In 2018, South African musician, composer and researcher Cara Stacey was an artist in residence at the Musikerwohnhaus in Basel, Switzerland. During this time, she recorded a live quartet concert of freely improvised music and a performance of a graphic score which she had created. The performers included in this concert and recording were Swiss guitarist and composer Beat Keller, German harpist Antonia Ravens, and South African violinist and composer Galina Juritz. The residency period created the basis for an album (Like the Grass, Kit Records, 2020) but also started a reflective process in Cara’s work relating to what the terms ‘composition’ and ‘new music’ designate in today’s world and in contemporary southern Africa in particular.
While the pandemic interrupted plans for a southern African tour for the project, the four composer-improviser-musicians conceptualised the Like the Grass Atelier, a collaborative online ‘open studio’ where they could continue their collaboration and share their process with others. Their activities centre around the creation of four short video pieces with newly-created music from the Like the Grass quartet. Each piece is inspired by one of the cities where the musicians are currently living and are unable to leave: Basel, Winterthur, Johannesburg and Cape Town. The pieces were created using a different mix of improvisatory and compositional approaches, each headed by one member of the creative group. Alongside this the quartet have also produce video talks about their process and other musicians and recordings of interest to them as composers/improvisers/creators, along with guest composers Neo Muyanga and Lukas Huber.
Cara explains: “The aim of all of these activities is to create new music together as a group of diverse improviser-composers. It is also to create discussion around the multiple terms (and subsequent boundaries) around different modes of new music-making visible in Europe and in southern Africa. While we are not able to play concerts and facilitate musical creativity workshops as we had hoped to due to Covid-19, we believe this new format is an innovative way to further our conversations and collaborations between South Africa and Switzerland.”
Each week (for four weeks in May and June 2021), a new piece of music and accompanying film were released via YouTube and Instagram continuing their exploration of place, musical process, chance and structure.
‘Part One: Process (with a tip of the hat to Brian Eno)’ explores the interior world of making: How do ideas germinate? How do we make decisions about sound? How do these sounds find a home in broader structures? For improvisers and composers, the process of collaboration is often unpredictable, humorous and vulnerable, as we step together into the unknown. Video by Galina Juritz
‘Part Two: Contrast’ explores boundaries and contrast in music-making through timbre, structure, and style. The visual response to this musical piece is a ‘postcard’ drawing on different scenes and places from across South Africa. Video by Cara Stacey
‘Part Three: Meeting’ is a window into how we have collectively improvised across continents. Over zoom, we toss ideas around, respond, ignore and make way for each other. Sometimes it is a game and sometimes a conversation, and invariably where it ends is far from where it started.
‘Part four: Wandering’ explores the parameters of sound and sight when left to roam. Free improvisation can be a place to examine borders and constraint, a vehicle for the wandering subject to contemplate the line between concrete and sky, emptiness, and the places we can and cannot go. The footage used in this piece is drawn from the Swiss Alps and the border region between Germany and Switzerland. Video by Antonia Ravens and George Speckert
Galina Juritz is a composer, producer, violinist and more recently filmmaker, working between London and South Africa. Since studying violin performance at the University of Cape Town under Prof. Farida Bacharova in 2007, she has been working as a writer and performer of music across diverse genres, in collaboration with multiple disciplines. Her composing credits include short films, commercials, dance pieces, scored works for ensembles, animations, audiovisual compositions and extensive studio work. She recently completed an MMus in Creative Practice at Goldsmiths University, graduating with a musical film called Dionysus Dies, an autoethnographic work exploring themes of tension in the anthropocene, non-linear narrative building and the storytelling capacities of post-digital aesthetics. She finds inspiration in both humans and machines, the majority of her work blending synthetic electronic textures with live instruments and voices.
In 2017 her first cantata ‘Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair’ with a libretto by psychiatrist Dr Sean Baumann, had a two week run at the Baxter theatre, and went on to form part of the MOOC Humanising Healthcare online course. Galina is a founding member of the Night Light Collective, a flexible configuration of players of diverse instruments who focus their energy on the composition and promotion of new South African works, and innovative collaborations. Her recent releases include an EP ‘NX14’ (NX Records, 2019), ‘Like The Grass’ – Stacey Juritz Ravens Keller and Triple Bluff – Hesitation (Kit Records, 2020). In recent years, Galina has turned her attention to ethnographic film making and will be starting a PhD at Goldsmiths University of London, exploring methodologies in participant-composed soundtracks within documentary storytelling.
Beat Keller is an electric guitarist, guitarist and composer based in Winterthur, Switzerland and in Berlin. He is amongst the important Swiss musicians in the field of experimental and improvised music. Through the exploration of extended playing techniques, guitar tunings and the use of an electric feedbacker guitar, he has developed a unique musical language. Beat has played together with many major exponents of the Swiss and international scenes and performs regularly around the world at festivals and renowned concert venues. Concert tours have taken him several times across the whole of Europe, to the USA, Asia and southern Africa. As a composer, Beat has, so far, mainly achieved recognition with Keller’s 10, the Haiku String Trio and the NDR Big Band. The CD releases by Keller’s 10 (“Keller’s 10” in 2008 and “TWO” in 2013) as well as by the Haiku String Trio (2016) were enthusiastically received by international press and critically acclaimed as excellent (among others in Concerto, Jazz‘n’more and Cadence Magazine). Keller’s 10’s debut album won “Best Debut Release 2008 (worldwide)” awarded by the American magazine All About Jazz.
Beat Keller is currently a member of the groups Cao-Keller-Siedl (VN, CH, AT), Ed Wouldn’t (D), Joke Lanz & Beat Keller (CH/D), RKM Roth-Keller-Meier (CH), Cara Stacey’s Like The Grass (SA), Weiss-Keller-Domeniconi (CH), Tilo Weber’s Animate Repose (DE), Keller’s 10, Gunfire Orchestra (SA, NO, CH) as well as Jason Kahn // Beat Keller (US, CH).
Antonia Ravens, born in Hannover, Germany, is a harpist and music teacher residing in Basel, Switzerland. She studied with Prof. Renie Yamahata at Music University Trossingen and Improvisation with Alfred Zimmerlin and Fred Frith in Musicacademy Basel. She has a duo with the guitar player Giancarlo Nicolai playing compositions of the saxophone player John Tchicai. She is part of the Unorthodox Jukebox Ensemble, a large ensemble experimenting with concept compositions and improvisation. Antonia is also the co-founder of a concert series for improvised music, called Double Decker.
Cara Stacey is a South African musician, composer and musicologist. She is a pianist and plays southern African musical bows (umrhubhe, uhadi, makhweyane). She holds a doctorate in African music, specifically looking at the makhweyane musical bow from eSwatini (University of Cape Town/SOAS). During her PhD, she was an NRF Freestanding Doctoral scholar, a Commonwealth Split-Site scholar, and the recipient of funding from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the University of Cape Town. Cara studied various African instruments (makhweyane, mbira, uhadi, umrhubhe and budongo) with Dizu Plaatjies, Khokhiwe Mphila, Bhemani Magagula, Tinashe Chidanyika, Modou Diouf, and Andrew Cooke.
Beyond her solo performance work, Cara collaborates with visual artist Mzwandile Buthelezi and jazz guitarist Keenan Ahrends in a project titled ‘The Texture of Silence’. In 2020, she founded the ARUM group with numerous prominent southern African musicians across genres. She works with percussionist and drummer Sarathy Korwar in the project Pergola and is a member of the Night Light Collective, and Gold Fox. Her debut album ‘Things that grow’ features Shabaka Hutchings, Seb Rochford, Ruth Goller, and Crewdson (released in September 2015, Kit Records). Her album, ‘Ceder’, is of her duo project with Peruvian flutist and composer Camilo Ángeles (2018) and her collaborative album ‘Like the Grass’ (with Galina Juritz, Beat Keller and Antonia Ravens) was released by Kit Records in July 2020. Cara has performed across southern Africa, in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Peru, the USA and Switzerland with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, Sarathy Korwar, Dan Leavers, Galina Juritz, Natalie Mason, Beat Keller, Matchume Zango, Jason Singh and Juliana Venter.
Cara is the founder of the Betwixt concert series with cellist Nicola du Toit. She sits on the executive committee for the South African Society for Research in Music and is the International Council for Traditional Music country liaison office for the kingdom of eSwatini. Cara is currently a Senior Lecturer in African Music at North-West University (South Africa).