Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Alex Judd: Blind Man’s Song

By | Published on Thursday 21 April 2016

Alex Judd

We first discovered Theatre Re’s brilliant piece ‘Blind Man’s Song’ when it premiered as part of last year’s London International Mime Festival. It’s been on tour and up to the Edinburgh Fringe since then, garnering rave reviews (our own included) along the way, and now settles at London’s Pleasance Theatre for a three week run.

Last year, we spoke to director Guillaume Pigé about the show. This time I had a chat with Alex Judd, the man behind the very excellent music.

CM: ‘Blind Man’s Song’ first premiered back in 2015, but can you give us a bit of a reminder – what kind of performance is it? Does it tell a story? Or does it simply explore specific themes?
AJ: ‘Blind Man’s Song’ is a play without words about one man’s rage against the world of darkness. Our main character is a blind musician who has never seen the light. As he gets ready to go to bed, he recalls an encounter that happened earlier in the day, and this sets him on a dreamlike journey where some things become more visible in the dark.

CM: The movement for the piece and the music were developed simultaneously, weren’t they? How exactly did that creative collaboration work? How did you come to be involved in the production?
AJ: Yes, we all started together from scratch in the same room. This is the company’s preferred way of working, because all aspects of the show influence one another and grow together organically from a single blank canvas. A certain piece of music may influence a movement sequence, or vice versa. A particular way of using a prop may lead to an interaction between movement and sound, or a lighting idea, or costume may inspire a particular scene to be created. Personally, I find this way of working maximises efficiency (because there are no distractions!) and effectiveness (each member of the team lends their own individuality and flair to the creative process). I had composed and performed in Theatre Re’s previous two productions, which is how I got this job!

CM: How would you describe your music? Does it fit into any particular genre?
AJ: I always find it difficult to categorise music, especially my own, because there are so many different styles, sub-genres and crossovers. As the music is performed on traditional classical instruments, I guess the word classical should feature in the description. My strongest influences tend to be composers from the last century – and it’s also important to imply that the music accompanies something – so without wanting to sound even a tiny bit pretentious, how about ‘contemporary classical incidental’?!

CM: How have you used it to convey the required themes and ideas?
AJ: When I’m writing music for the stage I always try to picture myself watching that piece of theatre or dance as an audience member, and imagine how I would ideally want the music to sound in order to effectively support what is happening on stage. I use melodic motifs to represent thematic material, certain rhythms to reflect speeds of movement, and harmonies to evoke emotions. However, aside from the obvious, it is difficult to put this into words because instinct and intuition are the main tools of the creative process, rather than conscious reasoning. For this piece the moments of silence are important as well, not only to give the audience a breather, but also to give them space to reflect on what is happening (as the movement style can be perceived as being quite abstract).

CM: Tell us about how the music is performed? What instruments do you use?
AJ: I play a violin and electric piano live on stage which are both fed into a loop pedal, allowing me to create layered and sometimes complex passages of music. A wireless microphone is used to amplify sounds from the main prop, which are also fed into the loop pedal. All aspects of the sound are controlled live on stage, which enables me to react in real time to the actions of the other performers. It also means that if something goes wrong, I have to fix it!

CM: Since its first show at last year’s London International Mime Festival, it’s been performed forty times – has it changed in any way in the meantime?
AJ: Yes, without doubt, the show is constantly evolving. Personally I can say that there are always some parts that I improvise, so in that respect the show is never really finished. The main bulk of material remains unchanged, and it may be only the performers that notice the subtle variations, but it really does feel like every show is different.

CM: What drew you to a career in music?
AJ: I was encouraged to learn to play instruments from a very early age by my parents, who sent me to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama junior department at the age of 4. I didn’t leave until I was 19. Growing up with that privileged training led to music inevitably becoming an important part of my life. Music studies dominated school and university, and fuelled by a genuine passion for the art form there was never really any hope that I would do anything else with my life!

CM: What aims do you have for the future?
AJ: To continue developing my composition portfolio in theatre, but also branch out into other platforms such as film, television and computer games. As the digital world expands so quickly there is more and more need for original music, and therefore ever increasing opportunities for composers. I’d like to be able to diversify my output, but also continue to perform on stage as much as possible.

CM: What happens next for ‘Blind Man’s Song’?
AJ: After the run at the Pleasance we head off on a UK tour, before taking the show to Germany and a one-week run at Ruhrfestspiele. There will be further European and UK tour dates announced for later in the year!

CM: What’s coming up next for you?
AJ: I’ve already started work on a new piece with Theatre Re called ‘The Nature of Forgetting’ (working title), which we’ll be developing further in the summer and autumn. Without meaning to give too much away at this early stage, the project is our most ambitious yet and will involve a bigger cast including a second musician! Aside from my work with Theatre Re I’ll also be playing keyboards for Bright Light Bright Light at his upcoming UK shows, and accompanying Austentatious on violin for regular performance dates. Variety is the spice of life!

‘Blind Man’s Song’ is on at the Pleasance Theatre from 27 Apr-15 May. See this page here for info and tickets.

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Photo: Richard Davenport