Manchester Collective’s WEATHER – Previewed

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“An artistic record of threatened environments.” Mike Pinnington gives his forecast on Manchester Collective’s new experimental orchestral show WEATHER…

Music is elemental. Its properties, in the right hands, can electrify, rouse and inspire, be the portal to contemplation; it can soothe on even the darkest nights of the soul, when the only accompaniment is the howling wind and rain lashing against the window. Like the elements, music can both shape and mark us, affecting us in ways few other things can.

A quarter of a century ago composer Michael Gordon sought to capture such forces with Weather, his piece for amplified string orchestra. In his programme notes from the time, he wrote: “Inspired by the chaotic scheme of weather patterns, I wondered how these might transfer musically, as if the past several hundred years of musical ideas were swirling around, and I could just grab things I liked and build on them.”

Now, Manchester Collective, intent on bringing music to more diverse audiences, have announced WEATHER (note the upper case to differentiate) as the first in a new season of concerts. Speaking to me in 2020, their co-founder Adam Szabo noted: “we felt there was so much amazing new and old music out there that we simply weren’t getting a chance to perform… after years and years of looking out from concert platforms and seeing overwhelmingly whiter, older, and more affluent faces, we were a bit fed up. We wanted to perform different music, and to give different people a chance to hear that music.”

“Audiences can expect the unexpected”

Gordon himself seems acutely aware of such problems. Writing in the New York Times in 2007, he said that he had “always felt uncomfortable with the word ‘classical’. It sends an instant message to most people that you are involved in something other. And, vainly, I am very aware that classical music has the squarest image on the planet.” Anyone who has experienced a Manchester Collective show, however, will know that such expectations are quickly turned on their head – from introducing pop lyrics into their repertoire to collaborating with visual artists, audiences can expect the unexpected: very little is off limits.

Typically, then, they’re not simply reviving and repeating what has gone before with their fresh take on Weather – September’s dates will not be straight-forward renditions, or even remixes. Building on Gordon’s piece, additional ingredients have been added to the pot to address urgent contemporary concerns. These come in the form of sound artist Chris Watson (late of Cabaret Voltaire), and Spanish filmmaker Carlos Casas who, respectively, will be providing immersive real-world sound and film.

Watson, who has worked on shows such as Frozen Planet and The Life of Birds, has dug into his extensive archive for WEATHER. “This project has given me the opportunity to work with these sounds to create an ambient, multi-channel installation that places the audience where my microphones were when I made the original recordings. Every sound you will hear has come from the places I have visited – the voices of those habitats speak to the future generations, who [owing to climate change] might not be able to experience them for themselves.”

WEATHER, say Manchester Collective, is “an artistic record of threatened environments”. It is sure to leave its mark.

Mike Pinnington

See Manchester Collective’s WEATHER on 23 September in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music, and 24 September at the Southbank Centre, London

Image: Film still from Carlos Casas

Posted on 22/09/2022 by thedoublenegative