a film about Kurt Schwitters
This is the blog kept by Helen Petts while she made her film “Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing.” The project is now completed. To go back to the beginning scroll down, or to access the complete archive, click on the title bar.
The film was seen at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle from the 28 June - 18 August 2012. The Royal Festival Hall, London 31 August - 9 September 2012. Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal 15 September - 19 November 2012.
See her website www.helenpetts.com for more information on the project and recordings of artists talks at these galleries.
Next screening -
Tate Britain 5 April 2013. 4pm-10pm Clore Auditrium. Fringe event for Schwitters in Britain exhibition. With Jaap Blonk, Steve Beresford, Adam Bohman, Christopher Fox and Michael Horowitz.
Well that’s it now. I’ve done the sound edit with Dave Hunt. Its lovely. And I showed the film to the gallery and they are very happy. I also showed it to Cumbria’s other most famous artist - Conrad Atkinson - the other day. He was really supportive and positive. Very generous man. I went up to Cumbria again to finish editing the blog and have a rest. It was also the Queen’s Jubilee - so I went to visit my Mum and watch it on TV with her. On my way home from Cumbria, I finally managed to find Schwitters’ grave in St Mary’s churchyard in Ambleside. Its about 150 yards due south west from the massive conifer tree next to the church. I decided to add a shot to the film.
The following week I went to a conference on the Themerson’s and the Gabberbocchus Press who published Schwitters’ poetry. It was great to get back to the source again. I’ve been so distracted by the whole Cultural Olympiad thing, I sort of lost touch with what I had originally wanted to do. Its all still there though. I still love this man’s work and still feel an extraordinary connection to it. I met Roger Cardinal and thanked him for the book which was a very helpful research source.
There has been some very positive publicity. Local colour supp did a feature. The Huffington Post have selected the exhibition and the concert as one of the 21 Best Cultural Olympiad Art Events. And now its just the installation to do.
I can’t believe I have been working on this project since I went to Hanover back in November 2010. Its going to be two years. Its been incredible and exhausting and brilliant. I have met the most amazing people and had such fun.
Thanks for advice, knowledge and professional and emotional support to -
Steve Beresford, Jefford Horringan, John Russell, Roger Turner, Gwendolen Webster, Christopher Salzbrunn, Tim Fletcher, the Littoral Trust, Barbara Crossley, Russell Mills, Mary Burkett, Celia Washington, Niklas von Bartha, John Carter. Jarle Sanden, Terje Thingvold and Espen Flobersgeter at the Romsdal Museum, Molde. Bertramme Somme, Anna Perry, Anne-Mette Moe, Terry Nilsson-Love in Norway. Nick Rogers at Abbot Hall Gallery. Jeremy Adamson, Nick Adams. Tony Herrington and Clive Bell at the Wire, Paul Bream at Jazz North East. Lorna Fulton and Nigel Hinds at LOCOG, Anne Fletcher-Williams at ACE. Anne Bean, Robin Klassnik at Matt’s Gallery, Judith Knight and Gill Lloyd at Arts Admin. And of course my curators, Emily Marsden and Rob Airey at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.
The exhibition opens at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle on the 28th June and runs until the 18th August. There is also a Merz evening curated by me at the Sage in Gateshead on the 30th June. Then the installation goes to the Royal Festival Hall (in the White Room, lower ground floor) from the 31st August to the 9 September. Then Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal 15 September (I’m giving an artists’ talk that day) to the 19 November 2012. Hope somebody comes…
Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing is commissioned by the Unlimited programme of the Cultural Olympiad. Funded by the Arts Council of England.
Extended vocal technique and improvisation. Massive overlap with tradition of sound poetry. And she is featuring in a synposium at Tate Modern today called “Her Noise - Feminisms and the Sonic.” I used to go to her gigs when I was a young angry feminist who loved weird music. I now have filmed her many times. Fab.
Finished the picture edit. Now starting the sound with Dave Hunt. But back to Cumbria tomorrow for a rest as exhausted.
The Molde Jazz Festival and the Romsdal Museum are definitley hosting a day of tribute to KS on the 15th July on Hjertoya (the island in Norway where Schwitters lived). My film will be shown and Han Bennick is playing I think. More info when I get it.
(Well actually no - my film is not going to be screened this year as its proved to be too difficult technically. There is no electricity on the island. Possibly next year on the mainland …)
Its getting very busy now and I have not kept up to date on the blog. I left Cumbria in tears mainly because the dog insisted on sitting in the car while I packed it. She wanted to come too. Though when I said “stay” to her she got the message and went off to chew a bone. It made me cry a lot as I left - then I realised later that it was the week before Easter and my former partner Nick Houghton died then. I always over react to any loss at that time of year. I do really miss the dog though. And the village - and the rather eccentric local pub which seems to operate as an animal shelter as well (see above). It was amazing watching the landscape come alive again after the snow. The buds growing, and the lambs (who really do have some inner vertical propulsion mechanism). I saw a woodpecker on the bird table on my last day and a buzzard being attacked by crows above the house. And lots of baby rabbits. Like at the Merzbarn.
I came back to London to film Sylvia Hallett do the music for the Norway section of the film. The Hurtigruten boat trip (bowed bicycle wheel - a recurring Schwitters image) and the Djupvasshytte mountain sequence (hardanger fiddle). Sylvia herself works in Norway a great deal as both a musician and composer. She’s doing something with a choir in Trondheim at the moment. I find her so easy to work with. A couple of years ago we made a little film together for Matt’s Gallery and Anne Bean’s show TAPS - Improvisations with Paul Burwell. I knew she was the perfect choice for this project.
Then I got the wonderfully bonkers Adam Bohman in to do some sounds/music for the interior of the Schwyttershytte (the Merzbarn in Norway where I filmed last summer)). Lots of little scratchy noises made on found objects with contact mics attached. Dave Hunt did a fantastic job of the sound recording. He’s mastering the sound on the final thing as well.
But I’ve been massively distracted with lots of admin stuff - press releases, listings for the concert, booking train tickets, planning the installation, etc, etc, etc.
Thank God its coming together at last. In fact I am very pleased with the way the editing is going. So much so that I decided to have a few days off and have a couple of friends from London to stay. We had a great time, ate loads of food and I took them for a walk up Loughrigg Fell which seems to be my default walk at the moment. Its totally Schwitters’ fell and I like just repeating the same walk - noticing changes and differences in the light, the vegetation and the wildlife. The bats in the cave where he went for picnics with Wantee were nowhere to be seen this time (are they still in hibernation?). The weather is getting positively warm now.
Just went to visit Nick Rogers - the curator I am working with at Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal. We did a technical try out in the room I am showing the film. It looks great. Very happy. Nick lives in Cumbria and is a keen walker, so its great to talk to him about that side of my project. He’s also a musician. Looks like the show there will open on the 15th September.
Getting to know the neighbourhood here in Dacre. Went for a walk on the Dalemain estate and saw these moles on a fence. Creepy.
(I’m told afterwards by the gardener here that a mole catcher is paid by the number of animals they kill and they always line them up like this to prove how many they have nobbled.)
I’ve been in Cumbria for 3 weeks now and I still don’t feel I have got started with the editing. There have been meetings at the Hatton Gallery and phone calls and my Mum’s 80th birthday. It was freezing at first and lots of snow. Then I thought the dog was pregnant (turned out to be a phantom one - poor girl), and lots needed sorting out in the house. Then I got a cold which made the M.E. worse and I don’t edit when I feel bad as I make mistakes - like deleting files by accident. And which bright spark at Youtube decided the whole site needed to be redesigned? I’ve just spent all afternoon sorting out my Youtube site just as an article about it is about to come out. Its was fine as it was boys! (…I am sure they are boys).
So now - hopefully - I can get the editing done. But after lots of logging - I do know how I am going to edit it, so I am not so worried. We have finally sorted out the concert and the line-up, the billing, the accommodation etc. Its been a job in itself. Thank God Paul Bream at Jazz North East is helping on that. But we are now having the Bohman Brothers and my friend pianist Steve Beresford doing a funny piece with a prepared grand piano, text and amplified found objects about Stefan Wolpe’s piano music for Schwitter’s poem An Anna Blume. Its really, really hard to play apparently. So they are going to do a piece about that. They are brilliant, funny, creative musicians and performance artists who between them have performed at the Barbican, The Royal Festival Hall, Tate Modern, The Louvre, and our gig Mopomoso at the Vortex. Then Phil Minton will do a more musical version of the Ursonate with German vocal artist and sound poet Ute Wassermann who is coming from Berlin. She has a major commission for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival this year. Sylvia Hallett will do a solo on bicycle wheel and hardanger fiddle. The wheel sounds just like empty Norwegian fjords. Phil Minton (who has just performed at Aldeburgh in an opera about Dracula) and Roger Turner will also do a voice and found objects improvisation and anything else that we think of on the night… Its the 30th June in Hall 2 at the Sage Gateshead. I also had a visit from Lorna at the Cultural Olympiad last week and Ann my Arts Council officer. I think they are happy with everything. It must be hard for them to know. I was hoping to make it to the Sage next week for the John Cage evening, part of the AV Festival in Tyneside. But I think I have too much work to do.
Where is all the time going to? I have to get the film edited in the next few weeks as the sound edit will be quite complex I imagine.
I got a bit distracted in January. I had a new bathroom installed which is great. I spent ages doing an online interview with music writer Stuart Broomer for Point of Departure magazine, an international music magazine devoted to serious study of free improvisation and free jazz. He is doing a feature about me and the films I make - including the Schwitters project. It will be in the March issue. It actually took me a long time to complete as I put quite a lot of thought into what I wanted to say about myself. It was a lot of work but really useful to think about what I am doing and great to be taken seriously. On the same front, I went to Switzerland to show 3 films I made with Phil Minton at a music festival in Zurich. Tzwei Tage Zeit. Because they were being screened in a big theatre with a very good sound system I decided to re-master the sound on all of the films with Dave Hunt. It was really worth it - especially with Sea Shanties. The stereo separation is much more enhanced in the tiny sounds, the quiet stuff. I’m very happy with it. And it will now be included in the Hatton Gallery exhibition. The other two films I screened are The Cutty Wren (Phil singing a traditional English folk song, but in his own way, with gorgeous piano accompaniment by Veryan Weston) and Two Figures in a Vortex (Phil and John Russell live at the Vortex Jazz Club but filmed very blurred and abstract, on a slow shutter speed).
I really enjoyed being at the Swiss arts centre - the Theater Rigiblick - in Zurich, but I found it hard to imagine Dada being born in such a nice, neat, tidy respectable city and there was very little acknowledgement of this legacy in the city itself. The Cabaret Voltaire “Museum” in the original venue was nothing much but the cafe was nice on a horrible, cold, wet day. The best thing was meeting the musicians playing at the festival and the people at the Theatre. I love the free improvised music scene in mainland Europe as there are always visual artists there as well, who know the music and who understand what I am doing. I always have an interesting dialogue about my work and you get the impression that the musicians do also go to art galleries and art house cinemas. Like the musicians I work with - my films are taken far more seriously and I am given far more respect - outside the UK.
I filmed two percussionists on the first night as I liked the lines of the sticks and reflections as they were playing. Sylwia Zytynska and Fritz Hauser.
But the best thing about the whole weekend for me, was seeing my films on a big screen with fantastic sound. For anyone who has only seen them on a computer - they look and sound great. Its a massive thrill for me.
Then I delayed my trip to Cumbria and editing for a week in order to go to a Cultural Olympiad drinks party at Tate Britain. This is the arts festival for the London 2012 Olympics and they funded my project. Here is my link on the website. I met Lorna Fulton who is the Cultural Programmer for the North East part of the festival. She’s great. Everyone was laughing about the BBC4 sitcom “2012” and pretending to think it is really accurate! Lots and lots of jargon and pointless bureaucracy. But Lorna isn’t remotely like that. And her boss Nigel Hinds is brilliant. He knows all about the music I am working with and used to promote such concerts.
I’m finally in Cumbria and really need to just concentrate on editing the film now. But tomorrow I am driving to Newcastle for a meeting about the workshops that the gallery are running with Newcastle University Music Department. And I need to sort out somewhere to stay while I am there in June.