Industrialising Intimacy: Q&A with Elaine Mitchener
25 Nov 2015
Elaine Mitchener is a classically trained vocalist, noted for her unique mixture of styles ranging from avant-garde and improvisation to gospel and jazz. Elaine spoke to us ahead of performing her new work, Industrialising Intimacy, as part of earsthetic 2015…
‘The work isn’t a critique of social media, rather an investigation of the loss of privacy in our society versus the strength of true intimacy’
You’ve worked with an incredibly broad number of artists including the likes of Goldie, Christian Marclay, Astronautilus, Sonia Boyce, Irvine Arditt, Attila Csihar, Maggie Nicholls, and more. What do you most enjoy about collaborating?
Collaboration can stimulate, feed and broaden creativity. That’s the best case scenario when a spark sets off an intensely exciting creative fire. Not all collaborations work even if the artists are amazing because it boils down to personalities co-existing and building together.
You’re a classically trained vocalist, but this performance is a collaboration with two composers (David Toop and George Lewis) and a choreographer (Dam van Huynh). How did you meet? What attracted you to their work, or what attracted them to yours?
I’m classically trained with a background in gospel, soul, jazz along with free-improv contemporary new music. Sound artist/ musician David Toop heard me sing on the day of Obama’s Inauguration so I was pretty charged up, then he invited me to be in his opera Star-Shaped Biscuit; Dam Van Huynh and I were introduced via mutual friend when Dam needed a vocalist for a work he had choreographed; I approached composer/musician George Lewis as I had been interested in his music for some time and sent him some examples of what I did. I am lucky to be working with such remarkable iconic artists.
Where does the title Industrialising Intimacy come from and what issues does the piece explore?
I heard the term used to describe how pop artists are able to connect with their fans via social media. It’s the modern version of tearing off a pop idols garment which happened in the 60s/70s even 80s. Sounds a long time ago. The work isn’t a critique of social media, rather an investigation of the loss of privacy in our society versus the strength of true intimacy in the search for one's centeredness.
You explored some of the early parts of the piece as part of Brighton Dome’s earsthetic: The Works, a work-in-progress evening. How important is it that arts venues offer these opportunities for mid-level artists?
I cannot think of a better environment in which to test and challenge one's artistic ideas. It is unique in its set-up and what it provides for musicians who wish to work across visual art/music/dance.
You describe your work as ‘contemporary music theatre’; a term that – for some - may conjure up images of the West End and big song and dance shows. What does that phrase mean to you?
I wouldn’t change the description because I understand it. However, if someone turns up thinking they’re going to see a West End Musical style show, they will be certainly be faced with something surprisingly different.
You’re a vocalist noted for a unique mixture of styles ranging from contemporary classical, gospel and jazz. What excites you about creating and performing a piece like Industrialising Intimacy as opposed to your more typical live music concert?
My work is constantly evolving as I develop ideas and work with different artists being challenged along the way. I approach each project with the excitement of something new and rewarding and even if it doesn’t work that’s okay because that’s an object lesson in itself. This work brings together many of my ideas into one piece and the immediacy and close proximity of the audience provides another edge of excitement.
The final work is now appears in Brighton as part of earsthetic 2015. Was it a natural home and is there more scope for festivals like these that celebrate boundary breaking, risk-taking collaborative interdisciplinary work?
Absolutely! I’m delighted and thrilled to be presenting this work at earsthetic which has an artistic team who aren’t afraid of taking risks. This aesthetic (!) doesn’t suit all festivals but there are audiences out there who are curious, open and ready to experience these works with the artists. Work cannot be created without support on all levels and for this I am also grateful to Sound and Music and ACE who are funding the tour, Oxford Contemporary Music and VLC in London who, like earsthetic, have supported the project by providing essential creative space for R&D and sharing the work.
Elaine presents Industrialising Intimacy on Sun 29 Nov in Brighton Dome Studio Theatre as part of earsthetic 2015. Tickets £8.
This Q&A was originally published in the second issue of Brighton Dome feat., our free music & culture magazine.