WORKSHOPS - MUSIC RECOMMENDATIONS
"Melodia Africana III" - Ludovico Einaudi
Let's see if I can write this without crying...
I was teaching an afternoon class in a language school last month and I heard, floating up from the street below, maybe from a shop or from a portable soundbox from a street act in Pavilion Gardens, a very familiar tune which stopped me mid sentence. I told my class why - that the music drifitng in from outside (Melodia Africana III by Ludovico Einaudi) was a track I had used in the theatre and it almost always make me cry when I try to explain what the show was about. The show was called Against the Odds and I co-wrote and directed it for Jade Blue, and it centres on a girl called Flora who is waiting for her father, Harry, to visit her for the first time in a few years. She is in a mental hopital and he has just been released from prison. Unknown to Flora, her grandfather, who hates her father, has forced him to make an undearable choice - either Harry must never see her again or he (the grandfather) will discontinue paying for the treatment she needs. We do not learn what Harry's decsion is, but in the final image, as he tells Flora that everything will be OK, we see her crumble in despair. And now I'm crying...
While the story of Against the Odds is based on an incident in a novel (Brooklyn Folkies) by Paul Auster, there are aspects of it which come very close to my own experience and I can never explain the plot without welling up. We used a number of tracks by Ludovico Einaudi in the show. Einaudi's simple piano melodies have a plaintive quality which can be either euphoric or tragic, and makes them perfect as backing for an understated performance.
"Finale: The Theme of Kagemusha" - Shin-ichiro Ikebe
This has been on my Workshop Music CD right from the beginning although I don't have a particular exercise associated with it - I sometimes play it for a bit of dramatic atmosphere as the students are coming in.
There's not a lot more to say other than it is a haunting theme tune from an amazing movie, and is the only tune I can play on the piano!
"Temple of The Golden Pavilion - Mishima" - Philip Glass
During my workshops I occasionally give a demonstration performance of an extract from Berkoff's story 'Big Fish'. This is the soundtrack I use as backing for the beginning of that story:
I was nine when tv news reports of Mishima's death (by ritual suicide) made a deep impression on my imagination. So when Paul Schrader's astonishing film - Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters was released five years later, I sneaked in to a movie theatre to watch it by myself. The film and its soundtrack are the result of a ground-breaking collaboration between the movie director and the composer Philip Glass - in which the musical score was totally integral to the final movie - not just a background added in during the final stages - but Schrader actually used the music as a guide for the editing of the movie.
For my solo show, Graft - Tales of an Actor, I use many tracks from the Mishima soundtrack, and as in the movie, each track is played from start to finish - and so the music works at times as a director, an outside force guiding the performance in a direction which might not otherwise be discovered.
"They marry and produce strange offspring." - Steven Berkoff
"Time [The Old Tree with Winding Roots Behind the Lake of Dreams Mix]" - London Philharmonic Orchestra
Here's another track I frequently use in my workshops (usually during the 'Beehive' exercise).
I was introduced to this by the artist Roger Dean - best known for his fantasy landscapes on album covers of prog rockers Yes - who (at the time of writing) is currently suing James Cameron for £33m for blatantly ripping off his designs in the film Avatar.
In the mid 1990s Roger was asked to design the landscapes for a viking-based computer game being developed as the pet project of the creator of Tetris, for which the London Philharmonic had recorded some orchestral arrangements of the music of Pink Floyd.
The game also needed motion capture sword (and axe) fights - but as there is no record of how the vikings actually used their weapons - and in fact some of their weapons are only briefly described in legends, such as the Heptisax (a type of short-poled halberd) mentioned in Beowolf - the game needed an expert in medieval combat to reinvent a school of viking swordsmanship and to train stuntmen to perform the necessary 'micro-fights'.
Roger knew exactly the right person, having himself trained for a few years with probably the world's leading authority on European (as well as Japanese) pole arms - my own Kendo Sensei Roald Knutsen. Having been brought onboard to choreograph the fights, Roald then suggested that, while it would take about 6-9 months to train ordinary stuntmen to move in the proper way, he could achieve the desired level of skill in less than 3 months by using two kendoka from his own dojo.
And so it was that, after a few weeks of training with fukuro-shinai for one-armed swords/axes and shields improvised out of balti-dishes, I found myself on a flight to the House of Moves in L.A. where we pushed the 'envelope' of motion capture to the limit - quite literally, our capture of two persons fighting with weapons and shields being the first time motion capture had been used for such a large range of movement.
And the game? Sadly, as is common with such projects, it was never completed or released.
"The Photo of Santiago McKinn" - Harold Budd
In my last newsletter I recommended the music I use for 'the Banquet' exercise: "La Fosse" by Wim Mertens. That track is available in 2 versions, and between the first two runs of the exercise I change from the faster to the slower version to further reinforce the discipline of slow motion. But sometimes that exercise goes to a third take and the students are required to improvise a spoken story while listening to the music, and in this case I usually change the music again to this haunting track by Harold Budd.
After Berkoff saw me performing his story 'Master of Cafe Society' at the Young Vic as part of my triple bill 'Stunning the Punters' in 1990, he gave me the manuscript of his (then) unpublished short story 'Hell', which instantly prompted a vision of staging it naked in a dim red light with a mournful cello playing and clouds of smoke and dry ice. The smoke and dry ice never happened, but the rest of my vision was realised, and here's how...
In the winter of 1991 I was trapped in a desperate personal nightmare. My flat had been turned into a building site and the dust was giving me flu-like symptoms, preventing me from visiting my father who was in a terminal cancer ward. The situation in my flat lasted for several months. My father didn't. One day in the middle of this torment, I walked into a shop and I heard this music playing which sounded just like what was playing in my head. The shop assistant told me it was from 'By the Dawn's Early Light' by Harold Budd. I immediately went to the nearest record store and bought it, and then dropped everything and plunged myself into a therapeutic creative frenzy, spending the next three days fitting the words of Berkoff's story to the music (or vice versa). The particular track I had heard was titled 'The Photo of Santiago McKinn' (a tidy coincidence, since the shop I had been in was a photo shop - one of those high street 1 hour photo development shops you don't really see anymore) - and is inspired by the photograph of a Caucasian boy who was captured and then brought up by a native American tribe.
Having matched up the whole story to different tracks on the album, and made a recording of it, something like a radio play, I then forgot about it until the next summer, when during a conversation with Steven he suggested I go to Edinburgh at short notice, a crazy idea since the festival programme had been printed months previously and I didn't have a new show ready. But the previous year I had succeeded with Judgement outside the programme, so I knew that the right show with enough buzz could work and this time, pairing Hell with Say a Prayer for Me (from Berkoff's first short story collection 'Gross Intrusions') I had the prospect of a world premiere Berkoff double bill. So the next day I telephoned several venues, and booked myself a mini tour of 8 dates in 4 venues: the Assembly Rooms, the Pleasance, Randolph Studios and Southside.
Say a Prayer for Me was a very physical piece and absorbed most of my available rehearsal time, so when it came to Hell all I could afford to do was learn the lines and work out some very simple moves the night before the opening. At home I had synchronised the text and the music very precisely - 32 minutes of Harold Budd's music - so the next day I found myself standing backstage, with a full house and four national critics awaiting me, and it suddenly struck me that if I forgot my lines I was in big trouble, as the music would just carry on playing and I couldn't just gabble until they came back to me or I'd end up totally out of sync. For some reason I was totally calm about this and I have rarely felt stage nerves ever since.
I continued to use the technique of matching pre-existing words and music in all of my subsequent solo shows, the demands of synchronising in performance to a fixed soundtrack reaching their peak in The Gospel of Matthew, in which the whole 90 minute show is one single track!
They marry and produce strange offspring indeed!
"La Fosse" - Wim Mertens
This is a live version of the music I use for 'The Banquet' exercise - since I am so often asked after my workshops what it is. The track is called 'La Fosse' and it's by the prolific Belgian minimalist composer Wim Mertens. Here it is performed by the Wim Mertens Ensemble live at de Roma, Antwerp, Belgium - September 30th, 2005.
The song can be found on two albums by Wim Mertens - there is a faster version with the lead melody sung soprano on 'Maximising the Audience', and a much slower and totally haunting bass-lead version on 'Educes Me'. (I actually use both versions in the workshop). I first came across it when I saw the Costa Rican mime/dance duo, Diquis Tiquis perform 'Shy Shining Walls' at Edinburgh in 2001, a show which left me blubbing uncontrollably.
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