Title: Anne Dudley the album is called Ancient and Modern…
Author: Edward Seckerson
Source: Ancient and Modern promo CD
Publish date: 1995
EDWARD SECKERSON: Anne Dudley the album is called ‘Ancient and Modern’ and I was thinking the phrase has never carried so much resonance as it does today. Here we are in this high tech world and suddenly everybody is craving the kind of purity and simplicity of the earliest forms of music. Monks singing plain chant are in the pop charts and there’s an album just come out by the Hilliard Ensemble which mixes 14th century choral music with jazz saxophone. Do you think this is a kind of reaction to the world we’re living in today?
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes I do. I’ve seen a change in my lifetime. When I was at college in the 70s modern music was, to my ears, extremely esoteric and unapproachable and very difficult, intensely intellectual stuff. Boulez was king really. It never occurred to me, at college, to actually study composition because I had a penchant for writing tunes and that would have been the end at college. People were scrapping the insides of pianos when I was there. I was turned off really by modern music at that stage. I changed my mind drastically about modern music by accident one morning. I turned on radio 3 and I heard a piece that I’d never heard before in a style that I’d never heard before. It was a piece by John Adams. I believe it was the ‘Chairman Dances’ and I hadn’t heard anything that fresh and approachable and yet modern before. I went out and bought the record and I also found on it the most wonderful piece where he mixes a preacher talking with a very, very, very slow version of hymn tune. First of all I felt very jealous that I hadn’t thought of that because it was such a great idea and so simple and so approachable. Then, as you say, I began to find that lots of people were actually developing this archaic style like Arvo Pärt stuff and Gereches symphony. I think in many ways what you say is true. It’s a reaction to the modernism of the 60s, the idea that we could find the answer to anything in technology.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Is it also a kind of transcendental thing that people find it therapeutic almost, this very pure, very tranquil choral music?
ANNE DUDLEY: Oh certainly. I do myself. In a way it’s so anti the way music has developed. Because music has developed to be more and more challenging. Some people would argue music shouldn’t be therapeutic, it should actually excite and challenge the imagination. I think there is room for both quite honestly. It distresses me when people put on pieces of music just as background to the ironing but on the other hand I can understand it. There’s part of me would also like to put on Gregorian chant when I do the ironing.
EDWARD SECKERSON: So do you think the seeds of this album were sown way back? What you’ve done here is refract a very ancient tradition of religious choral music through a kind of window of our times really and mixed a kind of archaic with the very zappy and modern.
ANNE DUDLEY: People have done this all the time though. Bach would take chorale tunes and put then in a very zappy contemporary style, to him. All composers have taken those old tunes and done what they will with them. Vaughan Williams did a very similar thing when he was editor of Ancient and Modern, the English hymn earlier this century. He adapted and adopted these tunes and used them in his own works. It’s not that unusual for a composer to do that.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Now when you started work on this project you had complete freedom to choose your own texts, you had complete freedom to set them as you wanted. Now you work a lot in the session world, the pop world, film music world, where you’ve got to produce music to measure, basically, a lot of the time. That must have been an incredible liberation.
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes in a way, but on the other hand without that sort of spur sometimes it’s hard to start at all. Most of the music I compose is composed for film. You have a specific function to perform, a specific length of music to write, which has to perform a specific emotion in that scene. I like that. That gives me my sort of structure. If you take that away, where do you start? As you say world is your oyster, you can choose any text you can choose any style. So it becomes increasingly hard to start at all. The ancient tunes, the hymn tunes were what gave me the starting point. That was how I was able to do this album.
EDWARD SECKERSON: And how did you get to those? Had they always been there? I suppose being English it’s very hard to escape the English choral tradition and the hymns ancient and modern. They’re all around us all the time, it’s in our subconscious.
ANNE DUDLEY: Even if people don’t go to church they’ve always sung them at school. You ask people what tunes they like and the say ‘I love hymn tunes’. They wouldn’t go out and buy and album of hymn tunes but ‘Jerusalem’ is an enormously popular tune. That sort of thing, the English love that.
EDWARD SECKERSON: So a lot of those tunes were in your subconscious already. How did you choose them, were there some that just recommended themselves straight away, you thought ‘well I have to use these’ or how did you go about it?
ANNE DUDLEY: Well I think he seeds of this album go back some way. I was working on an album for the Art of Noise about 3 or 4 years ago. We had the idea of combining ethnic music with English music. One of the specific images that we conjured up was the image of an explorer in Africa working his way through the jungle and coming across a tribe and expecting them to be untouched by western civilisation, but actually he was the second man to get there. A missionary had got there before him and they were singing a hymn. So this conjured up and image of wandering music leading to a very plain simple rendition of a chorale tune. This is a piece called ‘Finale’ on the album ‘Below The Waste’. I used the idea that Alban Berg has used in his violin concerto of using four clarinets in harmony for the tune. It’s really quite unlike a lot of the rest of the Art of Noise music. But a lot of people said to me ‘I really like that piece, that’s my favourite piece’. So this idea of the combination of an ancient tune with a modern backing had been percolating around my head for a while.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Actually the Art of Noise albums were enormously successful and were a turning point for you, in a sense were all based on that kind of taking music from the elements almost taking sounds. The division between where noise ends and where music beings were kind fundamental to them really wasn’t it. In this album we have the fundamentals of choral music and the fundamentals of rhythm combining, colluding almost.
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes it’s interesting you should say that. I think the Art of Noise is perceived differently by different people. A lot of people consider it a dance group and our greatest success was in America in the dance charts, in the clubs. But what we did over that dance beat was really quite demanding and really quite obscure and quite near to musique concrete of the 1950s. If you took the beat away it would be very unapproachable, but it’s absolutely astonishing what people will take in if you give them a beat to help them along their way.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Fundamentals of music isn’t it. Rhythm.
ANNE DUDLEY: Exactly yeah.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Well let’s look specifically at ‘Ancient and Modern’ and one or two of the ideas here. In a sense, for me, the heart of the matter is in the acapella, the unaccompanied setting you make of ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’, which is a very beautiful, very traditional, very crunchy church harmonies with a luscious Amen at the end. On its own, and almost, I think it should be at the start of the album because that seems to be the starting point. It’s not quite it’s about two tracks, three tracks in.
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes you’re right. Aesthetically it would be satisfying to start with that and then to develop through with more complicated arrangements and perhaps end up with something incredibly complicated, but you’ll find that the order of an album is very fundamental to the way that the album is perceived.
EDWARD SECKERSON: After this very pure unaccompanied number we plunge into a much darker more intense atmosphere with an instrumental track called ‘Communion’ which begins on a very low peddle in the basses which carries though. Now this struck me as being almost like a comment on or preparing the way for what lay ahead. It made me feel very uncomfortable; it made me feel you were being influenced here by the angst ridden world we are living in.
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes I am surprised you say that because this piece to me is an expression of resolution. It starts in uncertainty and darkness, if you like, and to my way of thinking it resolves in a quite not completely unsatisfactory way, but it moves to a resolution in light in some way.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Maybe because it starts so darkly maybe I feel that the resolution is slightly hollow, do you know what I mean?
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes but maybe that’s a reflection of the times we live in.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Exactly. Cynical.
ANNE DUDLEY: Well we’re never certain quite about anything. You make your mind up about something and you change it the next day because there’s so many opinions being proffered about everything.
EDWARD SECKERSON: But then we lift out of that. In accordance with what you are saying, we get this very open, lots of unisons, in the ‘Veni Emmanuel’ setting which has a kind of tubular bells piano going against it as well, which does really set the tone of the way the album is going to develop.
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes that was the first piece I wrote for this album. I came across that ringing piano in response to the sort of… I love the music of the minimalists. I’m not shy to say that. I love it but it’s a bit boring sometimes.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Mr Glass? Mr Philip Glass?
ANNE DUDLEY: Yes. I love the textures. I’d die for those textures. But I just think, wouldn’t it be nice to have a tune. So surely the best of both worlds is to have those textures and to have a tune as well, and to have a bit of development.
EDWARD SECKERSON: You really throw that in in ‘The holy and The Ivy’ which is very Philip Glass like.
ANNE DUDLEY: It’s the most light hearted of the pieces. It’s a little bit tongue in cheek.
EDWARD SECKERSON: Now let’s talk about the two most intense settings. Perhaps the most intense being the ‘Tallis’ Canon’ which has a rather grim Victorian poem about sleep and death and begins with a kind of movie mystery feeling with tremolando strings and things. I think the most interesting setting of all on the disc is the ‘Coventry Carol’ which we’ve come to know as rather sort of reassuring lullaby in a way, and when you look at the words, and yours is very unsettling. In a sense you’ve done a real 1990s take on it and ‘what future for the young and innocent’ kind of thing.
ANNE DUDLEY: Well it’s a beautiful tune. It’s one of those divine plain chant-y tunes. I looked it up in my Oxford Book of Christmas Carols and I was shocked to find that it comes from a pageant in the 15th century. It occurs the night before the slaughter of the innocents, when Herod slaughtered the first born of all Israel, I believe, and it’s the lullaby that the women sing to their children the night before they are about to be killed. It’s a most shocking image. After reading that it had to be a very intense setting.