By Phillip Woolever
With theatrical drama, dynamic performing colleagues and a flair for winding wind and wordplay, Hayden Chisholm, this year's Improviser in Residency, adds a unique dimension to his twelve-month tenure at Moers 2015.
The Moers residency was initiated as part of the festival's cultural, community commitment. Despite some recent cutbacks, Moers has expanded overall and has been able continue with some valuable aspects of an avant" program, bringing local citizens closer to the artists than a typical concert.
Recent glances or comments exchanged between the transplanted New Zealander Chisholm, currently working out of Cologne and Belgrade; and his German audience indicated that personalized communication is appreciated by both sides.
This residency is a pretty interesting thing, it's a very open format and it basically gives an improviser the chance one year to do whatever he or she wants to in the city, invite people and so on," explained Chisholm during one of three Easter time events he performed around the central Moers castle complex. The first month of this year I've been on the road, now I've started more gigs here and started to check out the town."
If you ask me about Moers in 11 months, I'll probably have a different answer," continued Chisholm. What I wanted to do this year is invite as many musicians as I can. I'd like to go into schools and do stuff for the kids. I want to work with some of the choirs and installations for some of the churches. It's all like a dialogue with the town, which is just beginning now."
One March treat, billed as Finn Again Wakes" took place in a cozy auxiliary nook dubbed the Castle Theatre, amidst medieval structures that served as an appropriately timeless backdrop.
The small building held a recital type gathering of 44 observers, not counting event staff. People in back stood or shifted for a wider view, or craned their necks to determine the source of some strange sounds emitting from the stage, but most folks had an unobstructed view. Many comments could be overheard about people feeling like part of the process.
A pair of musical segments was divided between motivating spirits, each known for theories and writing on perceptual states. The first half of the program was music by George Gurdjieff, a mid-20th century spiritualist and philosophical guide. The second was a spoken word piece adding music to the James Joyce novel Finnegan's Wake
, thus the re-dubbed title.
Chisholm's Gaelic stream of acid, alto consciousness was enhanced by pianist Philip Zoubek, who employed his keys and adjusted strings as a percussive instrument.
Philip is an amazing player and wonderful composer from Vienna," said Chisholm later. We started playing together in Cologne and just started doing more gigs together. We play with a bassist in a band called Slowfox, which is more of a jazz group."
Chisholm's measured, introductory breathing layered the microphone and segued into tune with Zoubek's modified piano wires.
The sax was Chisholm's primary instrument throughout the night. There were traces of Tibetan, Russian, and Polish influences, and a more globalized listener could probably identify many more. Occasionally, he switched to what looked like a clarinet but sounded like a flute during ostinato interludes that were enhanced by a Shruti box.
The set featured fine switches from narrative to metallic chants during pieces like Assyrian Woman" and Kurdish Shepard Song." Chisholm's vocal effects, some bestial, some instrumental, were comical and intriguing. People had wide smiles and stifled laughter.
The relatively narrow, rectangular hall had great tonal balance from the floor and such deep rhythm tones from the piano that people checked perimeters to make sure somebody hadn't stashed a contra and a snare somewhere off stage.
The Joyce project began just for fun, really," explained Chisholm, who recently released the excellent album Breve
(Pirouet 2015). Over the years I've done some little evenings working with the text. Now that the text is in public domain. I've done it over and over and it works with music really well."
One of the first things I did here in Moers actually was to record one of the chapters for a new version of the whole book, which is done purely by musicians, each doing a chapter."
It was an entertaining evening, and the warped Wake" served its namesake Dubliner's creation well. Apparently, some New Zealand isles hold shining emeralds too. Moers looks like a very good fit for Chisholm. An early indication is that he'll provide a very interesting year of improvisational residence.