Andrew Woodhead (Ideas of Noise Festival, Birmingham, Coventry, Stourbridge, 30 January-9 February)

The 2020 edition of the Ideas of Noise festival finds it expanded into an eight-day extravaganza embracing different genres of left-field music, art and performance taking place across Birmingham and the West Midlands from 30 January to 9 February. AJ Dehany spoke to co-producer Andrew Woodhead. Ideas of Noise is a radical, inclusive and wide-ranging alternative to the straitened familiarity of other music festivals, and it takes place in Birmingham. “It’s a festival produced by musicians and artists really,” explains musical artist and festival organiser Andrew Woodhead. “Definitely an artist-led vibe. We’re all makers and players as well as producers.” Ideas of Noise began with a one-day pilot in 2016, expanding to three days in two venues in summer 2018 headlined by Dan Nicholls’ band Strobes. It included a new suite for string quartet by Xhosa Cole, who went on to win Young Musician of the Year. Woodhead laughs, “We commissioned him in the summer and by the autumn he was on his way to being a superstar!” This year the festival has expanded to eight days of concerts, workshops, and happenings in diverse venues and spaces not just in Birmingham but also Coventry and Stourbridge, showcasing a broader range of talent. “The thrust is promoting West Midlands based artists and putting them onstage alongside national or international names. Connecting audiences across different genres of left-field music. Contemporary classical, improv, electronica, noise, that broad church that is all things weird. The idea is getting those audiences to come and check out each others’ stuff.” 

Andrew Woodhead. Photo © Brian Homer

30 January On Thursday 30 January as the main festival begins with a collaboration with Birmingham University Jazz Research Department. Their experimental writing group will produce a special issue of the Riffs journal using a new score that musician/writer Nate Wooley will produce with them in an afternoon workshop. Woodhead says, “It’s creating that dialogue as a deliberate thing rather than the afterthought it can be sometimes.” 31 January In Coventry on Friday 31 January Andrew Spackman curates an Audiovisual mini-festival, with video from Magic Cinema, AV collaboration with Artist Retired, and Mammoth Beat Organ. Sam Underwood the instrument maker and Graham Dunning should be quite a spectacle: “They’ve made this kind of contraption, it’s all bike wheels and pipes, whirls around and makes quite a noise. It’s amazing.” (VIDEO LINK With its scene-specific multimedia commissions and wide-ranging approaches to art, Ideas of Noise is more like the London Contemporary Music festival, which has fine artists and performance artists programmed alongside crazy orchestras playing graphical scores. “Yeah,” says Woodhead, “I’m very much from a music background but Sarah Farmer who co-produces it with me came from a fine art background. She is a violinist as well but Sarah definitely thinks in an artist’s way about a lot of things. That’s just the result of our two personalities combining to bring this real mix of stuff that’s going on.” 1 February On Saturday 1 February at Centrala Gallery in the ‘uber hip’ Digbeth area there will be performances from two laptop duos Joy Bang and Deathly Pale Party, following an all-day family-friendly interactive workshop will produce and share the results of a residency for local kids with an exhibition the week after in Stourbridge from 6-8 February with a video screening on the 1st. “They’ve been walking around recording their journeys and turning that into a piece of sound and visual art.”

The Waste Paper Opera Company. Publicity photo

On Saturday evening Meesha Fones (Dorcher) will be inaugurating a new queer noise night QUE.E.F: Queer Experimental Freedom featuring the impeccably titled Godspeed You! Peter Andre. The following Sunday 9 February artist Georgia Denham (studied in the Netherlands but now Birmingham based) will also be curating a new noise collective showcasing emerging talent and recent graduates from the Birmingham Conservatoire. “That’s another of other philosophies,” says Woodhead, “we’re trying to get people started doing their own things, like giving Meesha Fones and Georgia Denham a bit of free rein. We’ve also got Richard Bruce Clay curating spoken word, Andrew Spackman curating stuff in Coventry. We recognise that we’re not omniscient.” Richard Bruce Clay is a ubiquitous supporter you’ll have seen at every free improv in Birmingham and London. He is also an author, who will be curating a programme of spoken word from the Black Country and beyond on 2 February, with some legends including novelist Kerry Hadley Price and “shouty apocalyptic poet” Brendan Higgins who will be performing a play. “We’re interested in seeing how Richard Bruce Clay as a novelist, who has been indirectly inspired by left-field music and is a real supporter of the music, not directly using words as noise but seeing how people have been influenced by this kind of music and giving them a chance to showcase their thing.” 7 February Friday 7 February coincides with Digbeth First Friday, when the studios around Digbeth run open houses and performances for artists to show their work. “It’s a big old art party really,” says Woodhead. “We played at it before with Sarah ‘s SPACETIMEBAND about space stuff and have done some gigs in the big galleries. She was looking at gravitational waves, we were all pretending to be different bits of this wave detector, which is pretty wild.” Reflecting the welcoming cultural diversity of Birmingham, on Friday night at the cosy DIY art space The Edge is a collaboration with Celebrating Sanctuary, promoting the work of refugee musicians and people who have been displaced for various reasons, including a Haitian violin player and vocalist Germa Adan working with musicians picked from the experimental scene performing new collective work developed over a two-week residency. Alongside this are artists presenting as part of Ideas of Sound’s Shorts series. “We do an open call selection for emerging artists or established artists who are trying something new or work in progress.” 8 February Saturday 8 February will also include some Shorts at St Paul’s Church in Birmingham for a whole day of new works for church organ reflecting both contemporary organ practice and its role as the original synth. As well as academics and students reflecting a more formal practice, there is also Michal Wojciechowski who describes himself as a ‘noiseician’ (someone who is interested in sound itself rather than melody). “We’re big on the juxtapositions, we want people to come along and check something out, come to see something they know and then stay to see something they don’t, that’s the thrust of things really to try and mix things up and look for some contrast in what we do.”

Kit Downes. Publicity photo

The evening concert includes names familiar to everyone on the jazz and improv scene. Kit Downes and Tom Challenger’s Vyamanikal project uses the church organ in an improv context, and Lauren Redhead and Alistair Zaldua combine organ with electronics, performing a suite of new music commissioned from female composers, Vox Humana. Andrew Woodhead himself will perform a new work, Pendulums, with an ensemble of familiar names including trumpeter Charlotte Keefe and alto Sam Andrae, playing with the actual bell-ringers of the church. He says, “We had our rehearsals with the bell ringers last weekend and it’s absolutely fascinating the way they work, getting them to try out things, talking their language a bit, sometimes the kind of the way bellringing is engineered it feels almost backward to the way musicians think sometimes in terms of the way they number things and the way they count things is kind of like the opposite way around to what we’re used to, so it’s kind of a huge learning curve with that but it’s dead interesting.” An interesting commonality between all the brazenly diverse art forms and artists at Ideas of Noise is the notion of site-specific work, where the performance space is an integral part of the composition and performance. The Waste Paper Opera Company will be performing three times, in Coventry, Stourbridge and Birmingham, performing Syrup Tracing, based on the first sci-fi novel every written in 1657, Voyage to the Moon. “They make all their props specifically for each show out of paper. Everything’s made out of paper. It’s DIY opera and it turns a lot of operatic conventions on their head. The idea of touring it to three different spaces is its gonna be quite a different show in every single space. The Coventry venue is an old coal vault, it’s crazy a big old cellar vibe with domed ceilings.” 9 February Ideas of Noise concludes on Sunday 9 February at the Moseley Community Hub, a beautiful old building in Balsall Heath with New Noise Collective curated by Georgia Denham. Woodhead says philosophically, “We try and keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on but we can’t possibly know every single thing that’s going on in every single scene in Birmingham. We give people the chance to put their own stamp on an event and get a collective of voices coming out of Birmingham, each with their own flavour.  You’ll find if you go to all the guest-curated events you’ll have a completely different experience at every single one of them.” AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. He will be attending the final weekend of Ideas of Noise and reporting for LJN. ajdehany.co.uk LINKS: FULL FESTIVAL PROGRAMME TICKETS

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