FEATURE: Where Is My Self | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The body is a central concept in many works of art and is an even more significant factor in performance art and dance. The grace with which dancers move isn’t as effortless as it first seems, which can lead to us asking questions about the limits of the body and how we function on a daily basis. New production Where Is My Self aims to explore some of these concepts through the power of movement.

The performance itself is split into two pieces The first, Where Is My Head, is an autobiographical piece that explores the way in which we move ourselves. Through movement, the performer, French choreographer Stephanie Berge, is able to explore her own body and its functions as a kind of living archive. The second piece, Utilis Apparatus, aims to challenge our perceptions of the body and how we move in our own skin. It looks more deeply at the functionality of our bodies by questioning how human movement and flesh could survive and work on a different planet with its own rules and regulations. Together, the performances will help us to think about the ways in which our bodies work and move in a unique audio-visual presentation.

Ahead of the performance, I talked to former Chapman Family member and sound artist for Where Is My Head Scott Riby to find out more about the project.

How did you first become involved in this project? What attracted you to it?

This project is actually two separate pieces that were developed over a year ago while I was living in London. Steph, Lou, James and I met while we were completing our Masters degrees. James and I were studying at Goldsmiths and Steph and Lou were at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire. We developed several pieces, two of which (the ones we are showcasing at Blah Blah) were submitted for our final portfolios. It seemed such a shame to put so much time, effort and research into pieces that we’d never show again, so we thought, “why not take it on the road and show the rest of the world?!” So we did. It’s amazing that the first space we’re showcasing it is in my hometown!

When you were creating the sound art for Where Is My Head, what were you aiming to achieve? What type of atmosphere were you trying to create?

Steph and I developed Where Is My Head after we discovered our shared love of the works of composer, John Cage, and choreographer, Merce Cunningham. At the time, Steph was exploring ‘the self’ as an object and the Feldenkrais Method, which, in layman’s terms, is basically a type of yoga that focuses on the body and how to reduce pain, improve movement and general wellbeing. I really liked this concept and tried to translate it musically. We split our piece into a number of sections, and within each section, Steph and I grow; Steph through her movement and myself through sound.

How closely did you work with choreographer Stephanie Berge when composing the sound?

Unlike Cage and Cunningham, who would often only hear or see what each other developed on the day of their performance, Steph and I worked very closely when developing our ideas for Where Is My Head. This was partly due to the fact we were originally being assessed, but also because we wanted certain parts to be in synch, so rehearsals were paramount to achieving our final goal.

With Dancer

“After spending so much time away from the area, through the music, bands and studying, it’s great to come back and actually show people what I’ve been up to all these years”

Your background mainly lies in popular music, so how did you first get involved creating sound art?

I’ve always had a passion for sound art, but I’ve unfortunately never had the funding, resources or support to create works that I really love. When I joined the old band, things started to fall into shape and I was able to express myself more as a solo artist, partly because art played such an important role in The Chapman Family. I first showcased one of my installations at MIMA when we played a show with artist, Stella Vine. After the success of the evening, it made me realise that there was actually a purpose behind what I was doing, so I took things into my own hands. I’ve now presented works all over the UK and am really happy with the way things are going.

Have there been any challenges in creating this sound art piece for Where Is My Head?

Not really. Steph and I built up a great relationship over the year we spent together in London; I’ve certainly made a lifelong collaborative partner in her. We’d bounce ideas of one another and compliment each other’s work, it all kind of just fell into place as it went along. I’d say the most difficult part was the programming side of things. I was never great with computers, so building my own instruments using code was a particularly arduous process.

This is the first time that you’ll have aired your sound art outside of London. Are you at all nervous about how it’ll go down?

Haha, yes! I’m absolutely terrified. Stuck behind a drum kit in front of 20,000+ people and I’d happily play my arse off, but stick me in front of 20 drunken Northerners and I’m bricking it. I think with a show like this, which can easily go wrong, there’s a lot a pressure to succeed, especially when you know your Mum and Dad are in the audience.

Since you’re from Billingham, is it particularly special to you that this first airing outside the capital is taking place on Teesside?

It’s an absolute honour to showcase these pieces in Middlesbrough. After spending so much time away from the area, through the music, bands and studying, it’s great to come back and actually show people what I’ve been up to all these years. This is also the first time all four of us have ever done anything like this outside of the capital, not just myself, so it’s extra special for us all. Middlesbrough doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, so we’re so pleased to be included in the Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark festival and hope we can start something new that attracts more performance artists and interdisciplinary practitioners to the area.

What are you going to be working on after this project?

There’s a few bits and bobs in the pipeline. I’ve gone back to my roots as of late and have been doing quite a lot of performing as a session musician, but I have a number of compositions and installations that I want to take on the road. I’ll hopefully be able to raise some money in the near future to do so.

Where Is My Self comes to the House of Blah Blah, Middlesbrough on Friday 16th October.

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