by Tim Edwards
From the earliest times words and music have gone together, and the ‘Lullaby Too Rough’ event at Kings Place demonstrated why in a fascinating and hugely enjoyable way. Combining spoken poetry, text projected onto a screen, song, instrumental recital and conversation, the evening presented a kaleidoscope of “shifts . . . whispers . . . sensed connections” not only between one medium and another but also between generic and cultural traditions. Sarah Howe’s poetry is informed with a deep sense of those connections, inflected across a range of attitudes and perspectives and with an abiding sense of how language articulates both tensions and correspondences between different traditions. ‘Goose Daughter’, the culminating song-cycle drawn from her ‘Loop of Jade’ collection, turns out to be based not on a proverbial Chinese tradition but on a Scots tradition concerning the value of daughters, rendered by Howe into a darkly lyrical, poignant fable on gender-relations. ‘Night Suite’, a collaboration between Howe and pianist Prach Boondiskulchok, evocatively performed here by his Linos Trio, placed text like a fragmenting mosaic across the screened backdrop, observations and jagged emotions acutely combined in an almost Expressionist response to night and the city.
The music for both ‘Goose Daughter’ and ‘Night Suite’ is finely conceived and was given a near-flawless performance by the trio (augmented for ‘Goose Daughter’ by mezzo Catherine Hopper and violist Jenna Sherry). From an eclectic background of musical traditions and techniques, the composer Boondiskulchok has crafted a sound-world that distils the shifts and nuances of experience and feeling to an extraordinary degree of sensitivity and aptness to the poetic text, generating music at once lyrical and hauntingly dissonant. As he pointed out in conversation, his mode of imagination is sound, and this was apparent throughout, not just in musical terms but also in a finely-tuned response to the sound as well as the sense of words. Sarah Howe is similarly highly attuned to the music of language: her collaboration with the pianist-composer is inspired, and on Wednesday evening gave us a beautifully crafted and immensely enjoyable poetic and musical experience.
A couple of minor quibbles: the acoustic of Hall One, where the event took place, was quite echoey or boxy, leading to some loss of detail in the sound during the spoken segments; and a smoother transition between the opening poem and initial music of ‘Night Suite’ would have been welcome. Overall, however, the presentation of the evening worked well – Poet in the City and all involved in producing the event are to be commended for a thoroughly enjoyable programme, something reiterated afterwards by members of the audience who stayed for the inaugural post-event Conversation: congratulations to Georgia, a great idea which worked really well. I look forward to upcoming events and further Conversations.