Block 336, London, UK
Photo: Tim Spooner by Dimitri Djuric
Bastard Assignments is a collective of composer-performers that includes Timothy Cape, Edward Henderson, Caitlin Rowley and Josh Spear. Consisting of six performances that interrogate the remix and its role on the stage, the evening begins simply and ends in a riot of colour, playfulness and complexity.
Cape’s Untitled opens the show. Looking as if they were coerced into judicial combat armed with only midi controllers and a drum pad, Spear and Henderson fire off pop music samples at each other. These sounds are interlaced with guttural vocalisations from the two players. The result is a piece that is somewhere between noise and language and recalls the flatulent logic of Neil Luck’s 2015 LCMF commission Via Gut.
Composed by Henderson, Good utilises a six-piece band and appropriates the final cadence of James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good). Inspired by a live recording where Brown’s band jams on the last chord ad infinitum, Henderson’s arrangement uses silence, repetition and dissonant deviation to unsettle the ear. In a post-concert email interview, Henderson described the composition as a “mysterious gesture”, going on to say that “imbuing each section of the piece with a non-causal, non-narrative sense of something that could go on forever” was instrumental to abstracting the original work and divorcing it from the climactic power of funk.
This notion of abstraction is also evident in Crying, a piece by Eleanor Perry and Tim Spooner. The foundations of the work are composed from samples of crying women. Taken from movies such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and The Philadelphia Story, these heavily edited bursts of counterfeit emotion readily lend themselves to mimesis. Wearing a stark combination of colours Perry and Spooner imitate passages of dialogue, as well as loops of diegetic sound, with a variety of materials that include inflatables, rubber and transparent plastic. Although surreal and playful on the surface, Perry’s emphasis on breath underpins Crying with a disconcerting feeling of hyperventilation that is difficult to shake off for days after the performance.
Birthday, choreographed by Thick & Tight (Eleanor Perry and Daniel Hay-Gordon) and performed by Bastard Assignments, is stylistically similar to Crying, but takes Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party as its material. Again, the performers mime to edited dialogue. Black gloves, semi-darkness and a haunting execution of Blind Man’s Buff take Pinter’s ‘comedy of menace’ further into maniacal farce by adding new layers of dark and ambiguous symbolism.
Broadcast across four CRT screens (with a fifth acting as a score for the live soundtrack), In the Paracinematic Cuteness appropriates early computer animation, television static and vaporwave imagery to suggest, as the composer Josh Spear told me later, “a viewing, way in the future, by aliens or AI, that had been constructed from today’s entertainments”.
Spear’s pessimistic view of late capitalism and its alien voyeurs is contrasted by Lady Vendredi’s utopian afrofuturist piece Neon Dream. Mixing aspects of Haitian Vodou and contemporary composition Lady Vendredi aka Nwando Ebizie presents the audience with a parallel dimension attained through sacrificial offerings (prosecco, crisps) and the transformative power of the four elements (psychedelic fires, sea of balloons, a giant egg, inflatable clothes). Collaborating with pianist Yung Yee Chen and director Jonathan Grieve, Ebizie combines colourful postmodern pop with theatrics rooted in the shamanic rites of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and the Loa spirit world.
At times challenging, and often bordering on the absurd, the evening’s cross-disciplinary approach serves to show that works, which seamlessly blend aspects of stage, screen and sound, project a vision of the future where art escapes identification and subversive humour plays a key role in our survival.
Originally published by Wire, September 2018