To Live In Art
9th November 2021Features NMC Recordings
A unique sense of place is at the heart of Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian’s music.
One particularly significant location is 575 Wandsworth Road, London, the home of the Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics, and British civil servant, Khadambi Asalache (28 February 1935 – 26 May 2006).
Now owned by the National Trust, this was where, with the support of Susie Thompson, an artist and Khadambi's partner, Cevanne was a Composer in Residence with the London Symphony Orchestra's Soundhub Scheme in 2015-2017. The two-year residency in the house was focussed on interpreting and celebrating the history of Khadambi's creative work through workshops with LSO musicians and members of the local community.
Much of the musical experimentation that was born from her residency at 575 – from the sampling of sounds found in the space, to the setting of Khadambi's poetry to music – formed the seeds of what was to become (almost five years and a global pandemic later) Cevanne's new album, Welcome Party.
We took a trip back to the house with the composer to explore some imagery and items in the house that were particularly significant to tracks on the album, and to reflect on what the residency means to Cevanne today, in the context of how her creative processes were changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scroll through the photo albums and listen to excerpts of the related music below.
One of the ways Cevanne connected with Khadambi and his house was to take inspiration from the acoustic properties of the spaces and objects around the home. Found sounds from the house were the impetus for several tracks including Walls & Ways for clarinet, voice, electronics, which opens with the recorded tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the hall.
Cevanne remembers seeing " the light shine onto an irregular table [Khadambi] had carved to hold a collection of glass and metal inkwells," and how this led to her creation of the track Inkwells, which features recorded samples of the objects alongside a melody played on Khadambi's own mbira which she found in his study.
Cevanne created the score using her trademark 'eye-music' technique, which involves cutting sections from the manuscript to reveal what lies in the vacant space behind the page. It was a coincidence that her beautifully carved paper resonates so much with Khadambi's carved wooden fretwork throughout the house. Inkwells begins with recorded hammering, as if Khadambi were present in the space, carving his creations.
As well as the acoustic and aesthetic properties of 575 Wandsworth Road, Cevanne was also inspired by other strands of Khadambi's creative output. His poetry is set explicitly and serves as stimulus for several works, including Cave Painting for violin, viola and bass clarinet. She picks up on and continues the thread of themes that Khadambi explored in his work, such as migration which is explored in the context of vocal and instrumental birds in Swallows & Nightingales, and in through the lens of her own Anglo-Armenian heritage in Ser, a touching choral work named after the Armenian word for 'love'.
Composing The Ladies gave Cevanne a chance to engage with the humour throughout Khadambi’s interior designs, including ankle-height bunnies painted for the household dog to chase, and the eclectic paintings of women in the bathroom, ranging from Bessie Smith to Cleopatra, Pocahontas to Madame de Pompadour. The text in this track is a fragment of Shakespeare which Khadambi sketched on the wall of his bathroom , and is performed soulfully by the composer's sister Ziazan.
The domestic setting of Khadambi's artwork takes on new layers of meaning and relevancy in the context of the national lockdowns enforced across the conutry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines to 'stay at home' meant that our homes played all sorts of new roles in our lives. Cevanne describes how she struggled to find the impulse to create for a while at the beginning of the pandemic, but that her ideas returned once she started to see her home as a new 'venue' for playing music with no audience. This further connected her to 575 Wandsworth Road as she better understood how it feels to "make art out of your own home, to live in art."
"When the pandemic halted progress, I eventually returned to my note book to complete pieces dating back to 2015, and invent new ones," says Cevanne. "The process felt a little like reintroducing myself to old friends. Awkward and anxious at first, but eventually it became a familiar conversation, a welcome party."
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