For IN·FLO·RES·CENCE Elaine Mitchener was commissioned by Reece Ewing to create a composition for solo piano around 1 minute in length responding to the changes to daily life during the global coronavirus outbreak. As part of the platform hosted by The Showroom, this individual piece and 9 others will all be interpreted and performed by the project’s first Artist-in-Residence, Pianist Elio Villafranca, throughout the duration of the project.
Top Image: Elaine Mitchener, London Contemporary Music Festival, 2017. Photo: Dmitri Djric
Video Image: Elaine Mitchener, SPILL Festival of Performance – Ipswich, 2016. Photo: Guido Mencari
Elaine Mitchener wrote blutit as a piece for solo percussive piano at 81 beats per minute (BPM) “with increasing insistence”, accompanied by the following performance notes:
unless indicated dynamics are free
change of sound needn’t occur on repetition
before playing observe bird activity
play inside/outside under and over the instrument
your movement is part of the work
you have agency but remember blutit
© elaine mitchener
The 6 parts of bluetit's score are:
A: pecking beak
B: nest building with twigs twisted/broken
C: against the window (play 3-5 times)
D: psychopathic bird vs. car (play 6-8 times)
E: nestbuilding with leaves (play 4-6 times)
F: point made
blutit Score © Elaine Mitchener, 2020.
In the below intimate conversation with Kevin Le Gendre (Broadcaster and Writer of Don't Stop the Carnival: Black British Music, 2019), Elaine Mitchener discusses her experience of performing Sweet Tooth in Bergen, Norway right before lockdown; anecdotes of navigating London during the pandemic; her perspective of IN·FLO·RES·CENCE as an intimate yet global platform providing cultural space for both commissioning music and responding to the conditions of our time; interest in the piano as a free percussive instrument with an agency of structured storytelling; embracing silence and reconnecting with her surroundings; and a newfound sensitivity to sound, connection to rest, and friendship with nature – in particular, how spending time in her garden has taught her the capacity for time to dissolve.
Within this context of a newfound appreciation for nature, Elaine explains that her special composition blutit was directly inspired by the birdsongs she has found herself surrounded by during lockdown, and more specifically a pair of Blue tit birds who had decimated the artist’s window box of winter pansies. These Blue tits' presence persisted by rhythmically pecking against, and even flying into, Elaine’s window… Yet after time the frustration and concern over potentially psychopathic birds gradually transitioned into a more tender embrace of nature’s mysterious forms of communicating and connecting. Nature’s orchestra.
Born and raised in East London of Jamaican heritage Elaine Mitchener is a contemporary vocalist, movement artist and composer, whose work encompasses improvisation, contemporary/experimental music theatre and dance. She has performed and collaborated with numerous leading artists including Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Mark Padmore, George E. Lewis, The Otolith Group, Sonia Boyce, Tansy Davies, Hamid Drake, Van Huynh Company, Apartment House, David Toop, London Sinfonietta, Christian Marclay, Ensemble Manufaktur für aktuelle Musik, William Parker. She is founder of collective electroacoustic trio The Rolling Calf with saxophonist Jason Yarde and bassist Neil Charles. Her sound works are held in a curated collection by George E Lewis at Darmstadt Festival.
Below Image: Elaine Mitchener performing Sweet Tooth, St George’s Bloomsbury, 2018. Photos © Brian Roberts
SWEET TOOTH is a cross-disciplinary music theatre piece devised by vocal and movement artist Elaine Mitchener using text, improvisation and movement, to stage a dramatic engagement with the brutal realities of slavery, as revealed by the historical records of the British sugar industry, and to illuminate its contemporary echoes.
The 50-minute piece is divided into six chapters:
SWEET TOOTH has been supported with public funding from Arts Council England. Commissioned by Bluecoat in partnership with the Stuart Hall Foundation, London and The International Slavery Museum with further support from PRSF Open Fund, Edge Hill University, Centre 151, John Hansard Gallery and St George’s Bloomsbury.
Elaine’s thoughts on Sweet Tooth:
I was born in the East End of London to parents who’d migrated to the UK from Jamaica in the 1960s. Like many Black British people, my ancestry includes enslaved Africans, sold by Africans to British traders to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil. Sweet Tooth is my attempt to make sense of that fact, and to honour the memory of my ancestors who were forced to live and work in appalling conditions in order to satisfy our desire for sugar.
Sweet Tooth is a deeply personal project, not only about Black history, but as an important chapter of World history and the pivotal role Black people have played in shaping it. Slavery is not just a traumatic episode that happened 400 years ago, something that we can now view dispassionately through a historical lens. Modern day slavery is a reality that continues to afflict millions of people across the world. The present-day legacy of slavery’s historical trauma cannot be underestimated. – Elaine Mitchener (Harewood Blog: Sweet Tooth. 24 August 2020.)