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A Jennifer Walshe course in 10 lessons #novembermusic2023

"Maybe the future of music is string quartets doing Skype performances for babies in neonatal wards, maybe everything is on an iPhone but edited to sound like a low-quality mp3 you downloaded from Napster in 2002, maybe it's soundscapes in sacred springs. I'm much more interested in this way of thinking." (Jennifer Walshe) 

From Barbie to time travel and everything in between. Plus a whole world of alter egos, made-up characters and fictional history. Oh, and it's called music. Because it's made by someone called a composer. But Jennifer Walshe is so much more. At November Music 2023, two days are dedicated to her work. Two days in which the versatility of this stage and studio artist can hardly be exhaustively highlighted. If at least 1 thing becomes clear from those two days, it is that the existing partitions in the (performing) arts need to be removed. 

Time so for a course 'How to become Jennifer Walshe' in 10 ultra-short lessons. 

This is how you push boundaries.

"XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!!" (2003) is an example in which Walshe uses not only music and singing, but also Barbie dolls. Thus, she explores social and cultural themes of gender roles and identity. And that's back in 2003, long before such themes penetrated the mainstream. This makes this work more than a musical piece; it is a multimedia experience with an important social message. A nice addition to the Barbenheimer summer. And slightly shorter. 

Don't just tell a story

In "The Total Mountain" (2014), Walshe uses visual art, narrative, and sound design to create an immersive experience. The piece challenges the traditional form of a concert by immersing the audience in a complex story that is visual, aural, and conceptual. And also already topical. Walshe, like so many genius artists, is a visionary.

Combine your art with political engagement

Die Taktik" (2012) dives deep into the world of surveillance. Using video footage and audio clips, it raises questions about privacy, technology and the power of government institutions. In this, too, Walshe was ahead of her time. No videos of this work are available, but this score is so much fun to watch. You understand a bit how that works, such a composition that is not only about music, but also about image and - above all - content. Walshe says here yourself about: "At any given moment, the choir may be singing, or using flags to beat out rhythms, or performing Rupert Sheldrake's stare experiments on members of the audience; the dance vocabulary includes everything from hip-hop battle to Fred Astaire, the haka and the mating dances of birds of paradise; the singers may be using standard operatic rhythms, making insect noises or singing synchronised vibrato like a haunting organ from a silent film. There is no recitative or aria; all the text is in voice-overs that we recorded in various locations in Stuttgart, which slide in and out as if in a documentary about the music. The voiceovers cover a wide range of topics, from the smoke chamber experiments of Bibb and Latane to chess legend Bobby Fischer; the Jedi-like skills of space shuttle pilots to Hugh Raffles talking about insects; the philosophy of Alan Watts and Alphonso Lingis.

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Reinvent the language

In "ALL THE MANY PEOPLS" (2019), she uses algorithms and big data to generate texts. This approach explores the relationship between man and machine, and offers commentary on the role of technology in modern art. As she describes it herself: "Lojban, a language based entirely on predicative logic; the cast of Lohengrin; certain parts of 'Watt' by Samuel Beckett waarion he boed the earliest examples of process composition; The Enemy of the People (1931) starring James Cagney; KRS-One; Soldiers of the US and Great Britain taking selfie videos while blowing things up; Dwarves too started small; Amazon.Com channels on the physiology of vampires; Dashboard Confessional; spherics; conspiracy theorist Francis E. Dec; scraps of video game voice-overs; Jackie Stallone; August Strindberg's Inferno; withdrawal symptoms of Cymbalta; a wintry version of "The Signifying Monkey" in response to the nineteenth-century habit of describing Irishmen as monkeys; The Typing of the Dead; the Irish martial arts cult film Fatal Deviation; the collective subconscious as demonstrated by Google Autocomplete; Courage Wolf; 4Chan"

Immerse your audience

"A History of the Voice - Self-Care" (2015-2017): In this piece, Jennifer Walshe invites the audience to participate with their own voices, leading to a unique, collective experience. The piece explores the relationship between the individual and the group and the therapeutic potential of voice use. A quote from a review is telling: "We see busy telephoning, a death scene from an opera, utterly shot machismo, a parody of the entertainment industry with "We are here to chill, we wanna make you feel good", of the new age with one of the actors wanting us to do sweet breathing exercises and of fitness culture. But Walshe also shows us other things. Such as research by Stanford University on singing figures in medieval paintings. Computer programmes have shown that the singing must have sounded very different. In some hilarious scenes, the quartet shows how."

This work will also be performed during November Music:

Lap up conventions

With the project "Grúpat" (2007-2009), Walshe created fictional artists, each with their own style and medium. This challenges the idea of individual authorship and raises questions about authenticity in the art world.

Implement your concept extremely well

In "Aisteach" (2015), she creates a fictional history of avant-garde music in Ireland, complete with invented musicians and works. This raises questions about historical memory, identity and the importance of archiving. The work produced a huge attention from serious media on it, who gradually found out it was all made up. Meanwhile, the website is also in a state of disrepair, which again suits the archaeological nature of the project.

Use image

Dordán" (2018) shows Walshe's ability to integrate different media. By collaborating with video artist Mihai Cucu, visual and musical elements are merged into a coherent artistic expression. The performances also feature musicians performing their own choreography.

Always connect the local to the global

An Gléacht" (2020) is a piece that goes beyond cultural boundaries, combining elements of Irish folk music with an exploration of global histories. Jennifer Walshe's distant second cousin (an invented character), outsider artist Caoimhín Breathnach (1934-2009), lived his entire life as a hermit in Knockvicar, Co. Roscommon. Breathnach made 'subliminal' tapes and films that he believed had the ability to alter consciousness. These works combine Ogham magic scales, crystallography, astronomy, folklore and natural phenomena with found audio and visual material to produce a quirky, esoteric system of corresponding images. Breathnach spent the last years of his life planning a work called AN GLÉACHT.

According to the story, the work would combine subliminal tapes and films with film footage of some occult rituals. Breathnach's second cousin, the composer and artist Jennifer Walshe, completed AN GLÉACHT. Says Walshe.

Make critics love you

Jennifer Walshe has numerous awards on hold, and for good reason. When you've taken all the previous lessons, and also done the accompanying homework, you'll understand why people in the know love her. And maybe, like me, as a newcomer, you will be fascinated by the work. A tip though (based on experience): Jennifer Walshe's work may be incredibly absorbing, and the creator may combine a dizzying sense of humour with boundless perfectionism, but don't play her music on your earbuds when you're on the train, behind the wheel of your car, or in a dark forest.

The special days dedicated to Jennifer Walshe's work are on 6 and 7 November during November Music

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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