Venues across Tallinn, Estonia
What exactly do we mean by ‘collaboration’? What can we really expect from the meeting of two musicians or musics that might not share a common syntax? Has our fixation with unlikely, PR-spawned partnerships gone too far? Perhaps the problem is with the partnerships themselves: few of them ever go far enough.
Exhibit A: post-punk noise band The Membranes gigging with Estonian chamber choir Sireen, one of the main events of Tallinn Music Week, which wrapped-up on Sunday. The choir was amplified, but you couldn’t hear it (same old problem). When someone turned the levels up, there it was: voices threading clean sonic ribbons through the angry, uncompromising thrashing of songs from the album Dark Matter/Dark Energy. For a period the girls of Sireen were let loose – screaming, shouting, writhing, properly in tune with the band’s aesthetic. But it was soon business as usual – the choir as sugar coating, as barely-audible upholstery.
Exhibit B: cross-genre experiments from specialist scratcher DJ Switch, he who performs Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra. I happen to be mesmerised by DJ Switch every time I see him play. In Prokofiev’s piece and the improvisation that followed it in Tallinn, Switch was at his cutting, twisting, inverting, spitting, distorting, teasing and virtuosic (in the traditional sense) best. He was, too, in the ‘Classical Rave’ that took Friday into Saturday. But that had nothing to do with the ‘classical’ element on which the show was hooked. Bits of Pachelbel’s Canon and Karl Jenkins’s Palladio were used as miniscule interludes – little warm baths among Switch’s frantic cadenzas. I dare say Switch would relish the chance to get his hands on some properly rude, jagged ‘classical’ music and do his best (worst) with it. But that clearly wasn’t the brief.
Exhibit C: Maarja Nuut, Estonian violinist, violist and singer. Nuut’s music is only collaborative in the sense that any polyphonic music is. But it is on the hinterlands, at the intersection between classical minimalism and muddy folk. She speaks of horses, wolves and forests, prefacing her music with village tales or snapshots from Estonia’s collective memory. She plays and sings, looping her own sounds together shaman-like into textures which settle, gently build and suddenly stop. An individual offering something deeply felt. If there was a partnership here, it was an umbilical one connecting Nuut’s imagination to her music. The result is something individual and highly focused.
Collaboration is compromise. Discuss.