Preview: AniMotion Festival
Tonight’s Animotion event will fill the National Museum of Scotland with sound, song, painting and a taste of Russia, writes Jim Gilchrist
HAIR flying, arms flailing at a battery of percussion, Dame Evelyn Glennie led massed legions of drummers in Danny Boyle’s London Olympics extravaganza earlier this year. Tonight, though, the internationally renowned Scots percussionist comes to Edinburgh for a more intimate form of spectacle.
“I won’t have a thousand drummers with me,” she says, laughing, about the show at the National Museum of Scotland – one of Russian artist Maria Rud’s extraordinary “AniMotion” events, which combine “live” painting and music.
She will be playing, however, in a unique space – the great bubble of wrought iron, glass and light that is the National Museum’s Grand Gallery, hung for the evening with Rud’s vivid canvases, while the artist paints directly on to glass, the images – constantly evolving with the music – digitally transferred to a large screen. Glennie will be joined by cellist Philip Sheppard and Scottish vocal consort Canty.
The show is being staged in conjunction with the National Museum’s current exhibition Catherine the Great: An Enlightened Empress, its Russian cultural credentials further underlined by being introduced by Count Vladimir Tolstoy, great-great-grandson of the novelist.
For Glennie it will be the latest in a string of unorthodox performances. “This whole month or so has been an interesting one regarding collaborations. Just the other day in Vienna I was providing music for three incredible actors reciting texts from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Then, of course, Maria with her visual art will be a real challenge, which is what I enjoy.”
Glennie has played for some real-time painting in the past – with London artist Norman Perryman, “so when this project came along with Maria, although it won’t be quite the same, I really wanted to give it a go.” She and Sheppard will perform some pieces they have already devised together, one featuring a recently developed percussion instrument, the halo; also a piece using wineglass harmonics called Glass Half Full. “Then Philip and I are writing a new piece specific to the AniMotion project, using a lot of effect-type instruments to create interesting sounds.”
Glennie frequently performs surrounded by percussion gantries of rock band proportions. On this occasion, however, “we don’t want to overload the platform, because Maria’s painting needs to be focused and the sounds to be pretty ethereal”.
Meanwhile vocal quartet Canty will sing early Russian sacred music as well as transcriptions of material written by Dmitry Bortniansky, who was director of Catherine the Great’s imperial chapel choir.
Rud has worked with Canty in the past, notably in St Giles’ Cathedral. When I visit the painter in the Grassmarket flat that is her Edinburgh base, she tells me that Canty’s Rebecca Tavener visited the day before and the two of them had sung and painted together.
Autumn sunlight spills in the window, burnishing the glowing tones of a large canvas in progress, rising from a pile of paint tubes in the middle of the room. It depicts – in Rud’s characteristic style, somewhere between icon painting, Chagall and the Russian avant garde – a drumstick-wielding figure with a cockerel, plus some of her trademark mythic sabre-wielding warriors charging across the background. “That came when listening to Evelyn,” she says, “but it’s not literal.”
Having worked with musicians as diverse as Canty, the Irish flautist Nuala Kennedy and former Rezillos singer Fay Fife, she is enthusiastic about the collaboration with Glennie, to whom she was introduced by the composer Dave Heath.
“I’m especially keen on marimba, because its sound is like water,” she continues, “but I’m also keen on music that is completely different to what I’ve worked on before, and Evelyn is using some quite unusual instruments.”
When painting, she always has music playing. She may not react to it, she explains, but when she does, “it’s not an illustration of the music, it’s a reaction, a response … and it’s quite beyond your control.”
Rud’s empathy with musicians goes back, she says, to her Moscow childhood and her reverence for her mother, Inna Rud, who was a composer (the pastoral strains of her String Quartet drift through the flat as we talk). When she steps up to the glass plate for an AniMotion performance, she’ll know the music and will know what sort of images she will create – “you have to know the music like the musician who is performing it, and you have to rehearse, but because you are using paint and brush, it becomes a physical process and a chemical process, so it doesn’t always come out exactly as you see it in your head.”
And, as with music, there is room for improvisation. “It’s never the same,” she says. “The painting becomes another voice in the music.”
• AniMotion is at the National Museum of Scotland tonight. www.nms.ac.uk/catherine and www.mariarud.com. Tickets must be booked in advance rather than bought on the door.
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