Ahead of Andy Ingamells’ Up Down Left Right – a one-day event for the Salvation Army Citadel in St Pauls, Bristol – we sat down with Andy to hear about his research, influences and collaborations.

 

Your approach to Up Down Left Right began with researching in The Salvation Army’s music archive at The Citadel in St Pauls, Bristol. How did you start exploring the archive and what has grown out of your discoveries?

I was invited by Situations to respond to the place and the people of the Salvation Army Citadel in St Pauls, Bristol, to create a project that would mark the development of the new Citadel building. This opportunity arose from Bristol City Council’s Section 106 Policy on Public Art. When I first visited the Salvation Army in Bristol I was directed to their vast music archive, which contains uniforms, instruments and musical scores going back 100 years and more. I also got into the routine of joining the band for rehearsals every Thursday night. I used to play in a brass band as a teenager so playing the horn again after 10 years was a great experience for me, and it also proved an opportunity to talk to the Salvationists about the music and the archive at the Citadel on a weekly basis.

At the start of one of these rehearsals, the Salvation Army members pointed out an interesting object, a table in the Citadel prayer room. It’s an Ikea table that’s been covered in fragments of Salvation Army songbooks that have been cut up and glued together by members of the church. The table interested me because I have researched and followed the work of artists who have covered objects with music notation and then have tried to read these cut up fragments as new pieces of music. This work was especially prevalent in the 1960s, which is an era I have researched a lot in my broader artistic practice.

In the archive I then found a piece with the word ‘fragments’ written on it. It’s called ‘Our Army Veterans’ which is like a ‘greatest hits’ of the early Salvation Army material dating back to about 1920. One of the key things that came out of their songbooks is that the church isn’t made of the bricks of the building, it’s made of the collective activity of the people who worship there. The church is a collective endeavor that also allows space for individual devotion and agency. A quote from the lyrics to a song by Maureen Jarvis springs to mind, ‘except you build your house, Lord, our work is all in vain. Except your spirit fill it, but blocks of stone remain’. This really seemed appropriate because this commission is linked to having work made for the new Salvation Army building in St Pauls.

The first Salvation Army band circa 1910. Image courtesy Salvation Army

What research did you do into Bristol and the history of the location, St. Pauls, and how the Salvation Army is located here?

I undertook broader research into St Pauls and was put in touch with historian Dr. Edson Burton. He gave me a broad history of different aspects of life in St Pauls and pointed me towards the book ‘Endless Pressure’ by Ken Pryce. Ken Pryce was a sociologist writing in the 1970s and was a participant-observer in the culture of St Pauls at the time. He came to St Pauls as a West Indian man and described what life was like there. He noticed that lot of intellectuals and students would go to St Pauls because, in his words, “they tended to romanticize the deviant and the exotic”. I didn’t want to make a piece of work that did that. Instead I specifically wanted it to be about the Salvation Army and what they do for people in the community. I had an affinity with Ken Pryce because I saw a parallel with me being a participant-observer within the brass band. I was playing with the band and then trying to develop a piece for them. It wasn’t just me writing a score without participating as that’s not the way I work, although perhaps the band would have preferred that!

The project was closely developed with Situations. I often consulted with them about the best way to move forward, we discussed lots of ideas and gradually honed it down. The idea about conducting came quite quickly and we realized that was an interesting idea for the relationship between St Pauls and the Salvation Army. I thought about the connection conducting has with the Bristol Bus Boycott initiated by people in St Pauls in 1963, a really important civil rights struggle for the West Indian diaspora in St Pauls, where, amongst other things, the question was ‘who was allowed to be a conductor?’ At that time black people were barred from being bus conductors on public transport.

The parallel between conducting a band and a bus conductor interested me – the bus conductor has authority over the passengers on a bus and the conductor has authority to conduct a band. Historically, conducting has been a very white profession that does have its associations with power. This power dynamic is also quite interesting with this example of the local struggle for black people gaining power and agency in the 1960s under a pressurised society.

Your practice often explores unusual methods of composition that blur the line between composer and performer. Up Down Left Right will provide an opportunity for participants to be placed in the shoes of a brass band conductor, probably for their first time ever. How do you think this will make the participant feel?

I hope they feel exhilarated doing it. I certainly know I felt exhilarated the first time I ever conducted a music ensemble. Just holding the baton and realizing you have got the ability to impact upon a whole band is very powerful but humbling at the same time. I don’t want to imagine what they would feel but it’s going to be fascinating to talk to people after they have done it to see how they felt. I’m also really interested to see how the participants will conduct the band. I feel like I’m going to be in the position of an audience member because I really want to hear something new and be surprised. For me I think it will have a lasting effect, but I wouldn’t want to put words in the mouths of participants just yet. I’m excited about hearing the results!

Bowmanship, 2015.  Image courtesy Ally Standing

The Salvation Army Brass Band is central to the project and you have worked closely with them from the offset, playing with the band in rehearsals across a number of weeks. How did the brass band respond to the project and the idea of playfully collaborating the wider public to create a new musical score for the Salvation Army music archive?

Being in an academic bubble I can often take for granted that people know all of these different and unusual ways of making art and music because it seems so second nature. When you leave the bubble you realize that there are so many people working in so many different ways. It can be quite a shock to the system to hear people say “I don’t agree with that” or “that sounds ridiculous”. I can start to then question my own approaches. It’s been a wake-up call for me to leave the bubble more often and work with people that aren’t initiated in the art world or avant-garde music world (for want of a better word). I think the other ways people work is equally valid, just different. I’ve learnt to work effectively with people who don’t have the same approaches to music as I do. I was always welcomed by the Salvation Army and didn’t ever feel judged, fitting with the Salvationist values of inclusiveness and integration. When I started working with an experimental approach to music I saw it as liberation from playing in brass bands as a child. I’d grown up making music in a very hierarchical way and I wanted to break free from of that. At the same time I appreciate that others find joy and comfort in that structure. The last thing I’d want to do is take away joy in the music, but I also don’t want to stop working in the way I work. Trying to marry those two approaches has been quite a challenge.

The live experience element of Up Down Left Right will take place on Saturday 11 March at The Citadel in St Pauls, Bristol. Can you tell us a little about the film and new score that will be created as a result?

The live experience is almost like a film shoot. There will be cameras set up capturing how participants interact with the band. The challenge is then to edit down the hours of footage into a six-minute video, a length that’s longer than a march but not a complete show piece, a good duration. There will be lots of different shots of participants conducting all cut up and it’ll have this collage or remix feeling about it. There will be lots of jump cuts in the film so I’ll take the soundtrack from that film and transcribe it into written music. The aim is that the new score can then be played by the band and be rehearsed as a separate piece of music in its own right. All those movements and gestures from the participants will then be part of the new score that is created. The ideal outcome is that the band will learn that new piece of music and will be able to play it in time with the film. It will be similar to a silent movie from the early 20th century and they are the orchestra accompanying it.

 

What do you hope this work will allow you to test, experiment or discover as an artist that you haven’t been able to before in your practice?

My practice is difficult to pin down because it’s between several disciplines. If I was a composer in a normal sense, the Holy Grail is writing for orchestra. However, my practice hovers somewhere between art, music and theatre. I do a lot of performances myself. I’ve performed naked, I’ve worked in ways that could be considered avant-garde clichés, trying to shock. A lot of my references go back to sixties and seventies performance art that was challenging bourgeois norms at the time.

When I was researching the Salvation Army I discovered that in the 1960s they had a pop band called The Joystrings. They played Salvation Army songs in a strip club in London whilst performers were dancing and stripping. The Joystrings talked to the strippers and were very open, using it as part of their ministry. I had this feeling that some of my more outrageous art friends would suggest I do something outrageous with the Salvation Army. However, discovering this I realised they are actually one step ahead all of the time. In the 1960s they were playing Christian music for strippers. What could I do that’s more outrageous than that?! They have done it themselves! It’s so interesting that there’s a bravery and boldness to go out and do something like that. One of the young members of the Bristol Citadel corps said that “the music at the Salvation Army has meaning, purpose and emotion, and it’s tied up with ministry”. It’s not just music, it’s not just decoration, it has something important behind it.

I don’t usually get the chance to work with a large group of musicians and if I do, the expectation with a composer is that they put the work in, they write the piece and then provide the notes on the page when it is complete. Afterwards the band would maybe play the composition once or twice. This process has been completely different. I’ve had a year to come into the Citadel and get to know the band and rehearse with them to really understand what they do. We have set up a situation where participants are invited to step out of their comfort zone and experience feeling nervous and excited about conducting a band. It’s a rare experience, and a privilege for me to be working so closely with a large band on a project I’ve had a hand in creating.

Andy and Situations are currently working on the production of the new musical score composed from the sessions on 11th March, which will be released soon and accompanied by an original film work. To keep up to date please sign up to Situations mailing list.

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