FEATURE: My Inspiration – Me & My Whale – Xavier Velastin | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Me & My Whale is a new performance project that calls out the damaging way we appropriate the sounds of the ocean and it draws on an absurdist blend of sound art and inventive techniques and creates a piece of contemporary theatre that is rich in new music. All created by Xavier Velastin and Hannah Mook, we found out more in a new My Inspiration piece from Xavier before the event comes to the Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle on Saturday 23rd February.

The whale moves in a sea of sound:

Shrimps snap, plankton seethes,

Fish croak, gulp, drum their air-bladders,

And are scrutinised by echo-location,

A light massage of sound

Touching the skin.

(Whale Nation, Heathcote Williams)

Me & My Whale is a live performance in which a submarine captain falls in love with a whale. We find her wandering the deep ocean, collecting sounds from the wreckage of a drowned human world. While submerged, she hears a whale’s song, deep and resonant, and dives to join her. The whale’s voice, the subaquatic environment, the submarine and the captain’s singing voice are all created and manipulated live using innovative sound technology. It is a performance that challenges the damaging way we treat the sounds of the ocean, and how by extension we damage the world. It comes at a time when we’ve finally started to use our voices to speak out about the imminence of climate catastrophe, and in the next breath call out abusers of power in a scale and speed we’ve never seen before. It is a play with two performers, live coding and mesmerising visuals, where the focus is on listening.

Listening is in the voice.

Listening is in the body.

I’m a sound artist. I use digital audio technology to expand and undermine reality. I compose sound for theatre, I use joysticks at open mic nights, and I like singing into water because it sounds silly. I’ve parterned with writer and performance maker Hannah Mook (Paper People Theatre, Powder Keg) to develop Me & My Whale, and we’ve been working on it for over a year now. We’ve shown it in Manchester (where she lives) and Leeds (where I live), and over the next couple of months we’ll be in Newcastle and Sheffield. I chose the Star & Shadow to perform at, having been to a few gigs there, because they seem like good people and a worthwhile place to support if I can. If you haven’t gone yet, you should.

Watch:

I first started writing Me & My Whale just over two years ago. I had been messing around singing into water and recording my voice with an underwater microphone. I started to look into how other animals might sing in water, and obviously came upon whales. But almost all of the whale sounds on youtube had some neo-classical rubbish (I’m looking at you, Ólafur Arnalds) over it, so I looked for scientific recordings. I really recommend the Ocean Conservation Research Sound Library, and Voices In The Sea, by the way. I found out that almost all of the whales’ songs we hear have been electronically sped up, mainly because they sing so low we can’t naturally hear it. It got me thinking about how we have this very human idea of whales as majestic, wise, dignified creatures, but how the incredibly well-known sound they make has, in some way, been manufactured. At some point during the editing, a person has made a decision to put a whale’s voice at a certain pitch and speed – to tally with what we expect to hear. I think this says a lot about the way we position ourselves with respect to the natural world. A lot of the same people who listen to whalesong to meditate are those who champion ocean conservation. So Me & My Whale is about the capture, distortion and distribution of the voices of the disempowered.

But it’s also about play. With the tools I bring from a sound art world, and those Mook brings from the theatre world, we’ve created systems and environments within which we’ve spent months messing around. We’ve enlisted advisors on the way who have helped us with the visual design, the script, the songwriting, the dramaturgy and our physicality. Our scenographer Virág Pázmány has helped us bring alive an interactive visual design based on water, reflections and breath. Whales, like humans, are highly playful animals, and being allowed to play is one of the reasons why I make performance in the first place. Me & My Whale is about an important issue, and based on complex ideas, but it’s also hopefully beautiful, resonant and moving.

We got very wet making this show and we hope you will too.

Me & My Whale runs for one night only on Saturday 23rd February 2019 at 8pm at the Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle. Tickets are £5 advance (more on the door), and are available at whale-sns.bpt.me. If you are facebook-inclined, follow the event for whale content: Me & My Whale ~ Newcastle.

Have a listen to some sounds to whet your appetite – Me & My Whale: Subaquatic Soundscape.

Follow me and Mook on Facebook: XVelastin ~ Hannah Mook

And here’s a recipe for sauteed krill.

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