May 10, 2017

Brighton Festival Event

Endings: Tamara Saulwick

Venue: Old Market, Hove

Dates: May 9-13, 2017

Part chamber concert, part performance work, Endings is a meditation on cycles and the ending of things. Using portable turntables, reel-to-reel tape players and live performance, Endings finds form for experiences both ordinary and extraordinary that cluster around death, dying and afterlife.

Built from people’s stories & reflections, these recordings are cut on to bespoke vinyl records and embedded within an electro-acoustic sound design that is accompanied with live performance and song from the beautiful Paddy Mann and Peter Knight.

Voices of the living emerge ghost-like from records, the performer’s converse live with the taped voices, tape loops carve round and round through the space, and song floats across the familiar crackle of records ending.

Saulwick come across like a retro-po-mo Madame Blavatsky  using the vintage recording machinery and snatches of interviews to express her theosophical investigations, the temporary and temporal mashing up to form the present, the past and gone giving us creative material for the now, the reflection looking again at the lost and finding something new in the old, dead and departed.  It’s a vivid and interesting concert and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an audience respond in such a subdued but utterly engaged way, there were quite a few folk in tears, but tears of beautiful and profound joy, I suspect Saulwick’s relentless and honest musings about loss and the act of death itself being a release as well as a challenge.

The manipulations of recording, records, tape and lighting give the impression of snatches of conversation, the repeated claims and statements that people make about such profoundly emotional moments, it’s as if the grief has infected the machines, they repeat and reassure, they restore and state, over and over again.  Mann and Saulwick duet on turntables which are scratched and rubbed to deliver some mediation from other witnesses of the dying, it blends into one great experience.  There’s a recording of a visit to a spiritualist, it’s not clear if there is humour meant, but some of Saulwick’s responses suggest a slightly raised eyebrow, but then that turns into her Blavatsky catharsis which is shocking amongst all the gentle reverie and a powerful change of pace.

Paddy Mann’s softly beautiful music was folded into this melange and his voice, filled with emotion and as ethereal as a last sad kiss knitted the white-noise and electronica together, Saulwick’s  subtle sophisticated harmonies adding a strongly familiar edge to his music, like it was something we’d all sung with our own families before.

It’s a work of understated elegance and power, the lighting swinging back and fore, suggesting journeys or pendulums, costumes and tech all conspire to erase their considerable effects on us, and focus us on the content and collective rising of emotional tautness that Saulwick manipulates in the most considerate but intentional way to a crescendo of light and movement, a shattering of the soft, welcoming, understanding ways of before, a change of tempo and movement which suggested the way grief takes us all in the end.  There are moments of achingly sweet whimsy and suggestions of visitations, but it all loops back to the experience of letting go at (and in) the end.

I left Endings softly reflective of the power of a performer and performance using the death of her father;  Irving, as the creative narrative of such a powerful piece and with his own words echoing in the crepuscular streets on my journey home. Saulwick allows her father’s last words to be the last words, he talks about after he’s gone there will be nothing; in his view death is the glorious end of life and worth celebrating as something we all face and should witness.

She stands there looking us all in the eye, one by one, and we know that what remains of her father and what will be left of us is memory, love and the ability to go on, to move on, to accept and celebrate both the life of the lost and their acceptance of the inevitability of dying.

Unconditionally stunning and a superb piece of performance rooted in death but speaking to us of comforting, creative life.