It is amazing how we were once incredibly susceptible to the weather. From the slightest change in cloud movements to the shade of dusk, it is powerful enough to change the course of each day. Today, most people look at the ‘50% chance of rain’ on their phone and sigh in disbelief at the fact that we will always be known as ‘the rainy city’. For some of us, our real, felt relationship to those slightest of changes is dwindling.
In an ambitious recreation of Michael Gordon’s video opera ‘Weather’, Manchester Collective have collaborated with sound expert Chris Watson and filmmaker Carlos Casas in an attempt to reforge our connection with nature through a multidisciplinary artistic performance.
The original ‘Weather’ by American composer Gordon was performed by Ensemble Resonanz in 1997. 16 string musicians performed on a vertical stage surrounded by video panels showing the work of New York video artist Elliot Caplan.
Manchester Collective’s WEATHER is separated into four parts, each sonically representing a different environment. Visuals by Casas accompanied the ensemble with dramatic landscapes projected behind the orchestra, transporting the audience from the expanse of the Namib Desert to Dunwich and Vatnajokull Glacier through to peaks of the Amber Mountain. The Collective had also commissioned artists to interpret the music in their own distinct style.
“I sketched [WEATHER’s] repetitions, tried to catch its overlapping notes and phrases and sought to make new versions of its musical shapes on paper.”Mary Griffiths
At the Royal Northern College of Music performance, the first visual interpretation of Gordon’s WEATHER featured artwork from Mary Griffiths and Sophie Broadgate, which lit the foyer before the musical performance fully commenced.
Local artist Griffiths spent three months only listening to Michael Gordon’s piece. Over this period, she used an etching needle to create a multitude of graphite lines to reflect each environment. Each piece shows a formidable dedication to line, accuracy, and the climate in question. She told me: “I sketched [WEATHER’s] repetitions, tried to catch its overlapping notes and phrases and sought to make new versions of its musical shapes on paper.”
Manchester artist Sophie Broadgate’s response to WEATHER is a video piece which sheds light on the emotional experience of having autism. Broadgate displays ways in which some autistic people use stimming, which is short for self-stimulatory behaviour, as an emotional regulation control.
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What then unfolded for the next hour was an amalgamation of sensory driven art. The performers took to their stands and immediately I felt at ease: no one was wearing shoes. As the orchestra began, playing across the four different climates, I began to reflect on the trials and tribulations the landscapes endure as a result of human influence.
BBC field recordist Chris Watson has an acute understanding of our natural world. With his sounds previously featured in various David Attenborough documentaries, Watson’s addition to WEATHER provided a calming familiarity.
In an interview published in the Financial Times he said: “Even though we hear everything we don’t tend to listen.” Watson explained that he is still able to pair sounds to locations that he hasn’t visited in years.
The performance includes decades worth of Watson’s field recording, showcasing a selection of habitats and animals in an intimate setting. A wartime air raid siren, seagulls, and the rickety screech of a thousand crickets are amongst the snippets featured in WEATHER. A variation in intensity and breadth of dynamics from both orchestra and soundscape create an environment that you can nearly touch. It feels so real.
The cohort of performers that recreate Gordon’s original score provide undulating sound, mimicking rolling dunes. The bodies of the performers move with the sand, fast becoming a part of the background.
A variation in intensity and breadth of dynamics from both orchestra and soundscape create an environment that you can nearly touch. It feels so real.
A violin solo from Manchester Collective’s co-founder and musical director, Rakhi Singh provided a standout moment for the show. Images of Dunwich, an area of Suffolk now lost to the ocean, are accompanied by her high pitched notes which rang out across the RNCM’S theatre.
As we ignore one of our greatest guiding forces – nature – it is no wonder the response gets louder with floods, storms and droughts increasing in severity. Absorbed by phones and distracted by the day to day, we detach from nature. With WEATHER Manchester Collective have created a feeling that we can’t ignore.
Talk alone about ‘climate change’ or ‘climate disaster’ is futile. We need action. What WEATHER reminds us is that action can be as simple as listening.
You can watch ‘WEATHER’ performed by Manchester Collective here.
This article is part of our Northern Voices series, commissioned in collaboration with Manchester Collective.