STEEP : The Intimate Space, St Mary’s Tower Hornsey
Curator: Sinister Masterplan aka Sam Enthoven
An orphaned tower juts square to the sky. Home of bells, the base restored, white roses ramble round its arch entrance. It’s an old religious site. Who knows what was on this land before St Mary’s Church of which only the once ivy-mantled tower remains as an iconic building, restored and developed by volunteers and local rectors.
Sam Enthoven has moved in with monthly music event STEEP. Steep Yourself in Sound. An ironic name for the squat cathedral. Sam’s partner Laura Sampson, herself a rising storyteller, drives in the PA each month and they generously assist an incredible roster of artists in creating unique performances that are by their nature, site specific. The arches, the great window, the steps that lead to the intense space, all the historical and architectural factors feed the musical atmosphere. The sounds devour these aspects like pack of hungry wolves and quivers evermore brilliantly with the light and stone.
The dark cube resonates for STEEP 12 as Lisa McKendrick begins on electric guitar. Her array of pedals at her feet, she crouches and turns knobs and presses switches, conjuring a swirling cloud of grey sound. McKendrick plays and moans through electric currents, twisting life out of what’s hidden inside the small boxes. What will happen, she thinks, if I turn this a little more. Can I surprise myself? If she surprises herself, she stays alive, in the moment, changing the world for herself with electronic noise. She wears the red headdress she has made herself, a symbol that is has stepped into the shamanic space in which she can communicate with and invite into the present, those ghosts, spirits, and unseen that hover over the shoulder, shut out from the conscious communication of ordinary conversational moments. McKendrick works busily. I prepare my set.
To provide contrast I eschew all electrical support for my solo singing of Dainas. For one month I have been living at the Writers and Translators House in Ventspils, learning the folk songs of the Latvia. I was drawn there by the sun goddess. The idea that the sun was a mother goddess, not a god, was seductive. I felt it might be a form of paganism with which I could emotionally connect. and off I went to explore the mythology and learn the oral tradition of the Dainas. In these songs the Latvian gods are evoked to assist with the rituals of family and peasant life. The sun songs are often connected to courting and the moment of bringing a child out into the sunshine to bless that baby with the light of the heavens. It brings goodness and health, courtesy of the blessing of the sun goddess who reaches out her hands across the river to bless couplings and births, and the work of the fields.
Lisa and I then join together for a our duo. I have brought one of my favourite instruments, the Minimoog. It is one of only a few – made by enthusiast Alex Winter, who purchased the Minimoog name and devotedly created the most incredible replicas of the hallowed machine, apparently on his kitchen table in Wales. I am lucky to have one. It has unique features, such as Midi, although I never use this, but mostly it is known for having excellent components. My brother had an original Minimoog when we were at school and I always wanted one. His wouldn’t stay in tune and he sold it. The Welsh Minimoog is more stable. Lisa stays by the leaded arched windows with her range of effects, now playing the violin rather than the guitar. We are blending, working together the pure brilliance of the Minimoog with her whale, underwater, immersive sounds. The result, in the special tower, is fiercely orchestral.
At moment I realise that the unique acoustics and size of the space mean that I can sing. I mean sing without any microphone and amplication and it will work with the Minimoog. I have never been able to do this before, not without shouting. I can use the resonance of my voice to whoop and join in with my beast of an instrument. It’s a personally uplifting moment of sound. Lisa pulls and pushes her bow across the violin and we are together as we scrabble and jump, saw and thump, press and scrape our way through audio and air, enlivening this modern evening on an ancient site.
The Tower is giving birth to a wyrd new generation of experiences. Some of the previous performers at STEEP have been Anina Hug (STEEP 10), Laura Netz (STEEP 9), Dehedder (STEEP 5), raxil4 (STEEP 4) and Greta Pistacci (STEEP 2). Greta performed her piece ‘Stillness’ for two or more theremins, accompanied by Charlie Draper, Alina Davies and Sam himself, who is a thereminist. STEEP 2 was a particularly special event as Howlround performed an exclusive new tape loop piece created for The Intimate Space. And so, new compositions are born monthly in this orphan room.
After the show, Lisa and I stand in the bright light beneath the white roses and pose for an impromptu, hilarious photoshoot, high on the adrenaline of a performance that felt good to inhabit. The shoot ends a remarkable evening on a spirit of playfulness. I feel that a night of exceptional camaraderie has taken place here, as well as sonic adventures. The restorers of the building, those who run The Intimate Space, thank you. You would be justified in feeling proud of its avant-art use for this series of events. Local people, happening to be in the gardens on a warm May night, ask what is going on. They are interested, they want to participate to be part of what seems both interesting and warm.
STEEP & Sam Enthoven – https://www.sinistermasterplan.com/