REVIEW: William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music at Coronet Print Room

William Kentridge at Coronet Print Room
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music
(Coronet Print Room, 13th October 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The films of South African artist William Kentridge have many lives. They are central to the challenging, multi-media room installations at his current major exhibition at London's Whitechapel gallery. For a short season at the Coronet Print Room theatre in Notting Hill a selection of around a dozen were also integral to the performances of Paper Music; a Ciné Concert, one of Kentridge's many fruitful collaborations with composer and compatriot Philip Miller.

'Most children draw … I just forgot to stop!' In interview, Kentridge succinctly gave this insight to his obsessive approach to drawing, which blurs the lines between figuration and abstraction, political issues and Dadaistic anarchy - and even traditional delineations between media. Drawing lies at the heart of his animated films, combining the plasticity of dynamically metamorphosing collage and live-action with the fluency of ink, charcoal and pencil mark-making.

In Paper Music the power of the proposition, stringing the line between certainty and uncertainty, was fully realised through the virtuosic performances of singers Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley and pianist Vincenzo Pasquariello - and on this particular evening, with a little help onstage from Kentridge himself.

The process of creative evolution of each film is interactive and symbiotic. Miller explained in an illuminating conversation how Kentridge liberated him from the prescriptive, narrative trope he was locked in to in the world of the commercial film soundtrack, to focus on much less deliberately structured form, which in time generates its own structure.

In iBook (Uses of a Tree) the relationship between apartheid era white families and black servants is turned topsy turvy through their reallocation of roles in exploring the ownership of the Fanagalo language, a Zulu pidgin which originated in the mines and had been co-opted by whites attempting to impose authority on dialogue. Kentridge sent the briefest of texts to Miller to which he responded by composing a song referencing Fanagalo, to which the artist replied with a flood of pages on which he drew. Finally, the order was reshaped in to its own explosive, filmic sequence to form the backbone of the politically charged statement at its heart and to render structure to the live performance.

Masina's range was extraordinary. Described in the programme as a 'formidably large woman with an even bigger voice' she was the embodiment, at times, of deep-rooted anger and essential matriarchal, societal authority from which she could switch to the most liminal of sounds or the sweetest of choral and operatic verses.

Dudley's vocal prowess and restrained stage style, informed by Javanese and Japanese tradition and left-field Dada performance, was a finely balanced complement to Masina as, with chilling accuracy, she imitated the gamut of intruder alarms in Lullaby for House Alarm, and combined the kind of clicking and creaking vocalisations pioneered by Joan La Barbara (REVIEWED) with ticking noises summoned from a spinning bicycle wheel, with its strong visual bond to Marcel Duchamp's readymade, Bicycle Wheel of 1913, in Other Faces.

Pasquariello, at the piano, proved to be an acutely sensitive interpreter of Miller's scores, whether focused on the keyboard, reaching within its body, or offering dense rhythmic pulsations of the order of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, while constantly attuned to the changing events front of stage. Described by Miller as a 'wannabe foley artist', he also added a discreet, translucent layer of effects while crumpling a sheet of paper at the microphone in tandem with other sonic peregrinations.

Kentridge's appearance, late on in the programme, added an additional layer of authority to proceedings and included the reading of his poem Panther (for Rilke) in German, echoed by Dudley's agile, part-improvised interpretations of the text in English whilst, on-screen behind them, the charcoal-rendered panther paced behind drawn bars which exhibited both built-in fluidity and disturbingly deliberate enclosure, to seal the statement.

Paper Music is such a rich concoction of visual and musical stimuli that it can veer close to information overload, yet its variety of signals and messages and the generous individual performances ensured an overwhelmingly positive 'Ciné Concert' experience at the Coronet.

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