Wakizashi is a new Bristolian festival. Co-produced by promoter Probo Titans and Harry ‘Iceman’ Furniss, the duo aim to bring together music that pushes the boundaries of musicality and composition. GIGsoup caught up with Halftone, a trio who create improvised music on cello, double bass and flute to find out more about their style, how they work and some exciting future plans.
Could you please introduce yourself and the instrument you play?
Caitlin: I’m Caitlin and I play double bass.
Tina: I’m Tina and I play flute.
Hannah: I’m Hannah and I play the cello.
Tina: We normally have another person on violin called Yvonna, but she couldn’t make it today.
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You’ve just got off stage at Wakizashi, how was that for you?
It was good.
Tina: The last gig we played, which was with Yvonna, we played acoustic, so it’s interesting to play with amplification. I think when you know there’s lots of ‘band bands’ on it’s a bit noisy, we have to amp up, but actually the sound was amazing and it was good to hear it all.
Caitlin: It was nice to get some of the more intimate sounds coming through the speakers and the monitor speakers. That’s something that sometimes does get a little bit lost and I think that when you’re able to hear some of the smaller things we’re doing that’s great. It was good to have that as well today.
You’ve developed lots of interesting ways to play your instruments. What’s your favourite technique to use if you had to choose one?
Tina: I’ve got one I can’t do, I’m not sure if that applies! It’s a thing called a tongue grab- which does sound really rude, but it’s where you shove your tongue into the flute at high speeds and, well I do it a little bit sometimes. I want to try and match these guys’ percussiveness, that’s my mission in this configuration. The one technique I do on the flute is singing and playing at the same time- sometimes you can move your voice around and play one note so there’s another note ghosted that’s created by the difference- that’s quite good fun.
Hannah: I really like detuning to get these different resonances. Usually it’s lower because if you do too much higher the cello strings can snap! Detuning takes it away from the cello sound; it starts to be all kinds of different instruments. Like those kind of little African boxes- there’s all kinds of string instruments, so you start to introduce other worlds using this one instrument.
Caitlin: I’m quite a fan of the sort of ‘natural feedback’ as I like to call it. For instance, when you play really close to the bridge you get a lot of different pitches coming out of the double bass. It’s a really unique thing with string instruments that you can get all of these different electronic sounding noises out of an acoustic instrument.
How did you three or four come to play together?
Tina: So actually I think Hannah and I met through Caitlin. Well actually, I think we met through Yvonna, who’s not here! About a year ago Hannah and I did a film put on by a collective called Onomato. It was in the Baptist church in Broadmead. It was kind of improv music and experimental film- I think that was with BEEF. That was collaborative- a lot of people come together to very loosely write for some experimental film. Then I met Yvonna at a gig about three years ago- she texted everyone early this year. Caitlin, I think you met Yvonna through COMA didn’t you?
Caitlin: Yeah, I met her through COMA- we did an improv for one of the concerts. We got put together, it was like, ‘You do improv, do you do improv? OK improvise together and after that she said ‘Oh I know this flautist who is really keen to do some improv, so we got together and then Hannah joined us.
Hannah: Yvonna again! A couple of years ago when I just started living in Bristol there was the new music festival on. I went to see the John Cage Quartet in St. George and I sat next to Yvonna. The John Cage q
Quartet is amazing, nothing happens twice, everything is new, it only happens once. But she turned around and said ‘Are you Hannah Marshall?’- I’d never met her before; I was like ‘Yeah….’ So we had a little introduction before we got together this year.
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So, where do you draw your influences from, musically or otherwise?
Hannah: I think we all let each other be where we are. I think that’s one of the amazing things about improvised music is that you can kind of allow people to be where they are and make something together and that we have no idea about what that might be.
Tina: Sometimes we use prompts- that usually involves a lot of drinking and talking with each other! So sometimes we play around with ideas in terms of textures, or we might think of words, or sometimes we think of playing the room. So we might think of building around the natural frequencies and acoustics of the room and how it might respond to us. I don’t think there’s necessarily out and out musical references in terms of other people.
Hannah: But that all comes out in the mix, whatever musical references are going on either long term or short term, they all come out somehow.
What’s been your favourite moment of Wakizashi so far?
Tina: To be honest, I only saw the person before us- they were great!
Hannah: I saw the person before the person before us- Uther Moads– they were great!
Caitlin: I was here yesterday too. I really enjoyed Hysterical Injury– they were fantastic. I really enjoyed Iyabe too- they kept getting up and changing instruments – they were interesting. It’s a really varied programme, which is amazing.
Tina: I always feel a little apprehensive about coming into a setting where there are people that are very different musically. But Harry (of Iceman Furniss Quintet) who has helped put this on- well that’s his thing, that’s why he’s great. Like that Alt Jam sessions at the Old England and the Meltdown at The Southbank. I like the concept that the music doesn’t have to be complementary or of a similar genre.
Hannah: It’s just what Harry likes, which is interesting.
Finally, what are your future plans; do you have anything in the pipeline?
Hannah: So were doing something interesting on Tuesday (25th October) with a friend who has got a residency in a care home in London. So were going to do a workshop their- we don’t know much about it, but it will be improv workshops with residents. I think it will be really nice.
Caitlin: Well the really exciting thing we’re doing is a gig at Arnolfini with Les Diaboliques (Maggie Nicols, Joëlle Léandre and Irène Schweizer ). So another group of female improvisers- I mean THE group of female improvisers, they’re the forerunners of the scene.
There’s also a run of regular nights that happen at The Surrey Vaults called Totality- we’re going to play one of those soon.
Tina: That’s another one that’s usually ‘band bands’ so it will be really interesting to play with being amplified. I think we’ll place ourselves in the middle of the room maybe.
Caitlin: We’ve got the Sound Cupboard as well, in January. That’s another regular night that happens in Bristol at The Crofters Rights. Potentially some other stuff as well, we’re just waiting to hear back from some applications but we don’t know yet.
Tina: And recording of course! That’s what we’re going to do at the end of the year. We’re quite new, so we don’t have any recorded stuff yet.