• Barry Guy
  • Hold Hands and Sing (1978)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • electronics
  • soprano, alto, tenor, bass
  • 25 min
  • Barry Guy
  • Paul Rutherford, etc

Programme Note

Barry Guy: Hold Hands and Sing
(a Dadaist cabaret for voices, Synthian and the Magical Movement Machine)

Commissioned by the Electric Phoenix with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Joined by Tristan Tzara, Marcus Janco and Jean Arp, Hugo Ball in 1916 opened the Cabaret Voltaire - an open house for artists and writers dedicated to a new code of conduct with common hostility towards art for art's sake and a hatred of materialism, manipulation and systemisation - something they saw the 'Art' world become.

The opportunity to compose a piece for Electric Phoenix gave me the chance to think on an expansive scale with regard to what material I could use. As well as extended vocal techniques, there was sonic projection, movement and gesture available for my consideration.

Being somewhat of a student of Dada and related historical manifestations it was not long before the Cabaret Voltaire firmly suggested that the treatment of Hold Hands and Sing should in a distant way refer to their activities and in its own way present an altered form of such a presentation, although by necessity in a much concentrated format.

It may be of use to the listener to know how the piece works and where the material was derived from.

1. Texts
The texts are from the writings by Dada activists, manifestos, critics and the modern day poetry of the musician Paul Rutherford. I chose the Dada texts for their direct associations with the Cabaret Voltaire, their experiments into abstract phonetic poetry and verses of seemingly unconnected rhetoric of which Tzara, Arp, Serner and Huelsenbeck were masters. My interest in Paul Rutherford's poems is long standing and for me often expresses the sentiments of the Dadaists in modern day terms as well as being politically critical.

2. Movement/Gesture
The theatrical gestures are essentially (although not entirely) derived from spontaneous movements generated by the wearing of various masks thought up by Marcel Janco which were presented during the 'cabaret'. The various members adorned themselves with the masks and each started up a 'tragico-absurd dance' (Richter). Richter describes in loose detail the nature of these gestures, and it is these which I have adapted and choreographed for this piece. The use of masks I decided to dispense with since the problems far outweighed the necessity for historical accuracy. Instead I tried to set the gestures in an abstract melodrama where they could be reinterpreted as a direct correlation between action and sound whilst still portraying the theatre of near madness.

In the early part of the work I have sued an extended text by Richard Huelsenbeck to which I have added various gestural activities. Huelsenbeck had a great love for African rhythms and in particular the large tom-tom with which he often accented his readings. In Hold Hands, I have used a whip to reinforce accents at certain points and at others made references to African rhythms.

At the end of the piece is a dramatically absurd presentation of an Anxiety Play (Dramatic Fragment) by Kurt Schwitters. I say absurd because to all intents and purposes it seems totally out of context with the preceding material, but the more I assessed the possibilities of its inclusion the more I became obsessed by its intrusion.

3. Music and other sound sources
Pitches are derived from free motivic association and are assessed relative to the voice range and tension displacement, depending on the type of mood or situation I wished to set up. An interest in early music led me to consider pitch decoration and in particular the voice articulation in, say, a cadence as directed by the conventions of the music of Monteverdi.

Earlier I mentioned that the movement was directly linked to a sound source. This is of vital importance in the consideration of music theatre, for my own aspirations in that direction need to link the two. With that in mind I chose to use a sonic transducer and a 'Synthian' developed by Ian Macintosh. The sonic transducer ('movement machine') registers the energy of movement which can be converted into sound via a voltage controlled generator. That in turn is passed through the Synthian, a type of synthesiser that I have been developing with the designer for use with the Double Bass. The two together produce a treated backdrop to the Huelsenbeck reading and the 'dances' as noted previously. The dances also had to have their purpose so they in turn fulfil the function of taking the singers from point A to point B - the source of some Rutherford poems which are read in a somewhat assorted manner. In this way there is a direct link between movement and sound.

This movement is so designed to gradually increase the individuals' pulse rate so at the point where the quartet eventually holds hands (taking each others' pulses) a double canon is eventually set in motion but at four different pulse rates. This links to the beginning where we initially heard a vocalisation of the singers' pulses.
© Barry Guy