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A wee diary at the time of the virus 4 Ian Stephen


A couple of commissions - a progress report


Dialogue with musician and composer Mike Vass continues. Mike responded to written and spoken strands of stories with this piece – it sets the scene on Ensay, Sound of Harris, with a wedding dance breaking out while one strong-minded woman looks westward:



Mike has generously given permission to share this part of the work-in-progress. We have not yet played with putting elements together and adjusting the balance of spoken voice and music. A video-call might be next in order. The other main challenge is that we just don’t know what’s going to be feasible at the time of the first scheduled performance, October 2020 at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. Annalisa Salis, working for TRACS, has proposed we work on basis of a filmed performance in the Netherbow Theatre. This would be sent out live. We have interest from the Toronto Storytelling Festival, so, who knows, there could be an internet version and possibly a later live performance when that’s considered safe. At the moment we have to spin words and music off each other, without the mysterious input from a live audience. We’re all trying to see the creative possibilities in what could be termed restrictions. Here’s an example from Mike:


‘If it is just Ian and me on stage,… how would you feel about me making use of live-looping software, so layering up various fiddles, guitars and little bits of hand percussion, and maybe even some 'foley' creating sound effects live as the narrative unfolds. It would add more of a visual aspect and I'm also very keen to try out some binaural techniques, especially if this is to be a film/broadcast. So I could wear a binaural microphone head set, and we could encourage viewers to listen on headphones, they would hear Ian's voice in the centre of the sound field, and the instruments and effects would start building around him as I play, but the audience would hear everything as I hear it. ie a bell to my left, sounds on their left, if I play the fiddle, they hear it as if its under their chin. The binaural idea is inspired by a theatre show 'the encounter' which uses the technique and has the audience wearing headphones for full immersion! As if the audience themselves are on stage in the centre of the action.’


I’m also sharing the script that’s not a script (as it will not be learned up word for word) with my neighbour Colin Thompson who happens to be a theatre director by trade. He taught that art for many years and we plan to meet up outdoors to sound text out loud and explore how a narrator’s voice might work beside the performed stories. It looks like the visual element may become more important. Perhaps there will be minimal props and actions like the coiling of rope or tying-in of reefs in a sail as the narrative progresses. The idea that a work can find its expression in several versions, none necessarily the ‘right’ or the ‘best’ one has long been of interest. This was the concept behind a multi-partner touring exhibition ‘Is a thing lost….’ back about ten years ago. Perhaps Colin and myself and Christine Morrison (my wife and partner in the arts) can share a local version before too long.


And speaking of the local… it’s been a great pleasure to contribute to Ullapool Book Festival Continuing. This great organisation was generous enough to support me by paying the agreed fee for the outreach work I would have done across the Minch this spring. These commissions have made it much easier to keep working in a focused way in difficult times. As a small return, I took time to look back on a small chain of tales, all heard, not invented, and all brimming with the wit that so often reminds me of my mother Johan’s way with a story. These will be shared with the community by way of the Ullapool News. The next issue is due end of this week:


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