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ARTIST COMMISSIONS: TEN SONGS FOR A LAR

… sound, art, heritage

TEN ARTISTS WORKING WITH SOUND ‘GIVE VOICE’ TO OUR SILENT LAR

Ten Songs for a Lar is a new and ambitious global artist commission inspired by an almost 2000 year mysterious figurine, held in the collections at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester. This tiny ‘Lar’ statuette, a household god figurine, served as a protector of the home, family and domestic boundaries and dates from around AD 200. Each of the ten selected artists will create a unique audio-artefact inspired by the Lar having been asked: ‘What does this object say to you, and what stories do you wish to give voice to, and bring to life, through music and sound?’.

Through modern composition, musique concrete, spoke word, field recording, pop and folk, artists will explore themes of identity, loss, family, home, protection, silence, time travel and animism.

The ten artists are: Anil Sebastian; Ariel Chan; Cyanotape; Freddie Murphy and Chiara Lee; Iain Chambers; Lunatraktors; McKevitt & Noble; Quiet Boy; Stergin; Yeji Yeon.

Staring from September 2020, one audio response will be released every month through a regular/rolling programme of music, discussions, lectures, and blogs.

Meet the artists

Anil Sebastian

Anil Sebastian is a Folkestone-based artist, creative director and producer. Anil is a solo artist, member of Icelandic band Hrím, and the Founder and Director of London Contemporary Voices choir. Anil has performed with Alt-J, Manu Delago, Imogen Heap, Nitin Sawhney, Laura Mvula, Sam Smith and U2, and has toured globally.

For this commission a new innovative new work entitled ‘Resonance’ will be created in collaboration with Japanese/Egyptian coder and modular synthesist Cherif Hashizume, translating physical matter into audio waves by exploring the resonant properties of the Lar
figurine.

Ariel Chan

Ariel Chan (Linyuying Chen) from Yunnan Province, China, is a freelance scholar, singer, and choral director. She is dedicated to the mining and research of minority ethnic music (mainly Miao and Hani) in Southwest China.

Chan’s work will document the “cirane” and “whispering love song” recited in a nearby remote village. These songs express a continuation of a strong and existing belief if animism (the attribution of energy/living souls to inanimate objects) and provides a living, direct connection with our Lar figurine and ancient Roman beliefs.

Cyanotape

James Marren is a UK based artist and musician exploring a wide variety of media, including photographic processes, film, installation, sound and performance. With a degree in Psychology and more recently graduating from Chelsea College of Arts (UAL) in 2016, he draws on a range of tools to explore the subconscious and less understood. This is equally a personal journey as it is a way to connect. Fragmented discoveries that often feel intimate, only to later reveal a more universal relevance.

Cyanotape will create a timeless, contemplative mantra enabling listeners to connect with this artefact and the people who historically took comfort from it.

Freddie Murphy and Chiara Lee

Italian sound artists Freddie Murphy and Chiara Lee have been composing music together since 2003. Their natural inclination to write music for films, installations and readings derives from their peculiar approach to composition. The starting point of the process are visual imagery and concepts, followed by translation of their hidden meanings into music. With the moniker Father Murphy, they released concept albums focusing on expressing the sound of Catholic sense of guilt. They have performed extensively across Europe, UK, North America, Australia and Russia. Films with their original soundtrack were selected by Locarno Film Festival, MoMA Fortnight Doc Festival, etc.

For this commission they will create a song to induce a physical will to listen, alternating a quiet composition and moments of silence, as in a “game of seduction” where the audience is drawn to listen but is also asked to be longing for the next sound. “By choosing to engage in attentively listening to the Lar sound we can enable audience’s curiosity towards the figurine story and what it potentially symbolises.”

Iain Chambers

Iain Chambers is a London-based composer and producer whose work explores specific locations and their changing sounds across time, as in The House of Sound (2017), and City of Women (2018). In 2019 Iain launched the independent record label Persistence of Sound, creating a new space for musique concrète, field recordings, and the uncategorizable sounds in between. In 2015 Iain staged the first ever concerts in Tower Bridge’s Bascule Chambers, turning Tower Bridge into a huge resonant chamber. Iain continues to curate the annual Bascule Chamber Concerts, working with partners Thames Festival and Tower Bridge. In 2003 Iain co-founded Langham Research Centre, an electronic music ensemble using Cold War era technology to compose new music. The group also create new realisations of work by composers including John Cage, Alvin Lucier and Christian Wolff, using an unusual analogue instrumentarium.

Chambers will create a new piece of work, Household Gods, which imagines the Lar as a sounding board or receiver, picking up and amplifying the sounds of domestic objects, which are then arranged into a through-composed musique concrete work.

Lunatraktors

Margate-based ‘broken folk’ duo Lunatraktors make research-based performances rooted in body and voice: dance and gesture, body percussion, speech, vocal harmony and overtone singing. The result is an experimental fusion of live art and folk music, moving between theatres, museums, galleries, music venues and festivals. Drawing on British folk heritage and influences from contemporary art, theatre and music, Lunatraktors combine the talents of percussionist, dancer and choreographer Carli Jefferson with research artist, composer and folk singer Clair Le Couteur. Lunatraktors’ debut album This Is Broken Folk was listed in MOJO Magazine’s Top 10 Folk Albums of 2019.

“Lunatraktors will make a new ritualistic folk song and dance: an invocation to the Guildhall Lar. Whether as visitors looking through a glass vitrine, artists responding to digital images during lockdown, or partially sighted or less mobile visitors experiencing primarily through tactile sound, we want the Lar to be something that we can all touch, and that can touch us.”

McKevitt & Noble

Donna McKevitt writes music for film, contemporary dance and concert performance. She has collaborated with Nick Cave, Tricky and Michael Nyman. Her first work, Translucence, a song cycle of Derek Jarman’s poetry, began when scoring music for his final film Blue. Released on Warner Classics it received five-star reviews in many of the national and international newspapers and publications. Her work has been performed at The Tate, The Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells as well as national and international festivals and venues.

Jan Noble is a writer and a poet. He studied Fine Art at Canterbury School of Art (now UCA). His work has been broadcast on Channel 4 and BBC Radio. He has recorded at Abbey Road Studios and read at venues and festivals across Europe including the ICA, London, the Teatro Filodrammatici, Milan and Poetry on the Lake, Italy with former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

McKevitt and Noble’s work will take the Ovid quote, “Every doorway has two sides” as a starting point for the lyrical content which will envisage the Lar as an object handed down through generations: touched held, lost, rediscovered!

Quiet Boy

Gaz Tomlinson also known by his artist name ‘Quiet Boy’, is an alternative electronic theatre and film composer, singer songwriter and performer who resides in Margate. With over a decade’s experience of playing in bands. Tomlinson has toured the UK extensively, appeared at most major UK music festivals and has had his music played by all major radio stations.

Originally trained as a theatre maker at East 15 Acting School he found composing for theatre to be a natural progression for his skill set. His debut piece was composing, musically directing and performing in critically acclaimed gig theatre ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ by Brigitte Aphrodite and Directed by Laura Keefe. Most recently Tomlinson composed and co-wrote eco punk musical ‘Parakeet’ and has composed music for BAFTA winning script short film ‘Liverpool Ferry’ which is scheduled for release in Autumn 2020.

Tomlinson’s work for this commission will be a binaural composition featuring the voices and ruminations of ‘the real people of Kent’ – an audible thread of everydayness between current Kentish communities and those from almost 2000 years ago. The narrative will take you on a journey of hibernation, loneliness, grief, things coming to an end, the struggle of keeping a house warm and homelessness.

Stergin is an Austrian multi-instrumentalist, composer/producer & songwriter based in London. 2018 he was awarded the highly competitive “Do It Differently Award” by Help Musicians UK. His projects have received support by the Arts Council England & The Austrian Cultural Forum London. As a performing artist his most recent cross-arts project is called “12 Photos 12 Tracks” – the global journey of a Polaroid turned into music, developed with his band “Ode To Lucius”. Commissioned by the Tokyo University of the Arts & Japan Railways group he recently wrote a piece for zither, mountain goats and 56 speakers.

For Ten Songs for a Lar Stergin has proposed ‘Preparing Dinner’ – a piece focusing on a Lares silently observing everything that happened within a home. “If only this Lar could talk. What stories would it tell? In ‘Preparing Dinner’ this Lar tells the story of a Roman woman and the thoughts she had while preparing dinner for the family.

Yeji Yeon

Yeji Yeon is a multi-disciplinary artist of music, dance, visual arts and performing arts. Her music is a lullaby for lovers and dreamers. She was trained primarily in classical singing, ballet and theatre acting. Born in South Korea, she moved to England at a young age and is currently based in Seoul, South Korea. Much of her inspiration comes from nature, love and spirituality; she writes, sings, and records her songs often on the road in her travels around the world.

Yeon has composed a haunting and hypnotic traditional based folk song in Latin entitled Veni Lares Veni” – “I have chosen…to sing lyrics of praise; I envisioned the melody to be chant-like and simple- as how the people of the ancient times would have sang their love and praise for the Lares. I decided to accompany the singing with an Autoharp; to sound familiar to a Roman lyre. I wish to evoke the feelings, the atmosphere, and the Spirits of those times through my song.”

What is a Lar?

 

The Guildhall Lar is a bronze figurine believed to date from around 200AD. It was found in 1888 near Quarry House, Frindsbury, UK. A Lar (or plural, Lares), including the one from The Guildhall Museum are particularly mysterious objects. They are rare archaeological finds in the UK. Lares are primarily household guardian deities from ancient Rome believed to observe, protect, and influence all that happens within the boundaries of their location (home). Statues of domestic Lares were placed at the table during family meals; their presence, cult, and blessing seem to have been required at all important family events.

Although there is much that is still unknown with The Guildhall Museum Lar, these objects, are often depicted as dancing, protective forces. Ovid (Roman poet) describes how these deities are often described as Muta (the speechless one) and are required to carry out their safeguarding activities in silence.

The Comission

The Kent Medway Museums National Portfolio Organisation Partnership (KMM NPO) requested proposals from musicians, song writers, sound artists, poets, and those working with sound to create new audio artworks to be accessioned as permanent artefacts within the museum collections. ‘Ten Songs for a Lar’ is an ambitious new commission creating multiple audio interpretations of a bronze Lar.

Background

The KMM NPO is a group of four museums (The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Canterbury Museums & Galleries, Guildhall Museum Rochester and Tunbridge Wells Museum & Gallery) funded by Arts Council England (ACE) to work together to deliver excellence in the use of collections and to inspire learning, creativity, and wellbeing to existing and new audiences in their communities.

This commission is part of the KMM NPO’s ambition to produce artworks that encourage audiences to think about ‘What is collecting? What makes a display? Which stories are being told at museums and how?’ Museum objects, often grouped in predefined, restricted spaces sit silently, sparsely captioned, awaiting the attention of further, deeper, exploration.

Museums do not just collect, care and exhibit objects; they categorise, contextualise and interpret objects to fulfil their own, and their intended audiences, requirements. The many stories behind these often human made objects, and the emotive connections they intend to make, can therefore become difficult to obtain.

Through this commission the KMM NPO appointed 10 musicians or artists working with sound to create individual, thought provoking, emotive works to interpret a Lar figurine – an inherently ‘traditional’ museum object. Without the need for images, physical presence, and perhaps even words, we asked: ‘what does this object say to you, and what stories do you wish to give voice to, and bring to life, through music and sound?’.

The 10 audio responses will:

  • Become permanent digital artefacts accessioned (added to) the collections of the NPO partners
  • Be made into a physical, limited-edition vinyl record to be deposited in each of the museums partners collections
  • Be promoted individually through a monthly programme of activities and as a group of audio tracks (album)
  • Be exhibited together as part of an interactive touring display

 

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