What came first: the choreography or the music?

Hofesh Shechter, recognised as one of the UK’s most exciting contemporary artists, talks about the creative process.

That’s the first question I’m always asked; there is no simple answer to what is a very complex and to some extent random process of creating a dance and music piece. What makes it even more complex and surprising is the number and variety of people I work with to create the piece. I want to concentrate on that aspect when answering this question today.

This time, Political Mother, I have an idea — a drum loop that drives us forward, that keeps a train of rhythm that carries us down the rabbit hole. My first instinct is to steal a groove from a Peter Gabriel song — so I do. Yaron and I are sitting in the working room recording it on what is left from my old drum kit, it sounds rough, as usual I didn’t record it on a metronome click — great — that sounds real, like something you found left down the street. This miserable recording grew into what now sounds like ‘the end of the world’. Peter himself wouldn’t know it was inspired by him, and the way it sounds now I‘m not sure he’d want to.

During the whole of January the dancers are forced to hear ‘the end of the world’ loop over and over again for at least four or five hours a day without any additions or decorations — it’s an absolute sketch. Something about the sound and the atmosphere it commands inspires us. At that point it feels enough. After a few weeks enough is enough, and something about how the choreography grows in complexity demands proportional response in the music. Time for me to sing over the drum loop to define the colour of the waves the strings will bring about. I’m imagining a late afternoon in some desert city with an old Egyptian band of stings — when I say old I mean they are old, they all probably have cigarettes hanging from their lips while playing and a glass of arak within reach. I’m thinking big wavy unisons. And then I’m singing.

Next phase — Nell. I’m sending her some MP3 files by email of my singing (she’s used to that… and it does take getting used to) and she starts to record sketches of these ‘songs’ and sends them back to me, but now they are of course magical, haunting viola sounds like only Nell can create. After a few days we meet up to record the lines over and over and over again and here you go that’s my Egyptian band. We then decide to play around a bit and Nell improvises in ‘the spirit of’ and as always comes up with some genius beautiful phrases. Meanwhile in the studio with the dancers we work with a different loop.

My passion for low frequencies creates a decision between me and Nell to gather ‘the dream team’, a group of string players who I first met when we created and toured In your rooms (none are Egyptian but they play pretty well all the same), for a recording session. Again I’m exposing my singing to them — it’s unbelievable how the quality of delivering a musical line can give it its heart and body. When they play it I’m in that dusty bar in the desert. We record everything including some extraordinary improvisation sessions (on that second loop the poor old dancers are still working on) and I leave with a rich and colourful collection of sounds — that will give me a lot to play with when I’m back alone with my laptop.

Then there are many long days of trying this, trying that, in the studio with this part, with that part… sounds are flying in and out, movements are appearing and disappearing. And then suddenly the band arrives. Yaron and I are having some preparation meetings to what the drummer performers will play. I’m telling him what I want, we’re chatting about how will be best to achieve it, then we play a bit, then it’s no good, then we try again and it’s no good again, and so on an so forth until I feel it’s right. I’m sending Yaron home with quite a few bars missing… well I guess that’s the meaning of the words trust and friendship. Then there are the electric guitars. That’s a story for another day.

In the last couple of weeks of creation a lot of important things happen — now everything is here, all the movements, the sections, the musicians, the dancers, the emotions, the ideas, the sounds the instruments… it’s all there and it’s a game of choice. What’s in and what’s out and when. And how. It’s the moment where all this information, the sounds and the movements settle in together.

By that point I can’t really remember any more what came first. It really doesn’t matter.

For more information on the Hofesh Shechter tour in India click on this link

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