Wednesday 29 August 2018

Nico - Melbourne Fringe Festival preview

If you're looking for a unique evening of sumptuous music during the Melbourne Fringe Festival, you need look no further than Nico: Songs They Never Played on the Radio. Forest Collective have been building a reputation for reinterpreting existing music through traditional instruments and chamber musicians to create new and innovative music, and Nico looks like it too will be living up to those expectations. Devised by Evan Lawson and Danielle Asciak, Nico is a tribute to the German musician of the same name, active from the 1960s up until her death in 1988.

“The show is a journey into Nico's inner vs. outer world through her music," cabaret artist Asciak tells me. "We've taken songs that we feel best represent the story of Nico; from her early artist days, to her time in Velvet Underground and the songs in her final composition days. This will be the world premiere of commissioned arrangements."

Both Asciak and Lawson - composer, conductor and artistic director of Forest Collective - have a strong affinity to Nico's music and so when the opportunity presented itself to reconceptualise her music, there was no way they could say no. "Her music changed my life - I had never heard anything like it. Anyone I have ever mentioned her to agrees that her music is remarkable," Lawson says.

"Nico resonates with me on many levels. I was drawn to a unique voice that wasn't perfect but allowed the poetry, emotion and story to be the focus," Asciak adds. "Having studied voice, it was always stressed to have a voice that was perfect in pitch and shape of sound. I wasn't allowed to show individualism or share my natural performance ability. Nico, like other singers I have chosen to perform in cabaret, have all had unique voices that have made an impact on their audiences. They give me the confidence to own my voice and play with the talent I have."

"I also find her lyrics share so much about her life. Nico writes like a painter, a poet; conjuring images, experiences or moments in her life that quickly allow one to interpret and manifest what it is or what it was she was seeing at the time of writing," she continues. "I remember when I took an acting course, the teacher said I didn't need to research too much outside of the text because when it is a great writer, you will find the information and clues within the writing to allow you to understand who the character is and what world they belonged to. I feel the same way with Nico's writing. For me, her lyrics a true representation of her subconscious thought - the inner world."

The process of choosing the best songs and writing the arrangements has been a long task but a hugely rewarding one for the pair. "I listened to Nico's music and identified which songs best represented her and the story of Nico I want to share. I listened to all the tracks I could find and read the lyrics at the same time. I researched the songs to understand where they fit in her history. From there, I chose the songs and curated a program to send to Evan." Asciak explains.

Forest Collective ensemble
"Because we couldn't find any musical notation for her original songs, I employed two arrangers - William Elm and Alexander Turley - to notate the songs and together we arranged the songs for the instrumental combinations," Lawson adds. 

"So while they were busy arranging and putting their touches to it, I went back to interpreting the lyrics, and threading the songs together by choosing specific moments, text, performance art that will hopefully help enable the story we choose to tell and to emphasise the emotions we want the audience to feel." Asciak says. 

Eight musicians were eventually chosen to perform alongside Asciak, with each one being the best representation of the voices of Nico's music. While the musicians are mostly core members of Forest Collective (Vilan Mai, Ali Fyffe, Trea Hindley, Bec Scully, Nikki Edgar and Elm) there are also some guest performers including Erica Tucceri on flute and Isabel Hede on violin to help bring the musical evening to life. 

So having immersed themselves with Nico's work, is it possible to have a favourite song, or a particular number Asciak and Lawson are most eager for audiences to hear? "My tingling moment comes when I am practising "Secret Side". The arrangement of voices by Alexander is truly evocative. Alexander didn't know the history of the song, that it was almost an ode to Nico's rape when she was an adolescent girl, yet he masterfully collects the sound and emotion, and with the music he compliments the lyrics and story."

For Lawson, it's a little more difficult. "It's mostly Nico's original music. For those who don't know her work it's really remarkable. But there's something for everyone in the concert as we highlight her early work with velvet underground and jazz." 

Five Quick Ones

1. Art is 
Evan: crucial.
2. If you had to become an animal, which would you choose and why?

Evan: Haha not sure. A snake because they're cool?
Danielle: Deer, when I was in France recently, I learnt it is very rare for deer to shed their horns and when you come across it, it is a magical experience. They are so mysterious with sweet eyes.
3. What song would you play on repeat to torture someone?

Evan: Heavy..."A Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams.
Danielle: "Just A Girl" by No Doubt - so I can sing loudly and jump up and down.
4. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?

Evan: Probably longer then I think, but still not longest....
Danielle: Perhaps a year.
5. It just isn't a Fringe Festival experience without

Evan: a drink and a dance at the festival club, a queue out in the cold for a small random venue you've never been to and taking a risk and buy a ticket to a completely random show.
Danielle: North Melbourne Town Hall, parties that never stop and artist camaraderie.

Show Information

Venue: Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne
Season:  14 - 16 September | Fri - Sat 6:30pm, Sun 5:30pm 
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $32 Full | $25 Conc 
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

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