BBC Radio Luck

This piece is about how an interview about music can actually be musical itself. I made this by using a party blower as a quit-smoking device, and took drags on it as though I was smoking, during a radio interview. By talking about music I played with ideas for new performances in real time.

I appeared live on BBC Radio Essex pretending to be my colleague, composer Neil Luck. I discuss Neil’s upcoming large-scale operatic work Herakles! (2015), having never actually seen the piece myself and knowing very little about it. The BBC presenter is unaware that he is speaking to an imposter. Neil asked me to do this because he was unable to attend the interview himself and we bear a passing resemblance to each other. I could have learned more about Herakles! but instead chose to improvise using an element from one of Neil’s performances that I attended at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in 2012 (Gaze by Neil Luck and Fiona Bevan), during which he pretended to smoke a party blower.

The music in BBC Radio Luck was made just by talking about it. What I described was not Neil’s piece, and is also not a piece that I have made. It is what art critic Nicolas Bourriaud describes as “trailer” form:

“Having been an event per se (classical painting), then the graphic recording of an event (the work of Jackson Pollock, with photographic documents describing a performance or an action), today’s work of art often assumes the role of a trailer for a forthcoming event, or an event that is put off forever.” (2002, p. 114)

The interview was intended to be a trailer for Neil’s event, but he gave me free rein to do whatever I wished. The result is a blurring of fact (Herakles! is an actual piece) and fiction (Herakles! bears no relation to my description in the interview). I used this trailer to make another trailer for a piece that does not exist. The key element of this piece is that, through pretending to be Neil, and not really knowing what I am supposed to be talking about, I could try out different ideas and could develop a character. I made fictional music just by talking about it and reflected on my own ideas about music in a high-stakes situation. The high-stakes were that fact that I was forced to keep talking, and to seem like I knew what I was talking about because of the necessity to avoid being outed as an imposter.

An emergent outcome of this activity is to suggest that a lot of composers look and sound the same (posh white men), so are interchangeable. The experience allowed me to think out loud and say things that I might not usually say because I was freed from my own ego. I could test out my ideas, such as speculating about the audience for experimental music. When asked by the presenter what I imagine the audience will think when watching Herakles! I say that I want you [the audience] to think: “where do you truly belong and where would you like to be?” (at 10:38 in the video). As the saying goes, no truer word was spoken in jest. I am unsure as to whether I planned this line or not, but the important thing is that it was given the chance to appear. Quick responses were needed because I was pretending to be Neil, who would have known the answer. So I had to give the impression I knew the answer, and this was the first thing that came to mind.

In the same way that John Cage’s writing “became part of his creative process, rather than simply an explanation of it” (Stones, 2013, p. 127), this activity served as a way for me to explore ideas about performance and my composer-performer identity whilst engaged in the act of performing.