Thursday, 9 August 2012

FEATURE: Noisestra

*Originally published for The Journal newspaper (7/8/12)

What do you get when you mix international exponents of avant garde music with 12 young turntablists in the North East? Well, quite a bit of noise. Charlotte Krol finds out what Mariam Rezaei's ambitious project Noisestra is all about.

"I feel very strongly about young people having a say in what they take part in. Music really is an identity for them and they can drive it forward in such a huge way.”

Twenty seven-year-old professional composer, improviser, performer and DJ Mariam Rezaei speaks with an old head on young shoulders.

“Turntablism is dying a death in this economy and I want to preserve it as an art form.

“The only way for it to survive is through collaboration and it is young people who are most willing to learn the skills.”

With the growing trend of DJs using laptops to create music by “simply pressing play on iTunes”, Mariam has been on a mission to keep vinyl turntablism alive by teaching DJ skills to young people based in the North East.

But rather than falling into a regressive trap of teaching DJing for the sake of tradition, Mariam has devised ways to be progressive when learning a skill that is becoming more and more outdated.

Since January, alongside weekly DJ workshops, the participants have been creating graphic scores to interpret music from.

The design work is in advance of the group’s collaborative performance with Anton Lukoszevieze’s award-winning experimental ensemble, Apartment House, at The Sage Gateshead on Friday.

“There has never been an ensemble of instrumentalists with an ensemble of turntablists before,” says Mariam. “This is groundbreaking. It will make history in music.”

The graphic scores were created from distorted photographs of Newcastle taken by the participants, including images of the Sage, the Quayside and Grey’s Monument.

“Noisestra has really allowed people to have their own voice and to develop themselves professionally.

“Some participants have used the project to not only learn a new skill, but to help them with their art work, for instance, or on their journalism by writing Noisestra blog posts for The Sage’s website.”

Local graphic and web design company, El Roboto, has guided Noisestra with the graphic scores, but it has also provided the group with vital work space in their studio.

Johan Berg, of El Roboto, says: “Even though we mainly work with multinational companies, whenever we have the opportunity to do something for someone who is really motivated, like Noisestra, it’s nice to help out.”

Mariam is more than grateful for the company’s help, saying that she doesn’t know what she would have done without them. “El Roboto has offered Noisestra unprecedented help. It’s something that I really appreciate.

“The same goes for The Sage Gateshead. Performing in such a fantastic venue adds to the professionalism of the project and it’s a brilliant example of the North East supporting its own artists.”

The project is part of NE-Generation and is funded by the Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to promote a sporting and cultural legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games around the UK.

Mariam has performed as a DJ with ensembles in the past but felt she was a “gimmick”.

“This time, I wanted to see how the instruments in an ensemble would work with turntables – not the other way round.

“I’ve worked with Apartment House before and the experimental way in which they perform and think about music fits perfectly with Noisestra.”

“Experimental” certainly describes Noisestra’s sound. From pass-the- parcel noise compositions to minimalist pieces interpreted from graphics of trees, Mariam is very aware of the project’s unique identity.

“It’s something that people either love or hate because it’s very out there. But now there is a new group of trained turntablists in the North East. I think that’s really exciting.”