Leap of Death: an interview with Robert Stillman

April 10, 2014

Saxophonist / composer Robert Stillman is bringing a lost Murnau film back to life next month, as part of Sounds New. I talked with Robert about the project, the challenges of bringing a lost film back to life, and the influence of the mischievous Erik Satie.


DH: What inspired you to come up with this project ?

RS: I first learned about the lost ‘4 Devils’ film through a very good documentary about it made by Janet Bergstrom that was an extra on the Sunrise DVD. I was intrigued by this idea of that a film can just disappear completely; it seemed so exotic in our age of obsessive preservation-added to the fact that it was this dark, weird tale of orphans sold to the circus to be trained up into a trapeze act. So I thought it would be interesting to somehow use this missing artefact as the starting point for a new one.

Acrobats  (1)DH: Thinking of the highly Expressionist style of Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ in particular, how are you able to conjure up or realise the visual element of the missing film as part of the performance ?

RS: ‘Leap of Death’ is being released as a limited edition of 50 bookwork/vinyl LPs, and  we’re going to be projecting images from the bookwork during the performance. The printmaker/writer Anna Fewster composed these images as ‘imaginary fragments’ of the ‘4 Devils’ narrative, and they are inspired in part by what we know about the look of ‘4 Devils’ film (from remaining archive materials), but also by photos and posters from circuses of this time, and this era of film in general.

DH: Is the fact that you’ve written a score to a film that’s missing an aspect of the performance itself, ie. should listeners be trying to re-create the film for themselves ?

RS: That’s the idea- we wanted to create an impression or feeling of the lost film, but some listeners might imagine something even more literal and structured in terms of narrative. The music is based around themes that relate loosely to characters, ideas, and in some cases scenes, and these are referenced in the titles and images we’re projecting, but these are really just little seeds for people’s imaginations.

DH: Tell me about these multi-media aspects of the performance: what can audiences expect to experience ?

RS: We’ll perform the score with a 6-piece band (organ, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, tuba, drums), alongside continuous projection of images and text from the ‘Leap of Death’ bookwork. The idea is to create a ‘live’ version of the bookwork/LP.

DH: The dance-band style music of the 1920’s has a distinct character – is your music a homage to, or a recreation of, the music of the period ?

Robert Stillman

Robert Stillman

RS: I wasn’t focusing too heavily on trying to recreate or pay tribute a style per se, though I guess I had the sound of Hollywood film composers like Steiner, Newman, and even Chaplin in mind- I really like that hybrid musical language they used that combines the chromaticism of contemporary European classical with American popular music influence. For this piece I was going for music that was complex and rich but that was essentially built on hummable tunes- and with plenty of woodblock!

DH: Do I detect perhaps hints of Satie about the music, his Parade in particular ? Was Satie an influence ?

RS: Satie’s the man, and definitely an influence for me. My first idea for ‘Leap of Death’ was actually a Diaghilev-vibe contemporary ballet, so the Parade idea makes sense. I’d still love to realise it this way some day – it would work well with the 4 Devils’ trapeze acts.

With thanks to Robert for his time. Find out more about Leap of Death at Sounds New next month online here.


Word up: Sounds New Poetry 2014

April 1, 2014

Sounds New is excited to develop its Sounds New Poetry thread, a collaboration between the festival and the University of Kent, once more as part of this year’s festival.

This year, the poetic side of the festival includes a three-day public residency at the Beany House of Art and Knowledge in the heart of the city, at which various poets will be inviting members of the public to interact with them, leading into performances in the evening at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen.  There will also be site-specific readings around Canterbury, as the stones of the ancient city ring to the spoken word

Nancy Gaffield

Nancy Gaffield

On Saturday 3 May, Nancy Gaffield & David Herd will be at Eastbridge Hospital at midday. Established to receive, lodge and sustain Canterbury’s wayfarers and pilgrims,  poets Nancy Gaffield and David Herd read work written in response to this defining city space. Inspired by the resources at the Beaney, poet Kat Peddie will be running a combined performance and workshop on collage poetry at the Beaney Museum at 3pm. She will be using the space and resources of the library to explore methods of creating collage, reading from her own collages and helping the audience to make their own collage poems from found materials in the library.

On Sunday 4th May, and using St Thomas’ Church as his starting point, Ben Hickman will present a poetic but meaty history of revolt in Kent and Kent in revolt at 12.30pm. Over at the Roman Museum at 3pm, and drawing upon sites from Roman Canterbury via their present-day locations, Eleanor Perry will perform new work that investigates ideas about the perceptions and expectations of women in Roman society, as well as their effacement from history.Also drawing inspiration from their surroundings in Whitefriars on Monday 5 May, Patricia Debney and Juha Virtanen will present new work that explores mental illness, human relations, control, and hopelessness. Their responses will oscillate between directness and obliquity.

Sounds New Poetry is proud to present an evening of readings curated by ZONE at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen, 9pm. ZONE is a collective of writers & critics based in Canterbury. It produces a biannual international magazine of poetry and criticism. Reading will be poets published in ZONE’s first two issues: Áine Belton, Ian Brinton, Laurie Duggan & Dorothy Lehane.

Carol Watts

Carol Watts

Three poets will be writing publically at The Beaney during three days as part of festival, between 12-2pm,  during which time members of the public are invited to interact with them.  Inspired by her surroundings, Carol Watts will be writing new work  on Tuesday May 6th. Building on her work createdduring the day, she will perform work that responds to the Festival’s corresponding relationship between the ephemera of site and sound at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen at 9pm that evening.

Harriet Tarlo

Harriet Tarlo

The next day, Harriet Tarlo will be writing publicly at The Beaney; in the evening, she will present work that opens up the connections between place and performance at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen 9pmFinally, on Thursday May 8th,  Jeff Hilson will be writing at The Beany, and in the evening will perform new work that arises from the intersections between poetry and music.

Celebrating the synergy between the written word, surrounding spaces and contemporary music: Sounds New Poetry promises to be a fascinating aspect of the 2014 festival next month. Find out more about the events and the poets taking part on our website here.

For further details or enquiries about Sounds New Poetry, click here, or contact Dr Juha Virtanen by email here.


Festival brochure now out

March 24, 2014

High excitement in the halls and walks of Sounds New, as our #SoundsNew2014 brochures have now hit the highways and by-ways of the county.

SN2014 brochure

Full details of all the events taking place between 2-9 May. Download a copy here (PDF).


Sounds New 2014 line-up announced

March 3, 2014

Excitement is running high in the offices and corridors of the Sounds New empire this morning, as we are delighted to reveal the details of this year’s Sounds New Festival.

sn_logo_newThe festival team, under the expert eye of artistic director Matt Wright, has worked hard to bring this year’s festival into the light, with a mixture of exciting contemporary music delivered by world-class performers including Exaudi, Icebreaker and John Harle; the Sounds New Poetry thread continues to develop with a residence at The Beaney; the London Sinfonietta will have a four-day residency culminating in their concert including works by Cardew and Andriessen; and the educational arm of the festival returns to St Peter’s Methodist Church.

Take a look at the line-up over on our online programme, and you’ll see why we’re excited. We’ll be bringing you all the stories and features in the run-up to the festival, which takes place from Friday 2 – Friday 9 May in and around the historic city, and promises to bring the ancient stones of Canterbury alive with the vibrant music of today, performed by some of its very best exponents.

#SoundsNew2014: it all starts here…

Note: for further information / press about this year’s Festival, please contact the Festival Administrator.


Wise indeed: interview with Beth Cuenco

September 4, 2013
Andrew Motion

Andrew Motion

There are some famous names coming to Canterbury next week, as the Wise Words Festival returns for the second year running. The festival, which was recently a winner at the Canterbury Culture awards, describes itself as “a festival that reawakens wonder & encourages curiosity.” As well as readings from Sir Andrew Motion and Nancy Gaffield, there’s also an appearance from poet Ian McMillan in the company of composer Luke Carver Goss.Ahead of the creative mayhem set to burst into the city next week, I caught up with founder and festival-organiser, Beth Cuenco, to find out what’s in store.

Read the rest of this entry »


Image Gallery: All for One

June 19, 2013

As part of Sounds New’s educational mission, the popular All for One series of concerts for schools and families ran again last month at St Peter’s Methodist Church, Canterbury.

Pictured are pupils from St Peter’s Methodist School and St Stephen’s Junior School, working with Phil Wright from the Philharmonia on pieces including Paul Burnell’s Aim Straight for Starlight.

Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook (used with permission)


Exciting times…

June 18, 2013

We emerged blinking into the night after a lengthy meeting yesterday, planning the events for the 2014 Sounds New festival under the leadership of the new Artistic Director, Matt Wright. And whilst we are all sworn to secrecy about the projects being lined up, let me tell you that it’s shaping up to be a very exciting festival indeed.

Peter Bolton (l) with the new Artistic Director, Matthew Wright

Peter Bolton (l) with the new Artistic Director, Matthew Wright

We’ll be keeping you up to date with the events and projects as they come to fruition: as they say, watch this space…


Image Gallery: jazz at Whitefriars

May 13, 2013

Images from last Saturday’s live jazz at Whitefriars, Canterbury, with Big Brand New, CCCU Big Band and the OrbiPLAYA Big Band.

Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook


Presentation night: looking to the future

May 10, 2013

Last night, Friends and supporters of, and visitors to, Sounds New festival gathered in the towering atrium of Augustine Hall in order to witness the passing on of the festival flame.

Peter Bolton, Chair of the Board

Peter Bolton, Chair of the Board

New Chair of the Festival, Peter Bolton, welcomed and paid tribute to the achievements of Ian Odgers, former Chair, and to the outgoing Artistic Director, Paul Max Edlin.

Edlin responded in a speech reflecting on Sounds New’s long list of achievements, mentioning that, through its being broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Sounds New has reached around the world  – ”there are people around the world who know of Canterbury through Sounds New” – and reflected on some of its highlights; visits from Penderecki, the London Sinfonietta, and last year’s performance in the Cathedral of Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple, attended by the composer himself.

Former Artistic Director, Paul Max Edlin

Former Artistic Director, Paul Max Edlin

Edlin then formally handed over to  the new Artistic Director, Matthew Wright, who will lead the plans into next year’s festival – more about which, later.

James Williams of the Philharmonia then thanked all the partner organisations – including Canterbury Christ Church University, the University of Kent, the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury City Council – who have come together to bring the Universe of Sound installation to Canterbury over the past two weeks.

Peter Bolton (l) with the new Artistic Director, Matthew Wright

Peter Bolton (l) with the new Artistic Director, Matthew Wright

The installation was then switched on, and visitors moved into the exhibition. As James said, it’s attracted thousands of visitors since opening and many daily school visits, 80% of whom have not been to a classical concert or seen an orchestra before.

There’s still Saturday’s live big band jazz in Whitefriars to look forward, and the Curious Curator exhibition until the end of the week at the Beaney Front Room.

Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook


Gallery: New Perspectives Ensemble concert

May 9, 2013

From today’s lunchtime concert with the New Perspectives Ensemble, conducted by Timothy Lines, and the post-concert Q&A session.

Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook