LONDON (Reuters) - Art rocker PJ Harvey hopes that recording inside a glassed room at Somerset House in central London will help draw on the likes of Elizabeth I, who lived on its grounds before she was queen, and Oliver Cromwell, who lay in state there.
A select group of visitors lucky enough to get tickets will watch Harvey, one of England’s most original pop artists, chipping away at the coal face of music creation.
Polly Jean Harvey, who has balanced eclecticism and mainstream popularity in a career spanning two decades, is recording her ninth album at the arts and cultural center on the River Thames in a celebration of the process of making art rather than the product.
“I want it to operate as if we’re an exhibition in an art gallery,” Harvey said in an interview for a program accompanying the installation, tickets for which sold out in less than half an hour.
During a month-long run, “Recording in Progress” will let some 2,000 people watch Harvey and a cast of musicians, producers and engineers through one-way glass in 45-minute visits.
There are no guarantees what spectators will see. Emilie Vansuypeene, a 35-year-old musician from Lille, France, was “prepared to see people arguing for 50 minutes over one note”.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Vansuypeene said.
Through windows on two sides of a bright white room, a few dozen people watched Harvey, dressed head-to-toe in black, seated amidst a forest of sharp-angled microphone stands and a sea of cables snaking across the floor.
She played saxophone while others played guitar, drums, saxophone and bass clarinet over a track that seemed not to belong to any of the songs whose lyrics were hung on the wall.
“It was an interesting passage,” Vansuypeene said afterwards. “It wasn’t just a coffee break.”
In the program interview — with Michael Morris, co-director of Artangel, which commissioned the show — Harvey says she likes Somerset House’s riverside location and history.
Before hosting a range of government offices, the original Somerset House, built in the 16th century, was a residence of the British throne.
“All that history will fuel me and help tap into a different level of consciousness,” said Harvey, who also paints, draws, sculpts and writes poetry.
Artangel’s Morris said the exhibition had exceeded all expectations in terms of spectators’ reactions.
“I had a hunch that it would be a layered and complex experience,” Morris said. “But I think it’s worked out even richer than imagined.”
Editing by Michael Roddy/Jeremy Gaunt