming into colour-coded trios, and rules governing repetitions and duration. In both method and execution, there’s a slightly “retro” feel to Guardian Weekend Remix, and it can’t help but remind one of Luciano Berio or Stockhausen. Tom Phillips, the English painter, has also composed similar works translating his Humument paintings, themselves derived from printed texts in a book; Irma, released on Eno’s Obscure label in 1978, is one such opera.

Where the previous release was a showcase for a number of different approaches and styles which the choir are capable of, this one concentrates on Sound Poetry. I went scuttling off to check my book Text-Sound Texts edited by Richard Kostelanetz in 1980; the flap copy summarises sound poetry as “language that coheres in terms of sound rather than syntax or semantics; it is composed to be heard.” One creator spoke of “phonetic poems…we totally renounce the language that journalism has abused and corrupted. We must return to the innermost alchemy of the word, to keep poetry for its last and holiest refuge”. I mention that this since the reference to journalism seems apposite, in the context of the Guardian Weekend. On the other hand, I may be assuming quite wrongly that Szpakowski created his artwork from cut-up texts derived from that newspaper. [1. A gallery of images from the Remix series can be seen at Flickr.] From what I can glean, most of Szpakowski’s works in the series are visual collages rather than text cut-ups; the one that appears as the cover art here is simply playing with anagrams.

There’s a lot of repetition structured into the work. This leads to tedium quite quickly and could be one reason why I find Guardian Weekend Remix such a difficult listen. But I also give short shrift to the over-dramatic manner in which some of the singers comport themselves – stressed regional accents and underlined phrases, that make them sound like ham actors belting out their lines in summer season. It’s as if they’re straining themselves to bring meaning where there is none, to compensate for the lack of content in Szpakowski’s scrambled gibberish. However, the repetition is deliberate, and Archer writes that he likes the idea of “locked loops of language” and “the meaningless ravings of a cast of characters”. He dreams that the choir are spirit voices attempting to communicate a message of vital importance to the living, and they can’t. Well and good, but I’m not sure if this insight is intended as a slight on The Guardian itself (any attack on that hideous middle-class organ would be welcome), or a more general observation on the limitations of language itself. I like to support Archer’s work, but found this release very unsatisfactory. From 14 January 2016.

One comment

  1. Hi just for info – all the guardian weekend remixes, as the name implies, remix some section of the guardian weekend magazine. With this one is was simply the words “all rights reserved” from some ad or other. I *do* loathe the magazine, in particular for its horrible hymn to consumerism/lifestyle nature but increasingly now also the rest of the paper (which I’ve read all my life) with its vile anti Corbyn campaign. The Saturday review, in fairness however, remains a jolly good read.

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