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Arts event toilet floods, Roscius creates ‘A Clodhopper’ track from sounds

A Clodhopper - Trailer from Jayson Mansaray on Vimeo.

In December 1987, Avant Garde composer John Cage premiered his ‘Europeras I and II’, commissioned, late in his life, by the Frankfurt Opera. But, thanks to a fire that badly damaged the building, deliberately lit on the Opera House's stage by an East German refugee named only as Michael W, the premiere was delayed. Cage was staying at the Opera’s apartment on the night of the arson and escaped unharmed, but according to composer Heiner Goebb, after being alerted to the blaze, he began recording the sounds of the flaming establishment.

So picture this: 30 years later, in October 2017, after a succession of meetings and emails, a TV producer has agreed to attend my arts event ‘A Clodhopper’, especially to scope its potential as a TV programme. We were on the edge of graduating to national glory: as people drank, smoked, talked and as a trusted friend hosted the said producer, it was almost time to start ushering people downstairs.

But just before the ushering began, the upstairs toilets flooded the stage area downstairs, and literally poured a "shower of shit" over my dreams. As the pipes gargled, the flow ebbed and I had a near nervous breakdown with a few tears secretly thrown in. A modern day composer called Roscius (who was scheduled to perform) recorded these seemingly unpropitious sounds. The unlikely result, ladies, gentlemen, "and those of us smart enough to have transcended gender" (to quote David Hoyle), is a beautiful, eponymous track called ‘A Clodhopper’. Released on Nomadic Recordings with artwork by Joseph Steele, the throb, pulses, chimes and rhythms are all made from samples recorded at the A Clodhopper 'Salon 4’, and its downpour.

John Cage was revolutionary: he pioneered the use of non-standard musical instruments, incorporated Zen Buddhist practices and blazed the way with his “once-only” compositions (meaning each performance of his work was never the same). Roscius mirrors Cage, in his recording the sounds of a flooded underground arts event, with his bass lines created from vibraphone, percussion, piano sounds and samples of his non-standard instruments he has relentlessly collected from around the world. All of this is combined with elements, like filters, made from the sound of falling water: the flood appeared to be perfect alchemy for Roscius.

“I remember the reverberation of the rooms when the venue was empty; it felt like something had happened the day before, and so I listened. A drop of anything would have a tremendous resonance, especially in the bathrooms, as the walls would reflect the sound perfectly, giving them a new dimension - I guess the pipes (copper) were a huge part of it”, he says of the night, adding “I took everything I had recorded from the night and started editing it. A breath would become a Hi hat, a spoon hitting the floor added to a whip hitting a bum would become the snares, the pipes pitched would play the role of the bass subs and melody, and then I improvised and played piano on top.”

With a classically trained background, Roscius creates and builds up his sets live, the active improvisation and layering creating a sound he has coined ‘World Minimal Disco’. And like with Cage, the work is “once-only” - so it’s interesting that the producer/musician created a track that can be streamed, bought or played on repeat.

“I’ll never play this song live - and each track I create is about the moment so it’ll never happen twice. That’s the whole Roscius experience, just improv - and to answer the question, because people need formats to put things in boxes, here is one!" he said, but added “it was also all the artistic performances on the night that had a massive influence: spoken word pieces, social justice short films about garment workers and the first bearded Muslim drag performer I’d ever seen.”

John Cage was married to Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff until 1945, and from 1970 until his death he lived with his muse and male partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham. The couple collaborated throughout and Cage even encouraged Cunningham to start the “Merce Cunningham Dance Company”; Merce would go on to be noted in history as a seminal figure in modern dance.

With this eye on history and a pinch of wistful thinking, one can only hope Roscius sees a muse in his A Clodhopper compatriot for more creative endeavors and intimate cohabitation. To your trusty writer at least it seems like a good idea; after all, when else could a “shower of shit” result in a such a resplendent piece of music. But perhaps we don’t need to be lovers until the end of time, creativity has a habit of striking of its own accord - even, and sometimes especially, in the most improbable and excremental of moments. Or as my friend Keith Kahn once put it: “they say lotuses can grow from the muddiest ponds”.

Listen Free to Roscius - A Cloddhopper

Roscius: Instagram | Twitter

A Clodhopper: Instagram | Twiiter

Artwork by Joseph Steele | Instagram

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