Purchase a ticket to watch on demand until 4th January 2022.
A new kind of liturgy is about to begin… a Land Mass. This is a spontaneous, vocal-visual liturgy for the land, sung by a unique choir, The Improvisers’ Choir, conducted by composer Jenni Roditi, who is creating her conducting directions as the improvised music is sung. The film was created in response to the music tracks by Slovenian filmmaker Sara Pozin.
At the start we are given an Order of Service, listed in the titles, inviting the possibility of a ceremonial space and the start of a participatory journey, with the promise, we hope, of redemption. Spoken- word poet Toby Thompson opens this Land Mass with his beseeching poem Bird Bath. There is longing, fury, despair, grit - and an aching call for grace and mercy in his words.
But how can he truly liberate himself, he asks, - from all this? What is this world, whose dawn chorus is both a ‘raucous din’ and a ‘flawless hymn’ while he reluctantly remains ‘trapped in the prison of me, like a grizzly bear in a derelict zoo’?
It’s as if his Bird Bath were a holy font, blessing the ‘sobs’ of his ‘doubtful fog.’ His call to freedom: ‘let me out, let me out!’ is no more than a ‘riddle’. He is trapped, ‘lonesome’ in his own ‘fortress,’ and can only hear the 'wind chimes sigh'.
As the poem ends the entrance to this metaphorical liturgical space, this Land Mass - is complete. A suffering, which we can all recognise, has been verbalised and given form in such striking poetry.
It’s time to look beyond the ‘trap’ that Toby names, to a bigger relationship with nature and the land: the ground on which we all stand. It’s time to voice, with the land itself.
Toby’s beseeching questions echo throughout, as we revisit his poem, in sections, between scenes.
We then begin the Land Mass narrative which moves through both nature and nurture’s order: Plough, Sow, Seed, Root, Birds, Sap, Bud, Seed, Stem, Birds, Sprout, Reap, Seed, Husk, Yield, Birds, and finally Orb.
There are three repetitions of Seed and Birds as a reminder of the always-hidden power in a Seed, and the always-singing world of Birds. Over these two repeating musical moments, Toby’s poem is presented as text, in sections, reminding us of the unsolvable paradoxes of everyday life.
Plough then starts, with a human stake in this landmass, a work-song of toil, despair, exhaustion, and wild indignation.
Sow invites the human hand to intervene for a second step, casting a stratospheric spell of seed dispersal, as new life is planted in the earth.
But still, Seed remains the singular sound of an always-beginning, as the opening poem appears now as text only, casting back to contemplations – ‘call it karma, call it sin’.
Root then dives downwards into the earth’s underbelly, where the beginnings of life are always hidden, churning up the belly in a voice which echoes memories from ancestral times.
After this the Birds continue their song, (although we may ponder for how long?) as the poem’s text next reminds us of ‘yet another catacomb built in a hurry’.
Sap then explodes, as if in defiance, bringing dark germinations to the light where unnamed powers of renewal refuse any deathly sentence and orgasmic ladybirds share their sweetest, sexiest joys.
Bud is formed, oxygenates, pops, dances, plays. The glory of flowers appearing on the earth, reveal themselves nakedly in shameless delight.
As before, Seed returns as a singular sounding presence under the poem, repeating insistently: ‘the question remains what the heck did I do that my soul should be held captive?’
Stem then arches and lurches forwards, upwards, reaching to the light and yet planted, an earth-born green and purple statue, a single stem, dignified and simply, itself.
Birds again continue their song, but now the poem asks emphatically, ‘somebody tell me what am I, what am I? A chess piece held in a cosmic hand?’
Sprout releases its overspilling energies, evoking multiplicity, repetitions, procreating, and expanding, eventually towards a plateau of steady growth.
Reap now sings of nature providing nurture in a short burst of bounty, drawn from the toil of Plough, the spell of Sow, the burrowing of Root, the rising of Sap, the celebration of Bud, the expansion of Stem and the multiplicity of Sprout.
Now with Reap human hands receive their reward, coming together to celebrate their labour in dance and ritual.
Seed remains, the singular sound of the always-beginning as Toby’s text repeats, after several iterations, the same urgent questions, - ‘who built the wall that walls me in? Who wrote the chorus the dawn bird sings?’
Husk, the discarded sheaf, must be lost, composted, as melancholy and bereavement is embraced. Nature makes sacrifices, but it is to preserve life while strange ghosts rise from the husky ashes, in wild and fiery flights of their own making.
Yield brings in nature’s harvest for the people and to celebrate there is fire, heat, and community as hearts spark together and unite as one, in glorious accord.
Birds continue their singing, before the final part of the poem settles into its own answer to the poet’s searching questions – the final image leaves us in no doubt: ‘by way of reply, the wind chimes sigh, and the bird bath fountain sobs’.
Orb then softly lifts our gaze upwards and away from the land. This is a recycling and redemptive rounding. An orb is said to be a mysterious, floating, visiting spirit or even a UFO. As such a mysterious visitor appears in the music: the grand old master JS Bach with his Prelude in C Major, played on the piano by Cassie Yukawa-McBurney, reminding the listener of the mighty power and stature of the well-tempered clavier and yet, - testing the sanctity of the music - the choir are heard grinding vowels around their collective mouths, echoing textures of previous pieces.
Then, a solo vocal line, sung by Jenni Roditi, is heard over the Bach, expelling the piano further from its known aura, and it willingly accedes. Moving into a parallel universe the tempered tuning is now in intimate relationship with non-tempered vocal ornaments, slides, and improvisation. There is a rounding-off in this translucent Orb as the Mass itself is complete. We hear the final soft echoes of the choir’s voices, harmonics and crackling vocal fry, which burns away everything, into silence.
We are left with ourselves.
This Land Mass has been intuitively compiled, as an expressionistic liturgy, looking inside the wilderness and beauty of our inner worlds through improvised singing together, and connecting that magical freedom, fragility, and power in us all to the world of Mother Nature herself.
Is it so very different?
Finally, it is for the audience to take their own meanings and messages from it.
The piece is a blend of open, creative, unplanned vocal expression and utterance with fixed and semi-fixed, known forms and approaches – viz:
• the single Blumlein Pair 360° microphone that enabled the singers to collaborate without the use of headphones, with thanks to Asier Leatxe Ibañez d'Opakoa, the recording producer for this idea
• the cinematography of Sara Pozin
• the composed poetry of Toby Thompson
• the Prelude in C major BWV 846 by JS Bach, composed in 1722 and its performance by Cassie Yukawa-McBurney
• a musical technique from the 1960’s known as ‘conduction’ for shaping improvised music.
• And especially the musical imaginations of each member of The Improvisers’ Choir
The piece was envisioned, directed, and collated by Artistic Director Jenni Roditi in a compositional curation of the multiple strands. (For more on this process see the document 'from disparate to conglomerate'.)
Let there always be space to weave collaboratively, so we can live respectfully on our Earth, this blue planet, this mass of land, that holds us all in the vast silence of space.
This show is only available to people located in the United Kingdom.
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