by Ian Mann
August 19, 2011
Guest contributor Pam Mann with her thoughts on a unique musical and sensory experience.
Phronesis, Pitch Black Project, Pemberton Stage, Christ College, Brecon Jazz Festival, 13/08/2011
Jasper Hoiby-double bass, composer
A world first was held at Brecon Jazz Festival this year, a jazz gig played in total darkness.
Jasper Hoiby the bass player and leader of Phronesis wanted to put this gig on as his sister Jeanette, had lost her sight completely over the course of a two month period, the consequence of a long term progressive illness. I spoke to Jasper the day before the concert and there was some doubt at that time as to whether it could go ahead due to health and safety considerations. However good sense prevailed and with safety precautions in place (which included shouting “help” if you had any problems during the gig) the performance went ahead as scheduled.
The first eight to ten minutes were played in subdued lighting and then,slowly, all the lights went out. First the four white lights on the stage and then the coloured lights above the band dimmed until darkness descended.
At first I stared into the gloom desperately trying to see -very strange. Then I noticed two very small pinpricks of light to the front and left and a small green light behind and to my right. I put my sunglasses on to dim these away and was left in as near total darkness as you can get anywhere these days.
I was lucky to be sat on the end of a row with no one beside me, just about the only empty seat in the house. As a result I had no physical human contact and truly felt alone in the darkness with the music. Listening intently I found that although I knew where the musicians were the sound of the bass and drums in particular didn’t come from where I was expecting them to. Each number finished to thunderous applause but there were none of the shouts of “yeah!” often heard at jazz gigs. I think most of us were afraid of attracting any attention in case the stewards thought we were in difficulties. No one wanted to be responsible for stopping this amazing experience. However with some encouragement from Jasper the crowd relaxed and I can, I think, recall someone shouting “Go Jazz! (or Jas).At one stage I had the insane urge to get up into the aisle and dance but didn’t because I was afraid of stopping the concert and spoiling all the musicians’ hard work -but it would have been great to do it.
The time went so fast the concert was over before it seemed to have begun and disappointingly the lights came up and Jasper, Ivo and Anton appeared out of the gloom. They had however been playing for fifty minutes in the darkness but it was gone in a flash. They continued playing for a further seven to eight minutes and finally finished to a standing ovation. What a wonderful experience.
As I left the venue I had time for a quick word and spoke to Ivo Neame. I was curious as to how he was able to play the piano in total darkness, how did he know where he was on the keyboard? He explained that he rarely looks at the keyboard anyway, he just plays but that they did have a rehearsal in the dark just to be sure that they could do it. It seemed like it was all in a day’s work to them and yet for the audience it was an amazing night.
Wish I’d been there now, it sounds as if it was a unique and thought provoking experience.
I’m not surprised by Ivo’s comments, I guess after all the practice he’s put in playing just comes naturally to him. Also look at how many great blind piano players there have been, from Art Tatum to Stevie Wonder. More prosaically I guess it’s a bit like touch typing-something I’ve yet to master!
Ivo plays sax and vibes as well he’s a seriously talented chap.
SEBASTIAN SCOTNEY of the LONDON JAZZ BLOG says;
Ian congrats on the depth and detail of your Brecon coverage, and on this nice piece from your…[wife? / daughter ? / .....?] . Such a shame we didn’t meet and say hi.
Thanks, Seb. My wife wrote the Phronesis piece. It’s her debut for the site so many thanks for your kind comments.
I hope to get down for the London Jazz fwstival again this year so maybe we can meet up then. If not how about Cheltenham 2012?