Scintilla – marking milestones 3 – pushing into new territory

Liz Glass CandlelightSo, what exactly does ‘Scintilla’ mean? It is a ‘soul-spark’ (Jung’s definition) and I am seeking ways to find some kind of soul-spark, to express it, to reveal it. I have been searching for that ‘Scintilla’ within the landscape of the poem Crag Inspector by David Hart.

I offer my ears and eyes open. Closed. Open. Closed.

Why this poem? Crag Inspector opens up worlds for me to explore: exterior worlds – of the wild beauty of Bardsey Island –  and interior worlds of memories, fantasies and nightmares, and of a mind trying to make sense of being human, within these worlds.

…I offer my memories.

And how does that work as a composer? I imagine the island. I imagine the pull and push of memories, of ghosts and dreams. I imagine the ecstasy of flying across the sea on the back of a swallow. I open to these thoughts. I play with them. I let the poetry and my imagination lead me:

closed                                 eyes                                   open

closed                         ears                             open

closed                mouth                open

closed                 imagination                open

closed                                  play                                     open

Screenshot 2019-07-06 18.09.54Where has this led to? Scintilla 1 – May 2019 – was a first layering of music, poetry, live electronics and choreography, conjuring up the island and the Crag Inspector himself. The performance captured some of the essence of Scintilla –  choreographed and performed by Dane Hurst (see Marking Milestones 2). But I know now there is so much more to explore…

Scintilla 2 September 2019 – I decided to break out of the mould, leave the existing material to one side and explore Scintilla in new ways. A whole set of new ideas for voice, percussion, clarinet and live electronics was presented in an interactive workshop in September.

Balloons, games, breathing, ping pong balls, break down, toy windmills, egg timers and a 10m snake of packaging paper were used to explore mental health, isolation, the wounded healer – within new layers of poetry, music, sound, choreography and film.  The audience of therapists and friends (including some friends who are therapists) gave frank responses in a post-workshop discussion, helping shape the path to find Scintilla.

I offer my sigh.

Now I want to weave these two existing ‘ScintillaWorlds’ with a newly spun thread – Augmented/Virtual Reality – to form three interconnected layers: a world of imagination, the real world, the virtual world. Somehow… the search continues…

I offer another, bigger sigh.

‘…we were greeted by performers walking in the round playing with balloons whilst musicians were playing… it was a wonderful, diverse and innovative performance of various acts flowing from one to the other, leaving us wondering at every single step of the way what might be happening next… a childlike performance, where the audience was allowed to play… to take part, and wondering what was being exposed in front of their eyes. …There were moods of light and dark being exposed …this was a serious story portraying the journey of mental health that exists in a lot of people… It allowed all of us in the audience to get our own perspective to really feel what it must be like to suffer…

This wasn’t an ordinary performance. It invoked emotion in the viewers, in the listeners; a performance of voice, a performance of acting, dance, music, sound and video…. a truly remarkable and amazing performance of talented people who are trying to get the message out to the world that something needs to be done.’

Michael de Groot audience member

I offer touch.

Many thanks – first to Wild Plum Arts for my composers’ residency as part of @MadeAtTheRedHouse in August 2019 – and to the Develop Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England allowing me to work with my creative team at the wonderful setting of Hellens Manor in September 2019. Also thanks to Sound and Music ‘New Voices’ for their ongoing support for the project. You too can donate! ScintillaSupporter

More about Liz Johnson here

Intricate Web Album

Composer Liz Johnson (far left) with the Scintilla team at Hellens Manor: Dane Hurst, Darren Gallacher (back row left to right), Mira Moshallski, Oli Clark, Jack McNeill and James Dooley

All logos July 2019

Poetry excerpts from Crag Inspector by David Hart, published by Five Seasons Press (with permission).


Scintilla – marking milestones 2 – realising the vision

All my foreshortened life

Scintilla is about searching – –

ever since I could run ahead / and get a grip on a crag

seeking out what it is to be human and to have a voice

my eyes have been reflections of slate / flaking

through fragments of poetry from David Hart’s book-length poem Crag Inspector

from one day to the next / from one week to the next / from one month to the next / from one year to the next. In the morning

interwoven with music, breaths, live electronics and choreography.

Screenshot 2019-07-06 17.59.26
Dane Hurst and Jack McNeill in rehearsal May 2019

I wake with their shapes in my mind

Since February 2019 I’ve been working with choreographer/dancer Dane Hurst who has created layers of choreography inspired by the poetry

so that sometimes at breakfast / after an intense dream of flying

and in May 2019 we staged a work-in-progress performance at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

I am the mountain, its hardness, / its cracks and gullies. In the mist cormorants

with clarinettist Jack McNeill, digital artist James Dooley and Dane Hurst.

guillemots, gulls, / razorbills, puffins, occasionally / gannet, shearwaters and, I saw once, / an arctic skua,

Screenshot 2019-07-06 18.13.02The intimate performance space added an intensity to the event, and the audience were invited to contribute to the creative process in a post-performance review:

have no statutory existence, / only presence.

‘moving and beautifully conceived’, ‘organic and beautifully layered,…it seemed to inhabit this really interesting space between abstraction and a concrete narrative’, ‘And what we were watching…was a passing of time with that deep awareness that time passing in that perhaps confined way hurts.’

The poetry led me to consider isolation and how it has affected me.

I might tell you about the writing I have seen / running along the sheer faces after rain

My ultimate vision for Scintilla is to create something that not only explores those difficult, perplexing, tragi-comic moments we find ourselves in when we are isolated (for whatever reason)

from crag to crag, or when I’ve been tired at the end / of a hot day, but honestly I can’t say

but that also allows people to engage directly with the material within the piece – the sound, the movement, the words. I am starting now to work with experts in Virtual/Augmented Reality and app design along with mental health support professionals to expand these ideas,

I’ve ever been able to decipher it. The signs,/ you understand, the inherent speech of the rock,

expanding ‘out’ from the more traditional staged performance with a passive but engaged audience. My long term aim is to reach people who would not usually come to a contemporary arts performance – for whatever reason – and to encourage them to explore finding their own voice, and join me in the search.

its necessary speech. I could ask myself again / say next Friday week and see if I have better luck.

Poetry fragments from Crag Inspector by David Hart published by FIve Seasons Press  ISBN 0 947960 29 5

Screenshot 2019-07-06 18.09.54

I am looking for further funding to support the future development of Scintilla and to realise my dream.

If you would like to help, like this blog, share it, get in touch and/or donate online — it all helps! Thank you for your interest and support.

Thanks to these organisations currently supporting Liz Johnson and the Scintilla project: Sound and Music New Voices artist development scheme, PRSF Women Make Music, Arts Council England, Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund, STEAMhouse and Wild Plum Arts. All logos July 2019


Simple vs. complex?

IMG_0226Sometimes I’ve worried about whether my music is too simple, or too complex. Nowadays, I don’t worry so much about that any more, as I have realised that both have their place in my work. This has been highlighted by a new song I have just completed.

At one time I would’ve been reluctant to reveal or discuss this song as it does not match my other public outputs (currently). So this blog is about why I wrote it and how it fits into my working practise as a composer.

About three years ago I joined a local poetry group. It turns out that this monthly get together, sharing new and old poetry/songs around a theme in a relaxed cafe atmosphere, has proved a stimulus for me to create different kinds of work from my main outputs as a composer. This group provides a supportive open environment within which I can present live words and music, shared with friends – along with tea and tasty cakes.

The latest of these pieces, Body of water, was completed this weekend and I will perform it for the first time tomorrow evening. It started out as a list of words. Then I realised it could become a poem. Then a poem read out loud with emphasised rhythm and silences. IMG_1987Now it has emerged as a song with lever harp accompaniment. It reminds me of the songs I used to make up in my bedroom as a teenager, completed over a couple of days. It has proved a useful ‘balance’ to the other piece I am composing at the moment, a large-scale complex and challenging work with a tight deadline.

I often work on several pieces at once, when each work is quite different from the other. I find that these contrasts allow me to explore the distinctive character of each work more fully. Body of water is soft, intimate, revealing, personal. It is modal, strophic, simple. For one voice. The other piece is brutal, confused, ironic, angry. Complex, with many texts and different languages layered through it, with many performers, political. The simplicity of one piece allows me to be even more extreme and multilayered in the other, and vice versa.

I was not expecting to write Body of water, it just emerged. Now I am enjoying retreating into its world every now and then as an antidote to the mental turmoil of the other new work (about which I may write more soon…)…