Aldeburgh Festival 2013: SNAP Festival

The third SNAP Festival (a visual arts strand running in parallel with the 66th Aldeburgh Festival) got underway on Saturday 8 June.

The installations and art works are dotted around the Snape Maltings site and on Aldeburgh Beach. They provide an engaging distracting to the main events in the Festival.

During my weekend visit to Aldeburgh, I had a look at some of the exhibits, a selection of which are highlighted below. I also spoke to two of the artists, Maggie Hambling and Emily Richardson, whose interviews you can listen to below.

RISING 5th / Emily Richardson

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Richardson’s installation is an abstract soundscape depicting the sea and associated sounds played out on a loop on the top floor bijoux interior of the Lookout Tower perched on the edge of Aldeburgh Beach.

The looped soundtracked is a realisation of a Britten memorial concept proposed by architect HT Cadbury Brown. The proposal consisted of a giant wooden post with two holes drilled into it from which the two notes ‘Peter Grimes’ are set to in Britten’s opera would sound when the wind blew strongly enough. A cute, fun, Boys-Own-Adventure kind of proposal which undoubtedly would have been dismissed by the intransigent locals with the same vehemence that The Borough get on Grimes’ case in the libretto.

Rising 5th challenges the conceit of Britten’s eponymous score by suggesting how his vision of the sea – although utterly transporting – is in itself (now) a saccharin cliche. Visitors to the Lookout Tower will ascend the spiral steps buffeted by the North Sea wind, at the top entering a small room with a window looking out to sea whilst listening to Richardson’s looped soundscape. The cocooning effect of the top floor room is achieved in part by the seascape soundproofing visitors from the real world outside.

Rising 5th at Lookout Tower in Aldeburgh

Hugely therapeutic (I could have stayed in there all day – especially when Joan Bakewell and Humphrey Burton unexpectedly rocked up), the gentle sounds and surprisingly benign sound was the perfect antidote to the malevolence of Grimes the night before.

Emily explained more about the idea behind the installation and introduced the video installation in Snape Maltings which accompanies the piece in an interview recorded in The Lookout Tower on Aldeburgh beach (below).

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Great views to be had across Aldeburgh Beach from the top of the spiral staircase on the side of the Lookout Tower …
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… and looking down on the beach below. Seconds after this picture was taken I was momentarily prevented from getting down by Joan Bakewell and Humphrey Burton rather gingerly making their way up.
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The test-scenario of Cadbury-Brown’s original memorial was tested out by Emily Richardson on the Aldeburgh to Thorpeness coast road. The video of that test is on display at the Britten-Pears Studio at Snape Maltings (pictured above and below).

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2013 Pasted paper onto billboard / Scott King

2013 Pasted paper onto billboard was a short rendition of an excerpt from Britten’s Simple Symphony given by a string quartet every fifteen minutes for three hours. There was an element of absurdity about proceedings as the quartet (in full concert dress) processed to and from their outdoor performance space situated in front of a massive billboard on which the short extract from the Playful Pizzicato was printed (along with an RBS logo – Britten’s Playful Pizzicato was used in an advertising campaign entitled ‘Shoes‘ by the bank in 2002) printed on it. Part deconstructed advertising campaign, part mischievous giggle. A reference about how for most classical music is recognisable not because of itself but because of advertising. A lot of fun.

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War Requiem / Maggie Hambling

Hambling’s installation – oil depictions of the horror and suffering of war on canvas hung in the Dovecote at Snape Maltings with extracts of Britten’s War Requiem – is a somber and reflective piece which forces the viewer to confront the ultimate painful truth about war: that we all have the potential to contribute to and suffer because of it.

The installation is described in the Festival write-ups as a claustrophobic piece, although the rule that only one person can enter the installation (inside the Dovecote pictured below) at any one time makes it a surprisingly indulgent one, commanding the attention of the viewer and stimulating some horrific thoughts all at the same time.

Maggie Hambling's War Requiem in the Dovecot at Snape Maltings
Maggie Hambling’s War Requiem is installed in the Dovecote at Snape Maltings

This was the most moving of the installations I saw on the day I visited SNAP. There are elements of John Cage in Hambling’s rule about only one person entering at a time, control passed onto the individual who in turn determines when he or she leaves. The use of Britten’s music – in this case the Lachrymae – helped comprehension of the oils, conjuring up short intense bursts of horror. The ensuing personal battle between wanting to escape the space on the one hand and wanting to stick it out on the other was inevitable.

Maggie was explained where her inspiration came from for War Requiem in our discussion below also taking the opportunity to talk of her controversial creation that stands on Aldeburgh beach, that of the Scallop – the Britten memorial she created which has in the past been vandalised.

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Parable / Simon Liddiment

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Five road-signs (pictured above) celebrating the Transport font and glorious road signage, inspired by Britten’s utilitarian work with the GPO Film Unit. The five triangular warning signs configured in a tessellating pattern set against the East Suffolk sky made for a striking, incongruous and deliciously subversive sight from the concert hall foyer.

 

Musical Box / Roger Eno

"The telephone seems to be broken. Can you fix it?"
“The telephone seems to be broken. Can you fix it?” (Musical Box 2013 © the artist / Photo: Tom Taylor)

Audio installation piece featuring fragments of Britten’s recorded speech combined with compositions by Eno, played down the telephone in a phone box situated outside the Aldeburgh Music Box Office & Visitor Centre.

An amusing little affair, not because it was necessarily thought provoking but because it uses a familiar Snape Maltings sight, the phone box – a monument in itself which had previously been used as a hotline to the original box office situated in Aldeburgh fifteen years back – and uses it for something entirely different.

The strongest reaction to the installation I found was that from staff in the Visitor Centre now tired of responding to complaints from passers-by that the pay-phone ‘seems to have broken’. Bless.

 

The 3rd SNAP Festival runs 8-30 June 2013. More details on the SNAP website

Aldeburgh Music have also produced a 15 minute video tour of the various exhibitions, embedded below.

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Rising 5th at Lookout Tower in Aldeburgh
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Maggie Hambling at Snape
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