‘Postcard Ahab’ for Alwynne Pritchard

At the beginning of the lockdown earlier this year Alwynne Pritchard  announced that she would be interested in recording and videoing short 1 minute-long postcard pieces. Alwynne is an outstanding composer, performer, and curator of experimental music; very recently Alwynne collaborated with the Bit20 ensemble and conductor Trond Madsen to record work for CD by the French-Slovenian composer Vinko Globokar*. Other performers and researchers have taken part in similar open projects during this time to invite composers/artists’ involvement or contribution. Here I’m thinking of pianist/composer Rolf Hind, and another is Scott McLaughlin and Heather Roche‘s fascinating forking paths research project, where one such invite was for composers to write a minute long multi-phonic pieces for the clarinet.

Alwynne describes the process and the work of recording and filming her performances of the many postcard pieces she received in this article. In this article she describes the whole process, and the fact that not still has some way to go, and even that she is still receiving postcards not only from composers, but also from musicians, non-musicians, artists, and others who had not thought to write a postcard as a fragment of a piece. Alwynne describes how the relationship to her materials, the dimensions of the room, the microphone, and recording/videoing devices used, and mentions that these materials and spaces have a direct relationship to her body in the space itself.

She describes the how the process, and the regularity of this work made her feel more robust as an artist. I would suggest that this is partly a consequence of projects that are iterative and of the unexpected transformational effects such projects can have. Alwynne mentions that feelings of crisis (as caused directly by how the sudden lockdown meant that concerts and other immediate projects were cancelled at short notice) can be a kind of ‘engine’, I so, I should hope this may inspire others to undertake a similar, perhaps iterative projects, especially when there are signs in the near future of a second lockdown possibly for the coming autumn, or winter.

For this initial postcard piece I decided on selecting the final lines spoken by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s most famous book Moby Dick.  As you can see in the image of the postcard, both sides are used, the front contains the playing instructions, on the other side are a series of numbered sentences. Each sentence is to be read out dramatically, but it isn’t essential for every sentence to be each used in performance. Alwynne’s recording, and of all the postcard pieces written for this project can be found here.

*As an aside I remember working with Vinko Globokar while employed as a freelance assistant at the Experimental Studio, of the South West German Radio, in December 1999. Vinko’s piece, scored for a mixed trio (oboe, contrabass, and horn) and electronics, was highly dramatic and, looking now at his back catalogue, must have been the 38 minute Kaktus unter Strom. This was in preparation for a CD production, made by the Experimental Studio. I further encountered him during a performance of his work La Prison, in 2001,that received its premiere at the summer Rümlingen Contemporary Music Festival, at an edition of the festival where I conducted newly commissioned work for the festival.

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