On Thursday night I went to The Women’s Library in East London to see an incredible performance of The Brilliant and the Dark, a vocal composition originally performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969.
The piece, which tells stories from women’s history through the eyes of war workers, crusaders’ wives and witch hunters, was re-interpreted by female choir, Gaggle. It was preceded by a hushed and intimate arrangement lead by vocalist Ellen Southern.
I spoke to Ben White, who had initiated the project together with fellow artist Eileen Simpson.
“It started when we were invited to take part in an exhibition at the Library called Out of the Archives,” he said. “We found the piece in the library’s collection and we united with Gaggle to re-enact it. The costumes were created based on photographs of the original performance.”
Ben and Eileen are the founders of Open Music Archive, a project which aims to source and distribute out-of-copyright music.
In order to use and remix elements from The Brilliant and the Dark however, the duo had to negotiate with the copyright owners. They created a video of the remixed piece with the choir, which they exhibited in the exhibition. But for the live event they wanted to re-interpret the piece again.
“The idea is that it is different each time,” said Ben. “It is never fixed or finished.”