150th Anniversary Prestige Lecture and Concert

On Saturday night I had the privilege of being at the 150th Anniversary concert performance at Plymouth University. Drawing inspiration from the sea, the concert was commissioned by Peninsula Arts and programmed by Peninsula Art’s Director of Music, Simon Ible. The results were sublime.

BAFTA award-winning composer Nick Ryan began the evening with an introductory talk, where he described how, reflecting on his father’s early tragic death, he became inspired by physical and metaphorical divisions, in particular the meniscus layer – the surface tension or divide between air and water – which he translated into a powerful metaphor for the thin divide between reality and memory, life and death – as reflected in the title of his work ‘As above, so below’. Nick explains;

The piece is slow, smudged, romantic, longing, frozen and suspended, just as in my imagination. Abrupt changes in timbre represent the emotional and physical differences between the space above and beneath the sea and changes in tempo are conceived as differences in the speed of mechanical transmission of sound in air and water. The melody acts as a messenger between worlds, determined to resolve the discord in both and bring about symmetry between them – ‘As above, so below’.”

Many of the musicians involved in the Plymouth University 150th Anniversary concert work across disciplines, utilising the latest research within science and technology to create and advance new forms of music. Eduardo Miranda (Professor in Computer Music at Plymouth University) heads up the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Research (ICCMR) and performed ‘Raster Plot, Anathema’ the second of three intermezzi in ‘Sound to Sea’ a symphonic choral work with 4 movements, premiered by Ten Tors Orchestra on 22 September at St Andrews Minster Church, Plymouth. ‘Anathema’, which literally means ‘cursed’ in Aramaic, combines musical patterns generated by computer simulations of neuron activity with the singing and recitation of extracts from Robert Falcon Scott’s last diary to the South Pole.

Continuing with an interdisciplinary theme Alexis Kirke (Research Fellow, ICCMR) produced ‘Distinction‘, a 12 minute composition, which merges scientific knowledge with 18th Century poetry – taking inspiration from the molecular chemistry of DNA and the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The piece included the low frequency sound of underwater earthquakes, the noise of evolving computer ‘artificial life’ algorithms, tubular bells, vibraphone and the voice of mezzo-soprano Juliette Pochin.

Will McNicol, a phenomenal guitar player and a recent graduate from the Faculty of Arts played two pieces ‘Breaking Waves’ and ‘By the Water’. Both performances were impassioned and evocative, tracing the movement of water from calm, to storm, and back again. Mike and Kate Westbrook performed a contemporary jazz interpretation of a prayer, acknowledging the continuing transformative power of the sea.

The event finished with ‘What Happens’ by PRS winner John Matthias (violin, voice), Adrian Corker (piano) and David Strang (electronics). Presented in two movements, each with 3 sections, the work was accompanied by a ‘Neurogranular Sampler’, a new instrument recently developed at Plymouth University that samples live recordings as the music plays, then re-presents “grains” of these sounds through a “network of neurons in a cortical computer model creating a sonic texture with the rhythms of the firing patterns.”

The pieces, though very different, were all highly charged and emotive, evoking a serious mood, representative perhaps of the somber and restrained times we currently find ourselves in. However undercutting the thoughtful mood was a palpable sense of new potentials and possibilities, enabled by the pursuit of creative and technological exploration. I left with a sense of optimism, enhanced by having experienced something new – through a series of beautiful aural sensations.

The creation of new forms of music, particularly those that incorporate classical music, is difficult and expensive but is incredibly important. It doesn’t happen much outside of London so for Plymouth to recognize the importance of investing in continued support for new research into the development of remarkable new music and which interestingly crosses art and science disciplines, is worthy, I feel, of an accolade or two. 

So now the hard sell – or rather a way for YOU to both hear the above performances and to help support the continued development of new music. The CD and accompanying brochure are available to purchase at Peninsula Arts (01752 585050) – buy it – you won’t be disappointed.

Sarah Chapman
Director, Peninsula Arts

For further information on all contributors please see the 150thanniversary brochure.

Cover image & programme design by Daniel Jones adapted from ‘That Mighty Sound’ 2012.


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Xmas films

Christmas Eve

It wouldn’t be a Christmas without a guilty pleasure and for that reason Santa Claus (1985) has to make the list.  Dudley Moore plays an ambitious elf with eyes on the top job and whilst it may resemble a poorly wrapped present and ultimately leave only a sugary taste, for those of a certain generation it’s as much of a cultural institution as Coca Cola’s Christmas ads; which just about rounds it up.

Latter in the afternoon and at a far more sensible time of the day Steven Spielberg’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) makes for perfect family viewing, as well as providing the perfect cure to those suffering the baa-humbugs.  Gentle, but never slight it must rank amongst the finest films about friendship. 

If you’re up late trying to catch a glimpse of Santa, then I’d recommend tuning in to Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and dreamlike martial arts epic Ashes of Time Redux (1994, 2008(Redux)).

Santa Claus | 9.25am, ITV1

ET the Extra Terrestrial | 3.25pm, ITV1

Ashes of Time Redux | 2.10am, C4   

Christmas Day

Whilst there are plenty of fine films spread across Christmas Day, that range from sublime animations (Ratatouille & Aladdin), a Hollywood musical (Singin’ in the Rain), epics (El Cid & Lawrence of Arabia), to yet another 80s classic (Big).  My pick of the day has to go to Black Christmas (1974) that lays claim to establishing many of the slasher genre’s rules and features amongst the creepiest characters, or rather phone voices in cinema history. 

Aladdin | 1.15pm, ITV1

Lawrence Arabia | 2.45, 5*

Singin’ in the Rain | 3.15, More4

Ratatouille | 4.50pm, BBC1

Big | 5.20, C4

El Cid | 7.00pm, BBC4

Black Christmas | 10.55, Horror Channel

Boxing Day

Boxing Day usually provides some interesting films in the schedule and this year’s no different.  The BBC and Channel 5 have put together some interesting double and triple bills.  BBC2 will be screening three adaptations/films inspired by author Jane Austin (Mansfield Park, Emma & Becoming Jane), whilst Channel 5 has a sublime MGM Musicals double bill (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers & The Wizard of Oz).  Elsewhere an incredibly weak BBC 1 quad-bill manages to feature no less than three underwhelming animated sequels (Jungle Book 2, Shrek 2, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) as well managing to fit in a film featuring talking Chihuahua’s (Beverly Hills Chihuahua).

Other standouts include Alan Parker’s ridiculously fun Bugsy Malone and Disney’s nature documentary about Flamingos (The Crimson Wing).

Bugsy Malone | 11.25am, C4

Crimson Wing | 11.30am, BBC2

Jane Austin Triple Bill | 12.45pm, BBC2

MGM Musical Double | 3.10pm, C5

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Why Peninsula Arts supports debate

By Sarah Chapman
Director, Peninsula Arts
Plymouth University

Peninsula Arts is supporting the new Plymouth based debating forum ‘The Disputables’. The first event took place at the Duke of Cornwall hotel on Friday 4th November 2011, with a group of panelists discussing the topical issue ‘Should austerity be embraced or rejected?’

As an arts organization working from a University, the Peninsula Arts programme is informed and inspired by the different range of subjects that run not only within the Faculty of Arts but also throughout the University. Because of this distinct positioning many of our events encourage a crossover of arts forms, combining cultural activity with the latest current research in science and technology. The Arts are not isolated from these subjects and our first debate intended to bring together those working across both business and politics spheres to tackle the thorny question of ‘Austerity’.

For those working in the Arts and faced with the new funding constraints, we are forced to become ever more resourceful, exploring new external partners and sources of support. From experience, having been surrounded by artists most of my working life, artists are usually ingenious innovators, able to problem solve and with a natural ability to think creatively. However without a dynamic economy to support cultural activity then sadly artists will go underground. I say sadly, because culture can really revitalize a community and set a ‘buzz’ that is hard to quantify but very easy to spot when it is happening. Take for example, the British Art Show 7 currently in Plymouth, showing across five venues within the City. Five weeks into the exhibition we have had 30,000 people visit the show. Early figures show that these visitors have come from across the region and are not visiting just one gallery but many of the venues. Such an influx can only be beneficial to Plymouth. The school engagement with the exhibition has also been phenomenal, daily the Peninsula Arts Gallery experiences sometimes up to 200 school children, of all ages, chatting excitedly about the new artworks. This is a valuable education resource, the exhibition touches on some fundamental philosophical issues, such as; what is truth? How do we measure Beauty and importantly who says something is beautiful? It encourages us to look at things differently and to question our relationship with things within society. This is essential life affirming stuff and perhaps having a space for such reflection becomes even more necessary in times of hardship. It is a shame then that Plymouth, which has the potential to become a recognized cultural centre within not only the region but also the UK, is so short of artist’s spaces. It is perhaps indicative that in organizing and getting the BAS7 to Plymouth, it became apparent that Plymouth does not currently have enough gallery floor space to host such a significant exhibition, in comparison to Cities of a similar population across the country. It was through Plymouth Visual Arts Consortium (PVAC), the coming together of all the major arts institutions and independent artists groups within Plymouth, which lobbied hard for the creation of a temporary arts space ‘The Slaughterhouse’ in the Royal William Yard (RWY). Go down to the RWY at the weekend and you can feel the new buzz, it does not take much imagination to see the potential, to recreate Bristol’s cultural harbourside. 

This will only happen however with significant investment and for that to happen we need a vibrant economy. Artists will continue being artists, creativity is hard to stamp out but their provocations and delights will go underground, or retreat to the centers that recognize their worth, much to the loss of the region.

Debate one might argue is the pre condition for a healthy society. The free exchange of ideas and constructive contestation underpin the development of all progressive ideas. Universities prize their commitment to the free spirit of enquiry. In this tradition we see ‘The Disputables’ as a platform to encourage an intelligent and questioning stance on all matters and I look forward to participating in the next round of debate.

Watch this space…

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Regrets of an Arts Student

By Rachel Morris
Creative Writing MA
Peninsula Arts Intern

Peninsula Arts enjoys a loyal and growing support; there are a wealth of ‘friends’ and regular visitors, however many of these come from outside of the university spectrum.  Why is this? Most of the events in our programme are free to students of PlymUni (or at least generously discounted). It’s not like students to turn down free stuff, so why aren’t more of us using Peninsula Arts?

Do students know it’s there? I definitely remember my tutor banging on at me about the Arts programme; I also remember plenty of posters, flyers and emails. Perhaps there’s something about a student’s mind that manages to filter out anything non-booze or party related, because I never got round to actually going to any of the events. I’ll get involved next year, was always my excuse.

There are a number of students who would say that they do use Peninsula Arts -last year, I was one of them. However, most students tend to have a rather narrow usage of the programme: Performing Arts students come to performance events, English students come to the literature series, Arts students come to the exhibitions. As an undergraduate I studied English, so I came to a few poetry readings and considered myself sufficiently engaged (I should add that attending those readings was a compulsory part of a poetry module).

But the Arts programme has so more much to offer than most students realise! Why not mix your Arts intake up a bit? Recently, I attended a serious Cultural Theory talk, but the week before that I was at a clown show, by ‘multi-faceted performers’, La Navet Bete. There are free films shown regularly in the Jill Craigie Cinema, musical performances, gallery exhibitions…

Alas, it’s all too little, too late for me. I didn’t really discover the joys of Peninsula Arts until halfway through my Masters degree. Four years since the beginning of my time at Plymouth University, and I’m trying to cram as much PenArtsy stuff into my final months as I can.

So, first years, second years… listen up! Learn from my mistakes (sorry third years, you’re in the same boat as me), and start making good use of Peninsula Arts. I wish I did.

La Navet Bete

La Navet Bete, nominated for a VC award.

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Changing Perceptions: new is not always best.


by Peter Quinn Davis
Curator of ‘Cabinet‘, Peninsula Arts Gallery

New is not always the best, or put another way, the real experience is better than technology!

World-renowned speakers gather for the ‘Cabinet: changing perceptions’ exhibitions, two exciting symposiums hosted by Plymouth University in these last two weeks.

A number of speakers have given their time to debate some of the important issues surrounding current western economies. How do we respond to the economies of the 21st century? The exhibition considers how we pass on our cultural heritage and cultural personality, considering the habits of institutions and the habitats that they occupy. Lucy Buillvant, Neil Leach, Margaret Petty and Peter Higgins, amongst others, all contributed massively to this ongoing conversation.

Old imperial, colonial powers were the first to deploy the notion of the museum. Then, it was a place to house their stories and their history, for power, for education, and for status. The role of the museum today however, is a very different prospect. On a global scale, we celebrate thousands of different histories, ideas, writings, art, science, technology and architectures. It is our need for change in cultural taste and evolution of display that has resulted in a new landscape of opportunity for museums as a new, international, national and regional cultural capital.

Museums are conundrums, a complex set of practices, processes and buildings that can represent a challenge to the viewer (the visitor) but also to the exhibition situation, the way things (artifacts) are kept, the way stories are told and sold, how they educate, confound, infuriate and, as museum staff know, they also offer pretty good shelter on a rainy day.

Would we want it any other way? An intellectual context where complexity should be a goal and a challenge, not a condition to avoid?

With new government funding biting during 2012, museums will have to seek out more self-supporting governance models, and build the skills, leadership and confidence that will enable them to succeed as sustainable parts of the cultural economy. Many of these decisions are entry points into a way of thinking that unfortunately devalues the life of museums. As many of the UK’s cultural organisations have found, national assets are sometimes not valued as cultural, only as capital. What should be preserved is the right to be educated, without the pressure of wondering whether you can afford to be. What we need is less futures and options, and more futures with options -some of these questions were lively debated in the symposium.

We also welcomed Nico Macdonald to the Changing Perceptions symposium, who gave a lecture in the gallery about the contribution technology had to play in the equation. Nico is a writer and consultant working in media, design and innovation, and co-author of BIG POTATOES: The London Manifesto for Innovation. Nico’s talk ‘Objective Knowledge: Interaction Design and the Museum’ discussed the bringing together of creative industries and the latest technological innovations, and how it could be beneficial to the museum sector. He also gave some pointers as to how these technologies could be implemented.

Neil Leach

Nico Macdonald's lecture at Peninsula Arts gallery

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By Peter Quinn Davis
curator of ‘Cabinet’, Peninsula Arts Gallery.

The CABINET exhibition is a fascinating experiment in bringing legacy to life, the project hopes to radicalise our misconception of museums as oversized storage facilities and challenge our perception of their spaces.

The participating artists, architects and designers share the desire to challenge, and where it is no longer possible or relevant; to categorize and define the objects they have created. The exhibition presents artists, designers and architects whose works have a close connection to commercial mechanisms and who produce objects, but there is a conceptual expansion of ideas and intention in which humour, irony and play are elements that characterise the works. Much of the work shown deals with the measure of time, reoccurrence, parallel worlds, and how we view and represent the past and the future.
The palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould notes that the greatest discoveries are to be found not in a freshly hewn cliff of shale, but in old museum collections, by rethinking the relationships between the objects that have already been archived in our knowledge. Often the most interesting exhibits are ones that tell us things that we already know but haven’t yet articulated in our minds. Or more precisely, they encourage us to look at familiar things in different ways, as if to remind us of their true meaning; the way we live, the things we encounter, the way we think and so on. Most of the responses to the museum’s collections combine various ideas from different sources to produce unexpected results, very much like rubbing different stones together for sparks, and gradually working these into flames.

My own experience of museums has been a continuous one, since I was a very young child, sometimes not out of choice, my mother would take me out of school on weekend visits, to the London Museums and as a six year old child, the scale of the buildings, and the sounds, reflections and exhibits were overwhelming. But reflecting now, they were inspiring places, I learnt to prepare careful research beforehand and went looking for a challenge; to me much of creativity is about playing with what I find, testing one proposition against another and seeing how things combine and react. I used to come across supernaturally well composed, monumental and mythical paintings, objects that just about contained familiar ideology, all about progress and destiny, the planting of flags and the arrival of historical narratives, historical sculpture and scientific specimens, boats and planes, the lists are endless, all of these elements came together in the production of a visual narrative, of the time, that is at once very simple and accessible, yet complex and irreducibly enigmatic.

For me, the exhibition is about reconstructing things that already exist, transforming ideas or stories we already know. It’s about exploring inwards, examining your existing presumptions, squinting at the archive of experience from new angles, and hoping for some sort of revelation. What really matters is the manner in which the artists, designers and architects do justice to the museum diversity and its complexity of inter-relations, while converting the different aspects of artistic practice and the actualities of the world in which they operate.

Peter Quinn Davis

 Read more about CABINET.
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Why is there a car in Crosspoint?

By Sarah Chapman
Acting Director
Peninsula Arts

A week of films and special talks that looks at how visions of the future are imagined and projected through cultural forms. Whether in sci-fi film, literature or visual art there is a tendency towards a dystopian projection – where the future is bleak and certainly a far worse place than the here and now. This week attempts to question why our favourite forms of cultural entertainment seem to favour the worst possible outcome.

We, at Peninsula Arts, decided to haul a CAR into the Crosspoint in the Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth to accompany Future Visions, as arguably, more than any other designed product over the last 130 years, the CAR reflects and mirrors so visibly society’s desires and fears at any particular time. Whether the 1950’s rocket-inspired classics such as the glorious Cadillacs DeVille, which explicitly reflected the space race and featured our desire for the ‘shiny and new’, featuring plastics and vinyl and the excessive use of chrome and streamlined tail wings. Car names of the 50s and 60s era also reflected a more thrusting, fast paced, moving forwards outlook with Rapier / Tiger / Spitfire / Dart / Interceptor.

Shift 30 years forwards and the dreams of flying cars have been well and truly grounded and replaced by an increasing concern with safety and worries about exhaust emissions. Absent also are those dynamic dazzling names; instead we welcome the Ford Focus, Renault Twingo and Nissan Sunny. As we move into the 21st Century, designers and engineers are finally rethinking the 19th-century innovation of the combustion engine with hybrids engines and laser guided navigation. We can look forward to more talking cars featuring holograms and on board broadband gadgets! The CAR on show in the Crosspoint is the Reliant Scimitar, a 1960’s British design, which takes its cue from the experimental OGLE SX250. This prototype had been designed by David Ogle (of David Ogle Associates, later known as Ogle Design) and was one of the first production cars to feature plastic body work, as well as being a lively sporting estate. Still a striking design 40 years on, this particular GTE model was produced in 1976 with the Ford V6 3.0 Litre Essex engine with overdrive on 4th gear.

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