White Haired Boy: an opera about Boris Johnson

White Haired Boy

Friday 28th March - performances 5pm, 7pm & 8.30pm, exhibition from 12pm

310 New Cross Rd, SE14 (nearest station New Cross Gate) – FREE ENTRY

One of the many reasons why I’ve been so inactive over the past few months is that my MA programme is reaching its culmination. One of the core constituents of this programme is a group project, with everyone on the course collaborating to create a piece of ‘political art’ of some kind. This year it just so happened to be an opera. Specifically, an opera about Boris Johnson, modelled on the Chinese ‘model operas’ of the Cultural Revolution. That was the brief.

This is, of course, a dream project for me (although that can be a double-edged sword when it also happens to be an assessed project, with a very limited timeframe, co-led by nineteen other people). At any rate, I thought I’d take the opportunity to try out some ideas on music and politics, and appropriated the role of composer/music supervisor early on. The final performance will be pretty crazy: a bricolage of intentions and agendas from a huge range of international backgrounds, taking place in a shopfront down the road from Goldsmiths College; a pop-up performance happening, in the literal sense that the aesthetic of the space and its set recalls a kind of pop-up book. And it’s directly, unashamedly implicated in capital-P Politics, given Johnson’s current shadowy ubiquity as pretender to the Tory leadership. I hope it can also be received as a timely protest action, given the Mayor’s ongoing campaign to bring water cannons onto the streets of London, as well as his involvement locally in the Convoys Wharf development project (more on this below).

White Haired Boy flyer

White Haired Boy is taking place on Friday 28th March; there are free performances at 5pm, 7pm and 8.30pm, and the space/set will be open with an exhibition from 12pm. Do come along, but come early because the venue is small. More info via Facebook…

There are some notes on my ideas, research and inspiration for the opera’s music below. The more I’ve explored the musical links between London and China, neoliberal and conservative ideologies, protest and reaction, the more avenues have opened up. I’m not sure how much of this I’ll be able to jam into the finished product, but it’s certainly given me a lot to think about… Continue reading

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merry christmas from the biting point

as you may have noticed, we’ve been on a break from blogging these last few months, while we’ve been finishing up a big and exciting project for our sister blog the night mail. we promise to get back on task in the new year – there’s been a lot to write about. for now though, please consider registering your objections to the southbank redevelopment if you haven’t (see previous post), and follow the developments at Long Live South Bank and Save Our Skatepark.

and if you’re interested in pop music and politics, keep half an eye on the night mail

and, also, merry christmas xx

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I want to get down my opinions on the whole Southbank Centre redevelopment debacle, before the whole thing BLOWS UP.

Basically, as far as I can tell, the Southbank’s logic is that: a) if there’s no redevelopment, there cannot be any new educational facilities for deprived kids, and b) if they don’t destroy the historic skate park and replace it with retail units, there cannot be a new redevelopment.

The argument is then that, without giving up a certain amount of public space for private profit, we cannot give young people and children the cultural and educational opportunities that I think we all agree they deserve. The skateboarders are being ‘selfish’ by not ‘making space’ by giving up the ‘prime commercial space’ of their current skate-park in order to allow the Southbank to make spaces for ‘other “tribes”‘ (many of these of the Southbank’s own creation) who ‘don’t have a voice’ (apart from the voice of the government-subsidised Southbank Centre and of the private funders who are making up much of the new development’s budget). Continue reading

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the biting point update: UPCOMING EVENTS

There are some big and potentially game-changing events going down in London this Summer that have certainly got me shaking with anticipation:::

  • Last month’s Nonclassical, at the Macbeth, was a celebration of the work of the late composer Steve Martland – British minimalist pioneer and an anti-establishment hero from whom the biting point still has a lot to learn. It was a fantastic gig, the perfect music for the setting, the perfect setting for the music. The next Nonclassical night, this coming Wednesday, promises to be just as fantastic (and it’s the last of their regular clubnights till September, so a good excuse to get down there). The Ligeti Quartet are performing a diverse programme, including music by John Adams, Arvo Pärt and Anna Meredith, before a set from rarescale, a flexible ensemble centred on the alto/bass flute, promoting new repertoire and blending in plenty of electronics. — Nonclassical feat. Ligeti Quartet/Rarescale, The Macbeth, Hoxton – Wednesday 3rd July, advance tickets £5 — (Listen to a podcast mix by Carla Rees of Rarescale >>>HERE<<<)
  • Bold Tendencies, the multi-storey car-park collective in Peckham which hosted the now-legendary car park Rite of Spring Project, is fast becoming an absolutely vital platform for new music in London. The ensemble behind that performance – The Orchestra Project – return with a particularly exciting project on Saturday 6th July called Wishes Lies and Dreams. For the first time, a new piece has been written for the venue and ensemble, by composer Kate Whitley, and it involves children’s choirs from across Peckham. This seems like a particularly important project because the only real negative aspect of these annual car-park concerts (and the venue in general) were their collusion with the intensive gentrification of Peckham currently ongoing. While the Orchestra Project have always done educational outreach work, their car-park concerts were previously treated as a separate initiative. Not any more though – this concert will bring both aspects of their work together, as well as producing something genuinely new out of it all. And while the issue of gentrification is obviously incredibly complicated (although, don’t get me wrong, it is always entirely a bad thing), the bridging of these physical, spatialised socio-economic and cultural gulfs appearing all over London is surely one of the most politically-expedient uses of the ‘community’ music projects that are sopping up most of the remaining government funding. AND TICKETS ARE FREE! BOOK THEM HERE! — Wishes Lies and Dreams, Rye Lane Car Park, Peckham – Saturday 6th July, 5pm, Free
  • Most exciting of all, I think: the London Contemporary Music Festival (LCMF 2013). From new production collective Sound Four, this is an absurdly exciting programme of concerts running over two long weekends at the end of July. Again, it is hosted by Bold Tendencies in Peckham, and again it is completely free! The line-up, spread across ten concerts, is incredibly broad and incredibly bold. There’s a ‘drone day‘ featuring a premiere performance by Charlemagne Palestine, a programme of music for loudspeakers, a Glenn Branca premiere, an insanely high-concept programme pairing Ennio Morricone and Helmut Lachenmann, and a beautifully curated set of keyboard music. Most exciting for us at the biting point, there’s a performance of Frederic Rzewski’s famous political work Coming Together, about the Attica prison riots of 1971, as well as two contemporary opera programmes, including an ‘immersive’ premiere from Kate Whitley (paired with Gerald Barry’s La Plus Forte) and a fascinating programme entitled To a New Definition of Opera, including work by Jennifer Walshe, Kurt Schwitters and Laurie Anderson, and extracts from Einstein on the Beach. On paper (or on website), this looks like the new music festival that London deserves. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be successful or have the impact that it could have, but just the fact that it’s being attempted – which gives it a direction from which to grow and develop – is incredibly heartening. And did I mention it’s free?! You have to book though… — London Contemporary Music Festival, Rye Lane Car Park, Peckham – 25th July-4th August, Free
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Two More Aphorisms for the Future of Opera


1) Opera is not ‘an 18th-century art form’


2) The potential of opera has yet to be fulfilled


1) Opera is not ‘an 18th-century art form’ : : : In his hugely positive review of Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, the music writer Norman Lebrecht wrote the following:

Few new operas address the fundamental question of what an 18th century art form is supposed to do in the 21st.

His intentions are good, of course, but this suggestion that opera is ‘an 18th-century art form’ goes some way to explain how he could possibly consider Sunken Garden as addressing any ‘fundamental questions’ regarding the 21st century, not to mention constituting ‘the future of opera’ or ‘a projection of what opera ought to be’. Continue reading

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Live Review: Sunken Garden @ Barbican Theatre

A resounding disappointment from a composer/director whose previous ‘multimedia’ musical works have been frequently fascinating. Rather than considering the inherent musico-theatrical possibilities of its dazzling 3D video technology, the whole opera seems to have been retro-fitted around these projections in the most painfully prosaic way, and in doing so falls into pretty much every one of the standard opera traps.

Before I rip into it any further, I should say that I did feel a moment of overwhelming emotion, and even shed a tear, towards the end of Michel van der Aa’s new opera Sunken Garden. It was at the end of the second ‘film aria’ featuring the missing girl, the circumstances of whose disappearance is at the centre of the opera’s ‘occult mystery’, Amber (Kate Miller-Heidke). Specifically, it was the moment at which the music from the first of Amber’s ‘film arias’ returns, with its synth progression transferred to the orchestra. Here’s the music, entitled ‘Slipping out of Mirrors’, in its initial permutation:

Continue reading

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Two Aphorisms for the Future of Opera


1) New opera is not ‘risky’


2) Opera is not ‘fundamentally an emotional art form’


1) New opera is not ‘risky’ : : : The ‘risk’ in programming new opera – commissioning it, developing it, producing it – has become a standard, fairly unquestioned truism in the discourse of ‘practical’ classical music. As far as I’m concerned, any framing of new opera as inherently (or even potentially) ‘risky’ is fundamentally opposed to a serious conception of opera as art. It assumes a particular empirical judgement of ‘success’ based on audience reception – specifically on financial returns, popularity or critical consensus.

Continue reading

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