Indra’s Net at The Cello Factory

A rather special collaboration between two artists comes to The Cello Factory, near Waterloo Station, London. The exhibition of works by artist Susan Haire, with music by composer Stephen Dydo, was included in the London Ear Festival of Contemporary Music, and is open to the public from 16-23 April.

Entitled Indra’s Net, the exhibition examines responses to the ideas of reflection, contemplation and self-knowledge. Comprising of a series of installations it embodies the meeting of science and religion, nature and the self, as well as a breadth of contemplative images and ideas drawn from different philosophies, ancient and modern, spanning East to West in the process.

The exhibition extensively explores the idea of reflection through both light and sound. The sonic accompaniments provided by Stephen Dydo have been written specifically for each of the works. Short melodic fragments are repeated, mirrored, stretched and condensed into multiple reflections of themselves. It is the very reflections that occur in this multi-sensory experience that help unite the audience with the work, and bring forth the underlying concept of the exhibition’s subject matter.

Indra’s Net itself is a reference to an important Buddhist metaphor, and a platform for the artists’ continuing examination of the interconnected and interdependent nature of all things.

There will also be a series of music and poetry recitals to accompany the show on various evenings throughout the week. Further details here

More about Susan Haire’s work here

Composer Stephen Dydo, with whom Susan Haire has collaborated on a number of projects, was kind enough to take part in my Meet the Artist interview series, offering insight into his creative life and the experience of working with artists such as Susan.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

Didn’t really have any particular inspiration. I’ve always loved music, wanted to play it, sing it, whatever. Wasn’t till I was about 14 that I realized that I could write it, in fact that it was easy to write–all you had to do was think through the ideas then put them down on paper. Easy! Well, sometimes….

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

The music teacher who told me to write music was a major game-changer for me. But I was also lucky that I could go to New York after high school and meet a lot of the people shaping music at the time, such as Babbitt, Cage, Carter, Copland–even Stravinsky. On the other hand, I was introduced to Chinese music when I was at university, and fell in love with it, and that’s been a huge influence on my playing as well as my composing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Making a living doing music.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I wrote a couple of pieces for Chinese orchestra a few years ago that worked very well. I was especially proud of them because they were really loud. On the other hand, I wrote a very meditative piece for flute and guitar, Offering, which is special for me; not only have I enjoyed playing it in a lot of different venues, and its always gotten a great reception, but also last year some other groups picked it up and it’s been great enjoying it as a listener.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Yes; it’s on a mountain in the Himalayas overlooking a monastery, and I go there alone.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Bach and Mozart are so much fun! Especially Bach’s solo violin pieces, which are great both to play and listen to. I enjoy playing Ming Dynasty Chinese guqin music in a very different way. And playing blues on all sorts of instruments is also great fun.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Whoever I’m working with is my favourite at the time.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first big concert with an instrument I invented sticks out. It was an electric version of the Chinese guqin, which I had learned to play from a wonderful teacher–but the traditional, very meditative acoustic traditional version. Mine was made using parts from electric guitars and a body I built myself. The concert was outdoors in a Chinese scholar’s garden in New York, with people spread out over a really large space, over fields and hills. I filled the space with ancient melodies, and people stayed late listening to it.

Stephen Dydo playing the Chinese guqin

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Study all the music you can, by listening and playing and copying. Assume you know nothing. Then find out what is in your heart. Assume you know nothing.

What are you working on at the moment? 

1. A violin and piano sonata for a violinist friend of mine. We were both near to people involved in a massacre of schoolchildren, and this piece came to me in a dream as a reaction to the horror.

2. A small piece for electric guitar and percussion instruments for a new work of Susan Haire’s.

3. A piece for flute, violin and viola for some friends in Wales.

4. An extended series of pieces for an e-book written by John Briggs, an American author.

Additional questions related to the show:

How did the process of working with Susan come about? 

We were introduced by a mutual friend. I fell in love with her work. We decided to see if we could work together; that’s an experiment we’ve been doing for the last seven years. I guess we can work together.

Do you often look to work with other kinds of artists?

Not especially. I have worked with people in film, theatre and dance, and that’s been a lot of fun. The great thing about working with Susan is that it’s a collaboration where we each get to do exactly what we want.

How do the pieces you composed for the show perhaps differ from your usual approach to work? 

In many significant ways. First, they are all recorded so that they can be played continuously in a venue. Secondly, although many of them are concert pieces that can (and have) been played in concert halls, many of them are partially or completely computer pieces, using non-instrumental sounds, including computer-generated and “found” sounds. Third, and most important, they often treat space in a way that is very different from other music. One good example of this is a piece which was done for a gallery in Maidstone which was 100′ long with only one wall. The music was in seven distinct channels with different musical content, each of which were only audible when the listener was close to it. So the entire piece could be taken in only by repeated walks through the gallery. As it turns out, it was in a pedestrian thoroughfare, so a lot of people did get that experience.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Alive and well, anyplace, writing and listening to more music.

What is your present state of mind? 

I am perfectly happy now. Sometimes I’m very excited and delighted, doing the things that people usually do in that state; sometimes I’m very sad, especially when bad things happen to people close to me or with whom I identify easily. I have some wonderful musical instruments, and I enjoy them when I play them or hold them. But life is always full of ups and downs, it’s the nature of existence, and I mostly appreciate being alive and connected to the universe.