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Friday, December 06, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Pan in the halls of the Biennale British artist takes pan to Venice
The highly regarded British conceptual artist Jeremy Deller is the latest pan proponent to take the instrument into the farthest reaches of the globe. Winner of the prestigious Turner prize for visual artists, Deller has long made use of steelband music in his wide ranging art projects and his current major exhibit at the British Pavilion of the contemporary art exhibition at the Biennale Venezia in Venice, Italy is no exception. Deller’s exhibit English Magic will run until November 24 and the artist’s accompanying film, a central focus of the exhibit, features steelband music and is played throughout the British Pavilion. For those unable to make the trip overseas to Italy, a limited edition vinyl EP of the soundtrack has been issued by the Vinyl Factory. Pan has long had an appeal for Deller. “As a child in the UK, I loved pans so for me it was natural for me to want to work with [them].” However, despite his upper-middle class upbringing in London, the unlikely paring of Deller and Trinidad’s national instrument appears destined by fate and the artists is enthusiastic about steelbands. “I like the sound of them, I like the idea of them, I like how they look.”
Many of Deller’s most influential art works feature the recreation historical events—such as his Battle of Orgreave (2001), a reenactment of the actual Battle of Orgreave which occurred during the UK miners’ strike in 1984—and he has previously commissioned new arrangements for steelband to be performed in unique parades performances in Manchester, UK and Trinidad. For the Manchester International Festival in 2009 Deller had Steel Harmony, a local pan side, on a float perform a new steelband arrangement he commissioned. A reporter for the UK Guardian found the Deller’s steelband performance the highlight of the event.“But what brings the tears to the crowd’s eyes is the last float. It bears a steel band playing, at Deller’s request, Joy Division and Buzz-cocks songs. They ring out Love Will Tear Us Apart, the melancholy memory of Ian Curtis’s singing mingling oddly with the steelband's glorious, passionately joyous treatment. It’s vintage Deller, and, somehow, pure Manchester.”
Deller made a film from the exhibit Steel Harmony Bolton/Steel Band (2009) that was shown in an exhibit Jeremy Deller: Manchester Tracks at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011.
Later in 2011, Deller came to Trinidad and worked with the steelband Valley Harps and their arranger Michelle Huggins-Watts as part of the BBC’s Collaboration Culture series. Deller commissioned an arrangement of Pacific State by the British electronic band 808 State for Valley Harps which was performed at the 2012 We Beat street parade in St James.
For his new exhibit English Magic, Deller aims to bring pan to new and exciting places… it has never been and worked with one of Britain’s top steelbands the Melodians. The band is well-known in Britain and performs regularly in London, greater Britain, royal events, released two CDs, traveled to over 30 countries, and is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. The Melodians are led for the past 25 years by Trinidadian Terry Noel. Raised in Arima, Noel worked for many years a youth officer in the London Borough of Harrow and used steelband as a valuable activity for British youth. Noel is yet another example of a Trinidadian who has dedicated his life to pan and in addition to his work with Melodians, Noel was involved with setting up steelbands in the Doha English Speaking School in Qatar, the first in the region.
Deller commissioned three new steelband arrangements to be performed by the Melodians for his exhibit English Magic. All three arrangements were created by Melodians band members and include the third movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony in D (1943) arranged by Ann Hornby, Voodoo Ray (1988) by Manchester acid house band A Man Called Gerard and arranged by Robert London, and David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World (1970) arranged by Amy Daniel. According to Deller "The three songs I chose - all are quite dark songs, quite mysterious, quite moody, but strangely uplifting at the same time. All three of three of them are from different eras, different generations, definitely products of their British culture." Deller’s film English Magic features a magnificent visual story replete with footage of the Melodians in performance, stunning images of raptors in flight, a car being crushed, children frolicking on Deller's life size blowup of Stonehenge, and the Lord Mayor's Parade. Throughout the film the only music for the soundtrack is that of the Melodians. Noel conveyed his, and the Melodians, excitement to be involved in this project with Deller to the UK Guardian stating, "He attended about 10 rehearsals. It didn't take us too long to learn the pieces ... We rehearsed twice a week for two months. I think Jeremy was very happy. He said he wanted a big sound – and that's what he got!"
According to band member and Vaghn Williams arranger Ann Hornby, the project pushed the boundaries of the steelband. “The work transferred very well and Jeremy had strong views about how it had to be done, which was helpful. The steel pan has a wonderful floaty sound. Any piece of music can be played on it – even string sounds. I'm always amazed by this. You just do a gentle roll. It all worked beautifully. . . . When we recorded it at Abbey Road studios, I could feel the electricity. I could feel everyone was moved by the sound we were making.” The Melodians themselves traveled to Venice to join Deller and perform for the launch of the British Pavilion in Venice on May 29. According to Noel “Late last year, he got in touch, wondering if we would be interested in his new project. When he explained it, I thought: "Wow!" By bringing our sound to the Biennale, he's taking the steel band to fresh audiences. It's a whole new stage in its development.” From Venice the band continued onward to the African nation of Zambia to perform for the Zambian Carnival in June and to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday in the former British protectorate. What is next for Deller and steelband? The artist is not certain: “I keep in touch with the bands I have worked with and I will be working with them again in some capacity.” Whatever the future holds for Jeremy Deller is unclear; regardless, he will no doubt, continue to be bring pan music to uncharted artistic territories.
Ray Funk is a retired Alaskan judge who is passionately devoted to calypso, pan and mas. Andrew Martin is an ethnomusicologist and percussionist who wrote his dissertation on pan in America and directs a steelband at a college in Minnesota.
The film English Magic can be viewed in its entirety on the web: http://venicebiennale.britishcouncil.org/people/reference/jeremy-deller/...
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