Alain Platel

Because I Sing

The Roundhouse, London
31 March 2001 - 01 April 2001

The choir is like a delicious fruit, an orange maybe. If you didn't have the skin and the pips and the segments, it wouldn't be that perfect orange. — Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Finchley Children's Music Group


A one-off choral portrait of London on a massive scale, Because I Sing brought together voices raised from across the capital: an A-Z of urban choirs, sacred and secular, side-by-side in a theatrical tribute to the democracy and classlessness of singing.

In preparation composer Orlando Gough and choreographer Alain Platel excavated London's hidden choirs with Artangel and invited 16 distinctive and diverse groups - over 500 voices in all - to feature in a promenade event performed over two nights.

Gough and Platel's search for 'choirs of character' took them back and forth across the river from Haymarket (where a Maori group sings on Wednesdays) to Tooting, where the Kingdom Choir regularly kick up a Gospel storm, to the Congolese Christian Choir in Harlesden via the Gay Men's Chorus in Camden Town and a large group of children who raise the roof every Sunday afternoon in North Finchley. Masterminded by Alain Platel as a compelling piece of theatre rather than a choral concert, Because I Sing animated different spaces within the epic interior of Camden's Roundhouse to create a surprising portrait of contemporary London.

In parallel to Because I Sing, filmmaker Sophie Fiennes went on her own journey, forging relationships with these amateur choral groups to capture something of their very diverse worlds. The result was an idiosyncratic and poignant navigation of London's hidden voices and the communities in which they resound - and the first co-commission between Artangel Media and Channel 4.


This video excerpt of Sophie Fiennes' Because I Sing is available to watch on Vimeo and Youtube. Photograph: Phil Lea

Making Because I Sing

By Alain Platel
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Making Because I Sing

By Alain Platel

13 February 2002


Four years it took Artangel to seduce me. And I never regretted it. You wouldn't believe it when you heard that I have travelled all over the world the last decade, being away sometimes for weeks and that, at the same time, I get homesick when I have to work abroad even for two days.... So when Artangel asked me if I wanted to make something for the Roundhouse, I first tried to explain in a polite way that it would be difficult because of my 'time schedule'. But then I gradually got so amazed by their initiatives, that I wanted to be part of it. That's when I said "yes".

From then on I came to London on a regular basis. Let's say once a month. For a weekend or so. That was the longest I could manage. London is too overwhelming. I get sad in these big cities. I feel like I lose my identity, my 'importance'. Of course it's also very exciting for a 'voyeur' like me to wander around. It took us a while before we finally decided to organise a musical event in the Roundhouse, inviting a selection of amateur-choirs who would sing their favourite song. Orlando Gough, one of the directors of the amazing choir The Shout, became the perfect musical director of the event. People thought we were brothers when we arrived together to witness choir-rehearsals. We must have visited about forty choirs together, or apart.

Read the complete essay


Image: Finchley Children's Choir rehearse for Because I Sing, 2001. Photograph: Phil Lea

Making Because I Sing

By Orlando Gough
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Making Because I Sing

Orlando Gough
21 March 2002


The phone rings. Would I be interested to do an Artangel piece? Yes please - with Alain Platel? Yes please - involving masses of amateur choirs? Of course.

Our aim: to find ‘choirs of character’. It's almost a mantra.

Our first choir visit: to the Italian church in Clerkenwell. Mad Rococo décor, girls in sunglasses. The church is very full, people coming in throughout the service, kissing hello, chatting. An exciting sense of a hidden community for whom this is an important social as well as religious event. And a warning sign: the choir is miniscule, & old.

Read the complete essay


Image: Men from Gwalia, the Welsh male voice choir practice for their performance at Because I Sing, 2001. Photograph: Phil Lea

Press

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'I sing because I sing. Why? Because I sing.' Round and round it goes, a question made rhetorical, and oratorical, by the manner of its asking." — Alan Franks, The Times Magazine, 5 May 2001

Selected Press

'In all our conversations with the choirs, we asked what made them sing,' says Platel. 'we never found an exact answer. Some hide behind God and talk about spreading a message. Others describe it as a feeling of power, to be able to communicate. One thing everyone has in common was once they started talking bout singing, their behaviour changed. They become very excited.'" — Louise Gray, The Independent on Sunday, 25 March 2001

 

The 16 participating amateur ensembles were colour-coded – smart blacks and reds for Maspindzeli, the wonderfully gritty Georgian Choir, national dress for the Armenians and Maoris and smart uniforms for the school choirs. In this context, Orlando Gough and Richard Chew’s professional choir The Shout were just another ensemble, MCs whose own repertoire provided links while new sets rumbled into position. — John L Walters , The Guardian, 2 April 2001

 

Rather than presenting her material within a net of words and preordained ideas, Fiennes’s languorous feature-length film ‘Because I Sing’ has courage in its footage. It’s not that Fiennes wanted to make something oblique, she just believes in the audience and their powers of observation and connection. ‘I pitched it as a sound piece – narration comes in between the viewer and the experience of the material. It’s a lot harder to make it work without narration, but you don’t want everything interpreted for you.’ — Emma Perry, Time Out, 11-18 July 2001

About Alain Platel

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Alain Platel

Alain Platel trained as a remedial educationalist, and is an autodidact choreographer and director. He is best known for his pioneering work with the internationally acclaimed Belgium companies Les Ballets C de La B and Victoria (now Campo). Bernadetje was presented by Artangel in 1997 on a dodgem track with a mixed race company ranging in age from 8-85. And Iets op Bach was brought back twice to the South Bank in 1998, a dark and joyous urban epic featuring a trio of opera singers and a disparate group of social outcasts.

"So what does Platel stand for?" asks the Les Ballets C de la B website. "There is no unequivocal answer. His world is not neatly divided into sheep and wolves, a man is also a woman, and nothing can ever be only beautiful. It is never either/or."

 

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mage: A choir member studies their sheet music, featuring the repeating lyrics "Why? I sing because I can sing" (left), 2001 and Orlando Gough and Alain Platel (pictured right) during production of Because I Sing, 2001 (above). Photographs: Phil Lea & Parisa Tagwizadin

About The Shout

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The Shout

The Shout was formed in 1998 by the composers Orlando Gough and Richard Chew. The singers come from very varied backgrounds - gospel, jazz, blues, contemporary classical, opera, early music - and include several accomplished improvisers. It has been called a 'vocal big band', a 'club choir', a 'vocal Stomp', a 'dangerous choir', a 'choir of Babel' and a 'choral phenomenon'. It is, they hope, all of these things.

Orlando Gough was a founder member of the bands The Lost Jockey & Man Jumping. He writes music mostly for the theatre - operas, plays, dance pieces, music-theatre, directs The Shout, and devises and directs large-scale site-specific choral pieces. Recent work includes The Singing River, for 12 choirs, 18 boats, two cranes and a locomotive (Theater der Welt, Stuttgart), an oratorio The Most Beautiful Man From The Sea (Welsh National Opera), We Turned On The Light (Proms), Swarm for marauding chorus (Barbican), a music-theatre piece Critical Mass (Almeida Opera Festival), an opera The Finnish Prisoner (Paddock Productions and Finnish National Opera), a music-theatre piece One, Two for six pairs of identical twins (Dartington),Open Port the closing event of Stavanger2008 European Capital of Culture, for 800 singers, brass band, wooden trumpets, and Raketensymphonie the opening event of Linz09 European Capital of Culture, for voices and fireworks. He is an associate artist of the Royal Opera House and is currently working on an opera with libretto by Caryl Churchill.


Image: The choirs perform during the Roundhouse performance of Because I Sing, 31 March, 2001. Photograph: Phil Lea

About Sophie Fiennes

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Sophie Fiennes

Sophie Fiennes began making films in 1998. She is widely acclaimed for her unique observational eye and strong sense of cinematic form. Her films include The Late Michael Clark, Because I Sing, Hoover Street Revival, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema and VSPRS Show and Tell. Fiennes often employs a collaborative approach to filmmaking. She has worked with artists and thinkers ranging from dance maker Alain Platel to philosopher/psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek. Her films therefore also act as powerful portraits of some of today's most iconic individuals. Current projects include a film with Anselm Kiefer called Over Your Cities, Grass Will Grow and an observational feature documentary titled Grace Jones – The Musical of My Life.


Image: The choirs perform during the Roundhouse performance of Because I Sing, 31 March, 2001. Photograph: Phil Lea

Credits

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Who made this possible?

Credits

Party for Freedom was commissioned and produced by Artangel with the support of Arts Council England and Bloomberg.

Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels. 


 

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