ENCOURAGING HOPES FOR THE FUTURE, MOMO REVEALS: THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO HUM

There may be another Momo:tempo LP on the way, but with a unique test-bed production, Five Songs to help us Unsee The Future performed as part of BEAF 2018, Bournemouth creative Timo Peach has taken a boldly-coloured step towards exploring a human tomorrow he thinks is about a lot more than music – a more hopeful vision of what could be possible for us all, that might only be unlocked by art. And the kind of collaboration it can inspire.

 

Photo: Danika Westwood

 

It might have been more than two years in the making, but Timo Peach thinks the work-in-progress production revealing first ideas from Momo’s new futurism project is just the beginning. Disrupting the elegant main hall at Talbot Heath School for one night, the Bournemouth creative director and music maker took a select audience on a quick ride around the history of some things yet to happen… from the future, thanks to a special one-off show exploring the fearsome challenges of now from a more playful perspective. All while debuting some brand new songs from the forthcoming album. And, as the buzz built in the coridors outside the hall, guests were left guessing about what on Earth they were about to experience.

“We’d described it as a neon cabaret for the end of the world,” says the bloke from Momo himself, “which is a fair summation of the structure – songs and storytelling, talked around by two illustrious hosts, The Ghost of Future Shock and The Muse, played by my counterpart Hazel Evans. And the whole collection of elements, including scenes from an original short film and a general graphic environment, all play into the spirit of that kind of show, in a way – cabaret’s sometimes unnerving audience involvement and ecclecticism. But I don’t think anyone was expecting to be asked to blindfold themselves and hold hands with strangers before they could even begin the show!”

Photo: Mark Cockram

 

 

The show did set out to do the obvious – share new music from The Shape of Things To Hum, the forthcoming LP itself, from which debut single Behave New World is taken. And it was an ecclectic selection, showcasing Momo’s playful comfort with different musical moods, all celebrating some idea of electronic music’s broad creativity, and it’s capacity to fire the imagination. But the music acted more like a structural platform to tell a bigger story, with Five Songs sharing the structure that the envisioned full five-part show surrounding the tunes will take – with pre-scenes of the production’s special short film from director Andy Robinson featuring between the songs.

“Andy was the first person I went to about the project,” explains Timo, “because I pictured a film narrative punctuating the on-stage live daftness, and his particular storytelling voice I pictured getting it just right. So I went to him before I’d even codified the structure properly and briefed him with the general idea, which he seemed to really get.”

Alongside the core LP of music, the full vision for The Shape of Things To Hum is to create a motion graphic environment for each chapter of the mosaic it builds up of the story of science fiction, set in a theatre in the round and augmented with a digital element for the audience to interact with. All flowing together with a specific extra narrative turning up between the live performances – the idea always being to take the audience to Mars, as well as the further flung future and ultimately home to Now. The Now of fearsome realities we are all facing.

“I asked Andy in those earliest meetings to develop a script around the idea of a first manned mission to Mars embedding an artist on the mission” says Timo. “That was the hook. And what he came back with in the very first draft of The Martian Artist just put the soul into the entire production. And for our totally unfunded test production, Five Songs, he actually ruddy well managed to take us to Mars.”

Starring Veronica Jean Trickett as Nina Bonnestell, the first artist on a new world, the elements we saw on the night of this first public performance showed a woman saying goodbye to the tactile realities of life on her home planet, to take the risks of making a first mark on another one. A production filmed in a front room in Hove and a back garden in Exeter, says Robinson.

“We managed to take Nina to the red planet with a few judicious bits of old fashioned camera trickery, and the end effect of those shots does kind of work” director Andy smiles gently.

 

“I spent ages trying to find the right astronaut’s glove for one shot and nothing seemed quite right,” he says. “Then I was in Wilco one day and I saw just the right pair of gardening gloves… it was like a beam of heavenly sunlight fell upon them and I knew I could complete the shot” he laughs.

But all the elements of the production are exploring the idea central to Timo’s unfolding podcast, Unsee The Future. Namely, that in order to save the one human planet we’re currently living on, the most important thing humanity can try to do is find new ways of seeing. Ourselves and everything. The purpose, he says, of art.

Photo: Danika Westwood

 

“Art is not a nice to have, once we’ve got the plumbing and security systems to work,” he says.

 

“Art is more than crucial to us making sense of where we are, working through our very decisions-effecting feelings – it’s crucial to where we picture ourselves going. Without those pictures, we travel blind. Thankfully, a century of scifi has been trying to show us the way.”

WATCH MOMO, ROBINSON AND EVANS SHARE MORE ABOUT FIVE SONGS:

 

 

ENGAGING THE HUM DRIVE.

It’s a rich but simple idea, Momo wants to explore in later itterations of the production: Has science fiction always been teaching us the future? And might this mean we can find some hope in fearsome seeming times?

“It’s a show that I want to park up outside all manner of different ways into the subject,” Timo says. “If we can develop a way to turn the full production into a kind of UFO we can dump on the lawn of everything from Green conferences to scifi cons, science festivals to art events, we might be able to use the playful energy and suspension of disbelief to help do the one thing we are all desperate for at the moment – find hopeful inspiration. I believe it’s out there, but we have to conciously close our eyes to the old future turning us blind with its visual noise, and perhaps listen out for the still small voice of a bigger reality.”

 

Photo: Mark Cockram

Photo: Danika WestwoodPhoto: Danika WestwoodPhoto: from The Martian Artist, prologue, Andy Robinson.Photo: from The Martian Artist, prologue, Andy Robinson.

 

 

Leaving it’s audience with much to think about, now that the first ever show is done, what happens next for Timo, Andy, Hazel and the team behind Five Songs to Help Us Unsee The Future?

“We will be sharing film of the event and putting together a whole package of material promoting The Shape of Things To Hum as a show we want to spool up from this first work,” says Timo. “It’s the job for the summer as I get into final recording sessions for the LP and go looking for the next level of support for what we have in mind. It’ll be special, if we can do it – but what will be special about it is the very thing that will make it work, and that made this debut production work: The people it draws together.”

“Weirdly, despite the experiemental nature of the work, those who gathered around it all felt inspired with just enough trust to dive into it together.”

Photo: Mark Cockram

“From the amazing energies brought by Andy and also by my dear mate Hazel, both cheering this on with such time and talent, to the incredible enthuiasm of first real sponsors Octopus Farm – how much Mike and Michele brought to my belief in this project as people I’ve only been getting to know properly in more recent times. And those augmented reality posters Mike made work – a tiny brilliant foretaste of things we have in mind. And from the wonderful skills of long-time collaborator core to the Momo family Pat Hayes and the world-class musicians he helped me draw together for this one, to uplifting energisers and practical pros like production manager Becky Willis and her husband Dan, founder of Why, or Evan Grant taking a Sunday out from Seeper to bring some projection magic, or the incomparable Pete Alcock making us sound wonderful, and my first time working with Joe from Lamps & Amps, I may have never trusted a team more than with this, and been so inspired in the making together. How Becky Cutts built us a set around doing her finals I shall never know, but as ever Treehouse Digital advised us well on many things, and it was great to share their beautiful video for Behave New World on a big screen.

And the terrific presence of Veronica as Nina Bonnestell – she really embodies who we’re picturing coming to life in the whole film and she was a delight to work with. Photographer Rob Amey was a great ambassador from Bournemouth Emerging Arts Fringe, encouraging much, and it was great to just essentially stand with so many other artists in our local scene brought together by such a brilliant grassroots festival. While our official photographer Danika Westwood has done so much to capture great moments with Momo over the years.

And of course there was Mark Masters of the ID Group, who didn’t just interview me at the end to help the audience make sense of it but who has done so much to inspire, encourage and share the work I’ve been up to in all this. He’s another key energiser in this mix helping me not feel mad and alone.”

As Timo concludes, this is all an attitude any future production will have to amplify in order to happen.

“This is just what we will have to do with supporters and partners going forward. This sense of trust in shared values, wanting to inspire and champion each other. Like Alan at Absolute Music simply wanted to, as he has so much musical creativity across my home region for years – they have brilliant attitude as a business, showing how to encourage community. What will get me most excited from here is building a platform to talk about the potential new members of our future family – the people already building the future today. Technically perhaps but also in attitude. That’s who I want to meet, that’s who I want to listen to, learn from and use Things To Hum to champion. Because they’re the ones creating hope for the real human tomorrow. Who wouldn’t want to encourage that?”

Momo:tempo will be launching The Shape of Things To Hum campaign later in the summer.
Why not follow the project and Momo’s exploration of the future – join the Amigos mailing list >

Listen to the You Are The Media podcast as Mark Masters talks to Timo Peach >

 


Dive into the issues with the podcast >Photo: Mark Cockram

Photo: Mark Cockram

Photo: Rob Amey

Photo: Danika Westwood

Photo: Rob Amey

Photo: Mark Cockram

 

Peruse the photo album of Five Songs >

Dive into the issues with the podcast Unsee The Future >

Meet the BEAF >

Discover the wider photographic work of Danika Westwood >

 

 

MOMO:TEMPO PRESENTS: FIVE SONGS TO HELP US UNSEE THE FUTURE

On Sunday 29th April, the bloke from Momo is gathering future-minded souls, creative explorers and the simply curious to share a thing. A first ever share of the project that’s been redirecting Momo’s outlook over the last couple of years. The inspiration behind #Myfi and #UnseeTheFuture and the reason he’s started turning up at things shooting off his unqualified mouth about the human-planet tomorrow. A first test-bed unveiling of his personal response to the Now of fearsome realities, and how it has lead him to meet, involve and learn from some brilliant humans feeling similarly. And you could be there, if you’ve found this.

 

[ CLICK TO REGISTER ]

 

It’s about time. Sort of like Back To The Future II, the bloke from Momo hasn’t been quick to come back from 2015’s Thespionage with a big musical follow-up. But that’s because, he says, it’s become bigger than he expected.

“All I wanted to do was take my amigos into space,” he says. “But as I explored the simple theme of the next LP, I began to realise quickly that it wanted to be more than the third studio album from obscure electro-newave bloke Momo:tempo.”

It is that, of course. With a structural basis simply in the new musical work, Five Songs to help us Unsee The Future is a debut of pieces through a line-up of the Momo:tempo Electro-Pops Orchestra, including first glimpse so far, Behave New World. But the event will also be workbenching a whole event structure that Mr Peach is hoping to scale up, with key contributor, director Andy Robinson, along with a small host of other creatives already involved at this early public stage. All in a one-off show designed to invite a deliberately interesting cross-section of guests to join the conversation afterwards.

“The single most meaningful aim of this daft, risky, work-in-progress event is to get some good minds in the same room and try to inspire them a little” he says. “And I am way past caring how pompous this sounds – the topic we’re exploring means too much to me now” he laughs.

[ CLICK TO REGISTER ]

 

 

A NEON CABARET FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.

Five Songs will be a short sharing of ideas about the future in a very old-fashioned structure – music and spoken word. But, along with a spot of general son et lumiere along the way, it will feature scenes from Andy Robinon’s part in the show – a prelude to a specially commisioned short film, starring Veronica Jean Trickett.

“Andy was the first person I approached about this project, some two years ago now,” says Timo. “And when I outlined what I had in mind, and the kinds of themes I imagine us exploring, he came back with a piece of work that has put the heart into the whole project.”

It’s a piece of a puzzle with a few strands, being co-produced by creative partners like Octopus Farm, with contributions from Treehouse Digital and others, and all set in the imposing hall at Talbot Heath School for girls, as part of Bournemouth Emerging Arts Fringe. So it sounds appropriate that the face of the whole project is not Mr Peach’s but that of artist, writer and performer Hazel Evans.

“Hazel is indeed the face of the future,” Timo smiles. “And not just because it’s always a pleasure to work with my good art mate. She’s the face of Behave New World and Unsee The Future for good symbolic reason, right in the heart of the show, and so being able to present our world debut of our funny little unfunded pocket epic in the inspiring context of such a progressive educational insitution as Talbot Heath, well, feels resonnant” he says. “Hazel will be with me on stage as our characters sort of step out of the fridge and walk our audience around the quirky universe of our little show.”

“It’s about trying to make more sense of Now than our usual stories seem to” he adds. “In what can we base any hopes for better outcomes for humans on Earth than the ones we’re seeing everywhere that add up somehow to something convergingly bad that feels inevitable? Five Songs is the very tiny beginning of trying to question this.”

 

A NEW STORY OF US.

As Momo has been exploring a more factual view of the human-planet future with podcast and blog Unsee The Future, he’s come to the conclusion that the truth of our times can be found in our storytelling. And it might be time to write some new ones.

“Arty-farty as it sounds, people think in stories. And this project’s made me think that the story we think we’re in influences rather significantly the character we go on to play in daily life. And I’m wondering whether the single most effective thing we can aim to do in our different projects now is encourage a new collective story of us. Something that we’ll no doubt unpack a little on the night.”

On the night the show itself will be followed by a little time to chat back to Timo and the team about the show and its origins and ambitions.

“We are exploring whether this is a project which could be scaled a little as an event. And above all other creative aims in it, I want to see Andy’s full film made. But really, Five Songs is about gathering some thoughtful souls around an idea, and to see if we can make some new connections in all our ongoing work” Timo explains.

“Plus, of course, it will at least start to reveal work from the new Momo:tempo LP and it’s name, at last. Which I can’t wait to do. A po-faced talk on futurism trends and the environment this will not be…” he grins.

FIVE SONGS TO HELP US UNSEE THE FUTURE
A NEON CABARET FOR THE END OF THE WORLD – PREVIEWING THE NEW FUTURISM PROJET FROM MOMO AND DIRECTOR ANDY ROBINSON.

Sunday 29 April 2018, 6.30pm for 7.00pm start.
Talbot Heath School.

 

How can you be at Five Songs to help us Unsee The Future? Simply click this link to register.

 

 

Behave New World is out – and launches Momo’s mesianic quest to piece together the whole freaking future.

The brand new single is the first reveal from the forthcoming futurism project from Bournemouth music maker and creative, Timo Peach, featuring Hazel Evans – and it heralds the start of a new weekly podcast, Unsee The Future.

 

Momo:tempo’s unique electronic new wave sound is back, and more synthed-out than ever – and this time, the uncategorisable south coast electro-pop cabaret character is on a bit of a mission. Into space. Taking with him on this particular ride, the artist, writer and performer Hazel Evans, in a beautiful new music video from Treehouse Digital. But this, says Mr Peach, is just the beginning of the road towards what’s coming. And even he can’t be entirely sure what the shape of it will be, as he launches a brand new podcast and blog towards the future.

 

“This release marks the start of a long road forward for me,” he says. “And just how we will first be able to bring the elements alive – in what form it will begin to take artistic public shape – is still a range of possibilities from what we have on the table. I’ve been working through an awful lot of ideas and process to sketch out a plan this year, which means it’s been a long road behind the scenes just to get to this particular ‘starting point’. The point where I can reveal a definite something of what I’ve been up to for two years.”

Behave New World is the first glimpse into the latest playful sonic world of Momo, since the electro-funk filmscore of 2015’s Thespionage – but the forthcoming new LP is, he says, growing rather beyond him into a multi-platform performance exploring the themes of futurism through science fiction. Stemming from an original thesis written around his findings as he began the project as a music album, there is even an original short film by director Andy Robinson in pre-production as part of the resulting planned experience.

“It’s an ambitious idea for some silly chap in a shed,” he says, “but not because any one element itself is rocket science, exactly. It’s the combination of elements that have my imagination buzzing and have had since two summers ago. It’s a project that has changed the way I see the world. And approaching my good friend Andy to be the first of many partners in the endeavour has kind of bound us together in a renewed vision of things. Which will become clear as time goes on.”

Because you won’t be able to discover quite what they’re planning just yet.

“We are imminently going to announce the first new live show we’ve done in over two years – and at that, we’re planning to reveal the name of the project, which encorporates the new Momo:tempo LP and what Robinson and I are trying to create” he says coyly. “But with him and new friends Treehouse on board, it could be an absolute treat.”

 

THE NEW MUSIC VIDEO

The new music video for Behave New World is a cyber-modernist daydream, with Hazel Evans centre stage throughout.

“Hazel is a few of the voices in the track, but I always saw her as playing the recurring role of a kind of symbolic female presence in the whole project” Timo explains, sharing that musically, each piece from the new LP will explore a different trope of scifi. “The sound of science fiction has roamed the many worlds of electronic music. For my little look at the socially engineered society, the sound had to be modernist and classically synthwave – and the fact that we have such a female personality placed so squarely into such a masculine view of the world is no accident.”

Treehouse Digital are one of the most creative film making teams in the south, based just up the road from Momo, and when he approached them to consider the whole forthcoming project, they were, he says, a joy-ful of creative ideas. “They are people who love what they do, and have attracted a core family of all the talents around them for making evocative film” he says. “From the core idea they had for this, through to the way they lit everything, and encorporating some of digital artist Martin Coyne’s projection work, they created something special, matching a wonderful graphic feel to Hazel’s simple, perfect presence in the centre of it all.”

A behind-the-scenes film will be out for amigos on the mailing list soon, exploring more of how the team at Treehouse developed the idea.

 

THE NEW PODCAST

To help amigos follow his progress to revealing much more of all else he’s been developing over the last two years, the new single also herralds the launch of a new weekly podcast – Unsee The Future: how to encourage the more hopeful human tomorrow – in which Mr Peach explores different aspects of what a sustainable human-planet future might look like.

“Yes, I am going there,” he smiles ruefully. “I am paving the road to the next artistic reveals with episodes of my exploration of the human planet future. Because this overall project has filled my mind and changed my outlook on the world around me, and I want to explore it rather more. Learning publically as I go, really – being hopelessly unqualified in the whole endeavour as ever I am in anything” he laughs.

Unsee The Future will look at the possible component parts of a more sustainable way of life for humans on Earth, taking as its starting point the UN’s Global Goals.

“I know, I hadn’t heard of them either” Timo shrugs, “– who has? But they constitute the planet’s main working To Do list at a time of unprecidented coinciding challenges for human society. So I can’t help feeling more of us should know about them, to help the thinking around whether they are the right goals or achievable goals. But they’re an interesting framework for trying to problem-solve the complete problem – and that’s my aim with this whole unfolding project, to try to help get the complete outline of what’s facing us as a generational problem. So they’re my very loose starting points for very personal, freewheeling looks at the topics.”

“I must be off my rocker” he concludes flatly.

Behave New World is available on digital platforms now, including Bandcamp.

Also featuring Martin Rice on guitars and Pete Whitfield on violins.

DISCOVER UNSEE THE FUTURE EP01 NOW:
“Consciousness and intelligence”

 

 

Momo launches #Myfi – to ask: What does science fiction mean to you?

 

The brand new, long-awaited project from south coast creative, producer and future seeker, Timo Peach, is… coming. But ahead of announcing what he’s been up to in the shed for two years, the bloke from Momo:tempo is launching a little campaign to ask people from the many worlds of fandom, across music, arts and science – how has the most visionary storytelling genre shaped them? And you can help – by ‘gramming, Tweeting, posting and sharing to #myfi @momotempo.

 

Science Fiction, it is said, used to be rather looked down on. Seen as silly. Considered lower art. But not anymore. Why? This is a question Timo Peach has pondered a bit lately – and now he’s engaging all the minds he can make contact with to hear their stories of how different visions of reality changed their own.

Appearing most immediately on Momo’s Instagram pages, Myfi – How has science fiction shaped you? is a simple online thread across the Momo channels, collected into regular full blog posts, looking for the human experiences affected, caused, encouraged or remedied by tales of alternate realities and far flung futures. But why is Mr Peach embarking on this great voyage? And what exactly counts as scifi?

“I’m doing it as a beginning to sharing what else I’ve been up to in the studio since Thespionage,” he says, “it’s a little relevant.

“And as for what counts as scifi? That is a big question. Probably the flip side of this big question.”

Angels and pins.

Many of the followers and family of Momo:tempo and Timo’s work are imaginistas of one kind or another, regularly working in or celebrating science fiction’s many worlds, and so taking the music project into space was a natural fit, he explains.

“All the solar winds seem to confluence on me heading to the stars with the next LP, and it’s lead me further than I imagined I’d go. But the starting point seemed to be listening to the heavens before blasting umpteen thousand tons of creative lift into trying to get into orbit with anything – be like a radio telescope before chemical rocket. And so it wasn’t hard to find people to ask about what science fiction has meant to them – and what it’s meant is many deep, quickly personal things. What I’ve heard already is moving and interesting and oddly relevant.

“People draw the line in slightly different places about the nature of scifi, but all agree it is trying to say something. Illuminate something. Shed new light on the human condition in ways other more direct storytelling can’t always reach so affectingly. It uses the possibilities of science and technology to often look forward, but sometimes sideways, at where history might go or might have gone.

“Science fiction is the great What If. And it’s great effect has been far from accademically philosophical – it’s made people feel more human. More themselves. More… envisioned.”

 

As Timo discovered just from this first collection of responses, people have found their value systems, their careers, their talents, their friends though science fiction.

“Through books, film, TV, games, the genre has inspired people. It may start as fantastical escape, but it ends up changing lives. I’ve quickly heard testimony of people relating to characters and stories becuase growing up they felt like outsiders – and scifi showed them was normal, or cool, or interesting. And it lead people often to find other people who explored similar themes in their own life. But scifi fandom is a very broad church – it’s not all about picking over the highest resolution geeky details of things. That’s only part of the fun.”

Utopias and dystopias.

But is there a relevance to now, beyond the fan community? Timo seems to think so.

“As a friend of mine, writer Peter John Cooper, commented on the thread under my little launch film, ‘Sci-fi always comes to the fore when the world is in trouble” – and we are living into some fearsomly interesting times on planet Earth. It’s what has lead me into the subject so deeply these last two years.”

But Timo’s background made science fiction in general a natural fit for him to explore, even before the acceleration of techno-social and political 21st century life into everyone’s news feeds.

“I grew up, famously, with scifi. It’s in the blood. My mother was an original Eagle reader and Trekker and brought me up with a wide-eyed sense of wonder on the world as a result. So the genre has always felt as much part of me as music. Not that this stops me feeling ignorant,” he adds. “The more I’ve met real nerdles over the last five years or so, the more I realise how much I don’t know. These folk go deep!”

But responding to Myfi doesn’t have to go deep, he says. It’s open to everyone.

“Talk to me. I’m building a colourful little wall of human voices on the subject. Share your experience of science fiction. Snap an image that seems to fit, post a quote, a comment, a memory with it and the hashtag #myfi to @momotempo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to tell us how scifi has become part of you.”

“In times like ours, I’m interested to hear how your vision of the future is being shaped.”

The results will be regularly reposted in Momo’s blog, the Lingo pages, and across his channels in an ongoing exploration of themes and experiences. And the aim is to create an exhibition of posters.

“The next project will involve a physical space, and part of that I would like to make a testimony to as many human experiences of visionary storytelling as possible. People’s images and quotes pulled together into a spectrum of, well, vision.”

READ THE FIRST COLLECTION OF #MYFI STORIES ON THIS LINGO POST >

FOLLOW MOMOTEMPO ON INSTAGRAM FOR THE LATEST MYFI TILES >

WATCH MOMO’S FACEBOOK LIVE INTRO FILM:

Cargo: Diving into heritage and identity with Valise Noire

Momo joins the storytelling theatre partners to bring a sonic dimension to their exploration of Poole’s maritime history, and finds that workshops with volunteers can be a resonnant way to tread out the truth of a story. As their new film shows, the results connected magically with their audiences.

 

Momo:tempo may be the compositional production house of Timo Peach, but he has always enjoyed doing a bit more than sitting behind a keyboard – and one Heritage Lottery-funded production for Poole Maritime Festival 2017 got the South Coast creative literally feeling his way through the writing of its score and sound. And it brought together old friends and new.

Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre’s project Cargo aimed to bring alive the heritage of an ancient south coast location, tapping into the human stories of relationship with the sea in Poole. Commissioned to time with both the town’s biggest celebration of its seafaring roots and with European Maritime Day, it pulled together community and schools participation, live shows on Poole Quay with a 32-foot Baltic Trader, and an exhibition at Lighthouse, the UK’s leading arts centre outside of London. An endeavour that all involved felt tapped into something deep in the local identity. Something that seemed to resonnate with local human life.

As Momo himself discovered when approached by regular creative partners and chums Michele O’Brien and Hazel Evans, while the idea of the sea rings deep with people from the area, the project unlocked new appreciations of the human trail to where we are now, by using some affectingly experiential devices. And it worked on him too, in the process of writing and compiling music and sound for Cargo.

“History was lived. Felt. Trodden through.” he says. “We’re odd creatures in that we easily seem to forget we are visceral – things come alive for us when interact physically. And walking through the discovery of the physical layout of Cargo helped to bring it alive for me. Those workshops helped us really feel what was in it, and it bound the team together. And in the end, the audiences to the truth in the performances.

“It’s says as much about the approach of Valise Noire as it does the subject matter, I think” he adds.

 

 

FROM BOOKS TO BOWLINES

Storyteller and actor Michele and performance illustrator and writer Hazel, along with producer, poet and youth champion Colin Philimore, first spent a lot of time in the academic business of researching the broadbrushstrokes of Poole’s history, hoping to, along the way, unearth some of the human treasure of the personal stories shaped and caught up in maritime life in Dorset. Their aim was to help to “bring Poole’s maritime heritage out of the archives” for a wider audience to reconnect with. Delving into the work of Poole Museum and Dorset History Centre, the pair unearthed hundreds of letters, ships log details and historic moments.

“We found so many beautiful, wonderful details of people’s lives as they were affected by life surrounding the sea” says Michele. “And having the privilege of handling some of those artifacts and memories ourselves really brought it alive. So it naturally felt to us as though this should be very much an experience of the senses for everyone involved – audiences and players.”

The next stage of developing the project was to take first selections of content and creative ideas around it into schools. Always, they say, a daring way to road test any theatre.

“As a storyteller, I’m very used to an intimate kind of audience experience” Michele explains, “and any street performer or theatre actor will tell you how much a good spirit of interaction from those you’re performing to can really make the whole experience. Well children just give it to you straight, don’t they? They soon tell you if what you’re doing doesn’t grab their imaginations – but when it does, boy do they get into it. The schools programmes were a slightly scary but brilliant stage of Cargo‘s development. We had a ball.”

Valise Noire is used to shaping experiences that ring true for both adults and children, with their 2013 production, The girl and the shoes, created as a ‘double-sided fairytale’ – told once for a younger audience, and then again for the grown-ups, unearthing some of the themes below the surface. With Cargo, exploring the idea of themes above and below the surface seemed to flow together into a world of human experience that people of all ages really got.

“Inner and outer worlds is something I explore a lot in my own work,” says Hazel. “and the symbolism of the sea is so rich with meaning – I think there is something primal it taps into in all of us, as we try to explore our inner truth in a noisy outside world. But we knew that, just like memories, feeling this truth could be triggered by little details of sensory experience.”

“The ships brought such new experiences to everyone connected with them,” says Michele.”They brought exotic, wondrous things like spices to the shores of old Albion, and they took people away from home, out into the weather and the bigness of things.”

Timo concurs that the setting for Cargo is rich with themes and ideas to connect with. And it’s felt more and more personal to him.

“My father had much more of an affinity with the sea than I did – he just weirdly loved tall ships. Even though, like a true “ruler of the King’s nay-vee” from his beloved Gilbert & Sullivan, he barely set foot on a boat” he grins. “But the sea rings with such echoes of the past, I’ve been feeling the salt in my blood more over recent years and an annual little sailing trip around the local waters with friends always quickly reminds me what a visceral experience life at sea just is. You’re at the mercy of not only the elements but your own preparedness. If that’s true for a recreational weekend bobbing about in the Solent with chums, with plenty of wine and cheese and homemade flapjack on board, piled beside the chartplotter and the GPS, imagine a whole life of it centuries ago, attempting to do regular business through it.

“From the big drama of being separated from each other by great distances, or great forces beyond our control – the sea itself, and culture and politics – to the tiny, supremely human moments of inventories of goods, or little notes to loved ones, or garments and everyday tools… life with the oceans has shaped my own country so much especially it seems to be right there below the surface, running through our shared emotional bloodstream” he says.

“In a sense, all we had to do, was tap into it honestly.”

Having brought stories of the sea barrelling into a series of lively school performances, the next stage for Valise Noire was to shape that initial content into something tangible that could be shared in wider public, as part of Poole Maritime Festival.

 

FROM CONCEPT TO QUAYSIDE

Valise Noire put a call out for volunteers to join in the workshopping up of some celebratory performances of all that they had been learning, exploring and beginning to share with the schools. For them, having players help to work out just what shape those experiences on Poole Quay would take was central. And Mr Peach got involved from the beginning.

“By the time we got to the weekends of workshopping, we had some first musical themes on the board that we’d already had super feedback from with the schools work. We also had a raft of voice recordings from letters and books, along with the idea of life above and below the sea’s surface, so I had a fair bit in my mind when we rocked up to the Lighthouse rehearsal rooms and met each other as a new team of performers, to begin shaking it all down. And to begin with I simply kept all that in the back of my mind and joined in as any other volunteer, as Michele and Hazel walked us into feeling comfortable in our performance skins.

“I tapped into my inner drama student and, y’know, muddled through” he says flatly.

 

From developing types of movement to planning out sequences of character portrayal and a loose narrative, the workshops formed a series of set pieces depicting key moments in maritme heritage, broadly dividing the experience between a human sense of life above the waves, and a more symbolic sense of ocean life below the sea surface.

One of the motifs was the Merman – a character derived from a recovered relic of the Swash Channel wreck. Remains of a 17th century Dutch merchant ship were found on the sand and shingle sea bed just outside Poole Harbour in the 1990s, but the raising of the giant rudder in 2013 with its carved face of ‘the merchant’, and of another wooden figurehead, ‘the merman’ unlocked characters for Hazel and Michele in the early approach of their storytelling of Cargo – and in the schools work, it is the merman who comes alive with a magical sense of ‘tales from the ocean floor’.

“While Timo sort of represents the Merchant in the final performance – the figure of pompous human endeavour above the waves – the Merman symbolises the voice of the sea. So we started by writing a kind of message in a bottle from this otherworldly character,” explains Hazel, “saying it was time to reveal his stories and tell his tales. And while it was an exciting way to trigger younger imaginations, it also helped us feel our way into a wider sense of the sea itself having a voice. Kind of asking us to explore our relationship with the sea today.”

As the performance design came together, the 30 minute presentation shaped into an interuptive experience to an unsuspecting public on Poole Quay. Beginning with an elderly cargo rigger arriving and tying up as any such vessel might have done centuries ago, an otherworldly arrival of human figures lead a procession from the bustle and life of historic human port business to life below the waves in a conjoured shipwreck, to meet echoes and creatures of the depths.

As Timo explains, the ghostly figures arrested attention, but the workshopped movements between different historic tableaus acted like windows onto Poole’s past.

“It was almost like augmented reality,” he says. “As if the people on the quay that evening and afternoon had swiped their phone screens to see back through history what had been ‘normal’ everyday life in the past on the very same spot. But those all-white dressed figures didn’t stay distant, they interacted with the bemused watchers – and it really seemed to work. People engaged. There was a spot of wonder there as we rocked up aboard Queen Galadriel in drifting smoke.”

Piling up props in the roadspace as the characters disembarked – dock workers and ships’ crew unloading barrels and boxes and sacks as ladies in fine dresses paraded around them – the audience was then presented with artifacts and samples of cargo from times past, as the players opened the boxes and invited people to smell spice pouches and tea, hear letters and voices of memories from the archives and read some of the hundreds of poems sealed up like Georgian letters by schoolchildren from across Poole.

All still using gestures only, the players lead a parade ‘off to sea’ where the Tudor march plunged into life below the waves, ending in the twilight at the just-refurbished Sea Music sculpture, to sounds of musician Fiona Barrow‘s melifluous improvised violin, and a call to embrace a notion of the sea’s own life and livelyhood.

 

“Now, street theatre is a random experience,” says Timo. “and turning up on Poole Quay out of the blue, as we all did, with me perhaps most conspicuous in an especially elaborate and frilly ensemble, designed beautifully by Hazel to evoke the faint absurdity of historic merchant superiority… well, I didn’t know quite what reaction I and we would get. Art can arrive like something from another planet into everyday life – in some ways, just as it should” he smiles.

“But as odd as the spectacle of Cargo will have seemed to everyone who saw it, the symbolism of it seemed to do its job. A lot of people felt something in it – even with me looking as gloriously daft as I did in the middle of it. People felt the humanity in our reminder of our connection to the sea. And to this day, hearing the musical sketches and impressions in our first itteration of Cargo, I still feel moved by it, somewhere in my own depths. The stories are affecting, and everyone in the brilliant little team who brought it alive felt it. And so did those sharing the moment with us.”

From the stories of separation, the apparent injustice of many deportations and convictions, and the maritime connection to slavery, to the simple economic histories of fishing grounds in the north Atlantic, human life was found in the details, for performers, writers and audience. And Momo feels grateful to have been part of this first exploration of Cargo.

 

“I am thankful, as ever, to not simply get to work with two such wonderful creative chums as Michele and Hazel, such great talents for storytelling and world-invoking, as well as the ever inspirational creative human champion, Colin. And of course to meet the great commitments to art that are our team, Hilary, Jackie, Jenny and Naomi, as well getting to hear touches of Fiona’slovely work accenting my own, and getting to work with Dorset art tech hero, Jo Myles. But especially to be part of this story in particular. It did quietly get to me.

As former Mayor of Poole Councillor Xena Dion, who I know was instrumental in helping Cargo find its place in the Martime Festival, said to me: “every time we ask Poole people what matters to their sense of identity here, their maritime heritage comes top.” It may not sound a surprise, but that it is so near the surface of people’s consciousness is worth listening to.” concludes Timo.

“While the final music arrangements shared on the Soundcloud playlist are like loved demos, ahead of possible evolutions of the show around the world, with live players, revisiting the mixes was still strangely emotional. And I wonder if it’s because I still feel the humanity of these stories just below my own surface, and of how this heritage actually connects us to the imperitives of now, and of the fearsome voyages of human life looking forward.

“I think what resonnated for me personally, in the end, was a sense of connectedness. Of how connected we are to the history, the heritage, of martime life – of the people who forged and lived it in previous eras – but also to the sea itself. The organism of it. The need to work as part of that natural system. Protect it, champion it – and celebrate our place in it.

“This is a very vital part of our current point in history. In our social, economic, natural history – to appreciate in new ways how everything is connected, that we might live more consciously and perhaps, in celebration, mark out a 21st century new world in all these things.”

WATCH THE EDIT OF CARGO’S FIRST PERFORMANCE:

 

WATCH MR PEACH SHARE A BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT HIS MUSIC WRITING FOR CARGO:

LISTEN TO A COMPLETE PLAYLIST OF THE AUGMENTED CARGO SCORE >
Download a complete version of the musical performance pieces, drop them in order into a playlist and explore Cargo in headphones.

PERUSE THE CARGO GALLERY >
Grab a glimpse of more of the daft and beautiful moments from the performances and schools work.