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INTERVIEW: Deep Time Curators Talk New Festival
Patrick Clarke , November 7th, 2023 12:04

Katherine Tinker and Sam Woods speak to tQ about what to expect from Fruitmarket's first radical new music festival Deep Time, which kicks off later this month

Sam Woods photographed by David James Grinly, and Katherine Tinker

Edinburgh contemporary art space Fruitmarket will hold a new festival of radical and experimental music called Deep Time, later this month.

Inspired by ideas of 'deep time' developed by 19th century Scottish geologist Charles Lyell – promoting a view of time on an immense scale beyond just the human era – it brings together a number of composers, musicians and improvisors.

Curated by Katherine Tinker, the festival takes place from November 16 to November 19 and features the premiere of two commissions by Sara Glojnarić and Shiori Usui, the latter of whom has been composer in residence at the Charles Lyell Collection at the University Of Edinburgh. For the full line-up and further information, click here.

Tickets for individual nights are free or pay what you can with a suggested donation of £10, or you can book a four night festival pass by donating £25 here.

To find out more about the festival, tQ caught up with project curator Katherine Tinker and Fruitmarket's curator Sam Woods.

Tell me more about the concept of deep time, and how this festival developed under this theme?

Sam Woods: This is the first time we are holding a festival of new music at the Fruitmarket Warehouse in Edinburgh. The Warehouse is a relatively new space for art that opened in 2021 following a period of renovation and expansion as a place for experimental, innovative multi-art form commissions, performances and exhibitions. I know there is an appetite among composers and musicians to work outside the more traditional spaces for music and instead in the context of a gallery and gallery programme. With all the incredible new music commissioning and programming happening in festivals and programmes in Scotland and the UK, I hope that Fruitmarket might find a small place within this vibrant ecosystem of new music.

Deep time as a theme comes out of the city of Edinburgh. Edinburgh played an important role in the history of science, and it was in Scotland that the concept of deep time was developed by the Scottish 18th and 19th century geologists James Hutton and Charles Lyell. The revelation that time extended back long before the human era led to an understanding of the human impact on geological processes, an understanding that grows more urgent as that impact intensifies and the window to take climate action is closing. The concept of deep time is at once an interest sited in the city, but universal in its implications and concerns, and one that I hoped would be a productive and timely proposition for artists.

The University of Edinburgh holds the archive of Charles Lyell, and we took the opportunity to work in partnership with the University’s Centre For Research Collections to invite Dundee-based Japanese composer Shiori Usui to be composer-in-residence within the archive – which comprises correspondence, geological specimens, drawings, travel journals, photographs and more – while also commissioning a work by Sara Glojnarić in response to the theme. Deep Time is also partnered with a group exhibition, The Recent at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh which is concerned with the conceptual world of geological, evolutionary, human and environmental time, and with the University’s exhibition Time Traveller: Charles Lyell At Work. As Tessa Giblin, curator of The Recent, writes in her introduction to the exhibition, these important issues of our time need to be addressed together.

Katherine Tinker: Time is an inviting and fruitful topic to think about as a musician. Time is a medium that all composers and performers manipulate – in different ways, we’re always seeking to control how we hold our listeners in time and space. As well as the two commissions by Shiori Usui and Sara Glojnarić, we used deep time as a springboard – inviting a group of performers and composers to explore ideas of time and temporality, stasis and movement, ritual and activism in art and music, drawing their inspiration from geology, philosophy, popular culture, the natural world, and the need for art to engage with the reality of the climate crisis.

Shiori Usui, photo by Richard Lea Hair

Beyond sonic radicalism, what do you think the artists performing at Deep Time have in common?

KT: The artists involved all perform and/or make new music today. But what I’m thrilled about is that they are all individually involved in such varied and interesting projects that stretch beyond what we can fit into our four day festival. For example, co-director of Plus-Minus Ensemble, Mark Knoop, co-runs the independent record label All That Dust, which releases select batches of beautifully recorded and thoughtfully chosen repertoire. Angela Wai Nok Hui is a member of Hidden Keileon, a multidisciplinary art collective aiming to build inter-racial solidarity among global majority communities, and address social issues related to migration and racism. And Simone Seales is a Glasgow-based classically trained cellist and improvisor who centres Blackness, sexuality, intersectional feminism and anti-racism in their work, collaborating with artists, theatre makers and dancers in their practice. Our artists are making and performing thoughtful, outward-looking work, and I know they will bring this spirit to Deep Time.

Can you tell me more about the two commissions, from Sara Glojnarić and Shiori Usui, in particular? Why were these two artists in particular approached?

KT: I met Sara in 2018 at the Darmstadt Summer Course, a German festival for new music held every couple of years. We got chatting about the music we had just heard, got on very well, and I hoped the opportunity would arise when we’d be able to work together. Since then, I’ve followed Sara’s work with interest. Sara’s work has many interesting facets, and one of the things I really like is that she engages with technology, popular culture, and present day issues. I thought she’d engage with our theme thoughtfully, and that Deep Time would be an excellent opportunity to commission Sara’s work in the UK for the first time.

I had come across Shiori’s work when I performed her new work Subject in 2018, with my duo partner Yshani Perinpanayagam. I loved Shiori’s approach, in particular her attention to detail and how specific she was about the exact sounds she wanted us to make. As a performer, it is wonderful and rare to work with composers who, through their writing and demands of us, open our ears to listen differently. Working with Shiori, I felt that her perception of the possibilities of sound and the way she hears things is truly unique, and I feel that she brings that experience to an audience through her music.

SW: For me, it was a joy to see that deep time as a prompt, a provocation, a research question, was generative for the two composers that Kat invited. We will premiere two very distinct works that have developed naturally and fascinatingly out of Shiori and Sara’s practices. Shiori’s work for Plus-Minus Ensemble is concerned with the materiality of sound and she was inspired by a physical object, a fossilised raindrop from Lyell’s collection, and with his theory of uniformitarianism which holds that changes in the geological record come from continuous processes over long periods of time. Her work questions beautifully how sound might express these forces at work. Meanwhile Sara takes an intelligent, funny, sideways look at deep time reflecting its vastness through the eyes of a millennial in a post-internet world with a work that makes seamless jumps from the Big Bang to Brexit, creating a performance for p.e.r.s.o.n.a.l.c.l.u.t.t.e.r that uses scripted reality and musiktheater. Again, this speaks to Sara’s themes across her work and her ongoing interest in pop culture, nostalgia, collective memory, and the ways we use technology to consume, communicate and create.

In the media around the event, Mary Helgar's view that “for too long, the climate fight has been limited to scientists and policy experts” is quoted. What do you think the arts have to offer when it comes to the climate crisis that the sciences might not?

SW: The role art has to play in the climate crisis is a seam running through programming at Fruitmarket – Deep Time will be followed by an installation by artist Sarah Wood, Project Paradise, which is inspired by the Black And White Oil Conference organised by Richard DeMarco in Edinburgh in 1974. The questions that were asked at that conference remain relevant today: ‘Can the experience of art help?’ ‘Can the artist play a role?’.

We think that art clears a space to think. Art and artists can help us amplify voices and shift the conversation as we come together to imagine new ways of doing things and enact change. Specific to the theme of this festival, the boundlessness of deep time invites us to think beyond the present and the individual, to possible futures and the power of the collective. It is a hopeful action, something that Rebecca Solnit has thought beautifully about in her writing about the climate crisis, focusing on the need for artists, for stories, for context, for imagination.

KT: I suppose I’m thinking through that question via my concert with Yshani Perinpanayagam, which we’ve titled ‘Provocation vs Play,’ so I’ll quote a little from our programme note:

One of the arts’ strongest powers is bringing people together, through cooperation, collaboration and play. It is no mistake that we play games and play music; the idea of play can make concepts too-messy for words far more accessible. Play is connection. Play demands concentration, imagination and innovation, the very traits that can lead us towards solutions to the challenges that face us today.

What can the audience expect from 'Provocation vs Play'?

KT: Our programme starts with George Crumb’s epic Celestial Mechanics [Makrokosmos IV] Cosmic Dances For Amplified Piano in which a rich and expansive kaleidoscope of sound is created, exploring the timelessness of the universe. We then move to the urgency of the present moment: Claudia Molitor’s Polymer Hauntings is a requiem to fossil fuel, using one of its most day-to-day, visible manifestations – plastic. Ideas of activism, cooperation and play are then investigated in pieces by Max Syedtollan, Gillian Walker, Njabulo Phungula, and finally in Uri Agnon’s Put Your Hands Together [for late capitalism]: light-hearted and mischievous in its use of a simple gesture from both performer and audience member – a clap – to affect change.

Katherine Tinker

What does a space like Fruitmarket offer you as a curator that others might not, whether in terms of physical space or philosophy?

KT: Fruitmarket show their exhibitions for free. That is important to me, and has been carried over into Deep Time which is pay what you can. Working in a gallery, the Warehouse space and the team at Fruitmarket offer scope to present works that use amplification and recorded sound, projection, video, movement and installation, so we have been able to embrace all of these elements, and encourage our commissioned composers to use whichever mediums they choose.

Beyond that, I feel that Fruitmarket truly understand what artists need to make and present new and newish work. Artists need to be properly paid, and given space and time to develop ideas through workshops and rehearsal. They also need administrative and technical support. Sam Woods has provided a wealth of experience and understanding to ensure our artists get whatever support they need, so that the commissioned works and performances have been able to develop organically to be the best they can be, without compromise.

Deep Time will take place from November 16 to 19, 2023. Find more information, purchase tickets and see the full line-up here. here.