September 18, 2008 / 3:25 PM / 11 years ago

UK composers mix bottle beat music and Bushisms

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - What do George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have in common with empty soft drink bottles and two British music composers?

They are all part of a new classical music tour of Britain, which throws politics and percussion together in works by composers Graham Fitkin and Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev.

Both composers have abandoned traditional classical instruments for more exotic music-making, using such things as the xylosynth, a cross between the xylophone and a synthesizer, glass bottles and oil drums.

Fitkin’s musical piece “Chain of Command” uses vocal samples taken from speeches made by Bush and Rumsfeld about the Iraq war as well as inquiries into prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. security detainee prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

His interest was sparked by the reports of the U.S. military using continually looped music as torture.

“Like everybody I’ve been effected been the Iraq war, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, it’s been affecting my music for some time,” Fitkin said.

“The speeches are deconstructed to little syllables, and slowly I build the music up. The feel of the work is pretty hard edge, it doesn’t stop. I’m layering bits of meaning on to the music, so that whilst it starts abstract, it then becomes clearer.”

Prokofiev’s “Import/Export” is no less political, dealing as it does with globalization and its environmental impacts, but has more accidental origins.

“I’d spent a gap year in Tanzania, and remember seeing someone performing basic percussion with a glass Fanta bottle,” said Prokofiev.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a classical piece written for that instrument, so I got myself a few bottles and found they were really rich in terms of source material.”

It was not until he discovered that the bottles he was using were from Nigeria that the idea for Import/Export began to take shape.

“Fanta was created in Germany, but it’s owned by Coca Cola, an American company,” said Prokofiev. “Normally countries don’t import fizzy drinks as it’s cheaper to make them at home. But the Nigerian community in London prefer the taste of Nigerian Fanta, which is how these bottles have ended up here.”

He began looking for other objects which he felt had international recognition, and decided on the oil drum, the plastic bag, and the shipping pallet, from which he will be composing his new piece.

“All of these products cause trouble wherever they go,” he said. “And we wanted to explore these themes in the music; things with bad connotations but can make some good music. Ultimately it has to sound good.”

The pieces will be presented as part of the Powerplant tour throughout November and December, with multi-instrumentalist Joby Burgess performing both. Each will have bespoke visual accompaniment by artist Kathy Hinde.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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