Participants | Sarah Nicolls, Maja Bugge
Cellist Maja Bugge and pianist Sarah Nicolls are both composers and improvisers with a classical background. The Snape Residency is their first collaboration.
Bugge comes from Norway and is currently based in Lancaster. Her most recent projects include the Manchester jazzfestival commission “NORTHERN” (2019) and “No Exit” (2018) a solo CD recorded in Standedge canal tunnel.
Nicolls is based in Brighton and has invented the Inside-Out piano, designed to enable inside piano playing. She is known for her fearless and playful experimentation often combining text and sound. Her most recent project “12 years” is an eco recital about climate change.
With the working title “LESS”, Bugge and Nicolls will explore “musical activism” on a UK/Norway axis using text and sound. Scientists have given us 11 years to reverse climate change and being mothers of young children and composers/performers, we want to use this opportunity to explore how music can be used as activism. We are hoping to be rigorously factual, whilst elucidating emotional, poetic responses using sound. Our backgrounds allow us to move fluidly between styles (electronic, jazz, pop, classical), whilst our life experience brings urgency: trying to ensure a better future for our children.
The residency at Snape Maltings was an extraordinary meeting for us. It was the first time we had ever been in a room together with our instruments.
We were brought together by Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2018. We had both been invited to a day for around 12 artists, to respond to a potential commission around bringing the town of Cheltenham more into the festival by creating interactive art in public spaces. Previously, Sarah had run interactive installations at the festival, including a ‘sonic dinner’ and ‘sonic canapes’, where samples of jazz musicians performing at the festival were played by people ‘drinking’ from cups and ‘eating’ from bowls (these mimes elicited the playback of musical samples by using motion sensors).
We immediately hit it off, finding commonality both in our heritage and training as classical musicians moving into different musical worlds and also as mothers of young children. We started having fairly regular phone calls, both to work on our idea for the commission but also about what we were generally up to. Around this time, Sarah was beginning to focus very clearly on the climate crisis and writing her piece ‘12 Years’, which centred around the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) deadline to the world, for how quickly we needed to halve emissions by, to limit global warming.
In their conversations, Sarah’s musical activism began to shift Maja’s thinking and when we reached Snape, it felt obvious that we would need to make our work around this theme.
The residency itself was wonderful - the incredible surroundings of Snape Maltings, great food and the company of other artists. We were working in the Benjamin Britten Recital Room, which Sarah had first worked in around 25 years previously, on contemporary music courses with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Magnus Lindberg.
For the first two days, we tried just to make music and find our collective voice. We made many great discoveries, such as that - with her ‘Inside-Out Piano’ - Sarah had really just been impersonating many cellistic effects on the piano for the past few years! Maja and Sarah could play together in harmonics, slides, plucking, even bowing and these sounds blended beautifully.
Then we started to focus on the show that we would have to present on the Friday, for the ‘Festival of New’ audience. To our alarm, we realised that we had 3 days to make a work to show to 100 ticket holders!
And suddenly this situation was wonderfully in parallel with the climate crisis: too much to do, not enough time. And so our idea of a ‘climate meeting’ was born. We would try to ‘solve’ the climate crisis during our show.
We prepared books to refer to, tweets from top climate scientists from around the world. We found short films on youtube from climate activists at protests, who we would ‘go live’ to during the show. We talked to local climate activists like Gina Gow (Incredible Oceans) and writer/editor Charlotte du Cann (Dark Mountain) and we also explored the art installation ‘Siren’ that was at Snape at the time (hundreds of little wooden figures in a glass case). We had also interviewed some people in advance - Maja had recorded a very touching interview with a Norwegian 7-year-old, talking about how he had given up meat for the climate crisis but how he rather missed sausages. This echoed the international aspect of our collaboration and proved to be something we brought with us to the next stage of our project.
The piece evolved and had to be performed then, quite suddenly! And it went well - we were sort of stunned into this hilarious, quite desperately time-poor situation where manically we’d made 45 minutes of theatre and music and the audience went with us. They were a very warm and supportive audience and were ‘up for it’. The final ‘feedback’ photo of them all waving their hands in the air in support was very heart-warming and encouraging!
Amazingly, Camilla King from Cheltenham Music Festival was there in the audience and straight after the show, told us she thought this really had potential. We also had an ongoing dialogue with Arctic Arts, the biggest art festival in Northern Norway and they decided to co-commission the work on the back of the Snape Maltings documentation with Cheltenham.
We are now premiering our first full-scale show which we know started right here, at Snape Maltings.