Paradise Lost is the second collaboration between Vessel, the composer and electronic musician Sebastian Gainsborough, and Rakhi Singh, music director of classical innovators the Manchester Collective.
When we speak, a few weeks before its premiere at Leeds Town Hall, Gainsborough admits the work is unfinished. “It’s very much coming together piece by piece at the moment,” he says. “But the basic idea is it’s a piece for strings and voices and electronics and it’s going to be based around elements of [John Milton’s epic poem] Paradise Lost, and in particular characters from Paradise Lost – Satan and Eve – so they’re like the imaginative driving force for me writing the piece.
“It will musically be quite elastic, I think. Springing around from baroque music, early music to pop to almost playful, abstract contemporary forms. It’ll be a hotchpotch, I think, but a good one.”
Gainsborough, who first became known for his work with Bristol’s Young Echo collective and most recently released the album Queen of Golden Dogs, has been re-reading Milton’s work during his research.
“I’ve also been reading around it,” he says, “analyses, criticism from other writers, it’s been in the English literature canon for hundreds of years so people have had a lot to say about it and all the different elements, from the language to the perceived misogyny or not, to whether it’s a feminist text or not, to what Satan represents. There’s a huge wealth of information out there to get stuck into and find inspiration from, and it’s endlessly fascinating for me, not just because I love the language but because of the worlds it creates.”
Gainsborough and Singh previously collaborated on Written in Fire, which they premiered in Leeds last year. “Rakhi and I have known each other for coming up to five years now. She was really the first person to show me a lot of classical music. She was living in London and I was actually visiting her at the time and her housemate was actually playing the Janacek string quartet with her quartet. I heard it as I was going up the stairs and was absolutely fascinated by it and from that point onwards I was obsessed with it and it became the piece that we decided we would collaborate around, that we would build a new piece in response to, because we both loved it.”
He’s a longstanding admirer of the work of the Manchester Collective. “I’ve been around on the periphery since the beginning. I’ve seen them grow and develop and change and it’s amazing. I think what they’re doing is really important.
“For me as a layman when it comes to classical music, and for lots of other people, I think, who don’t necessarily know their way around that world, what they do is make it easy for people to love the music. They strip away the wall, I think, that can often be there for potential listeners to classical music, which is really important and generous and exciting.”
In recent years Gainsborough says he has listened to little electronic music, preferring instead to delve into the classical canon. “I think if you live through your art very intensely then your interest can begin to wane over time, and at that point I had been involved in electronic music for 12, 13, 14 years, amongst other music, of course, but it had been my world, so to speak. So when I started to listen to more and more classical music and specific composers it was a great relief, actually. Finally there was music that reflected the kinds of stories and journeys and colours and textures that I wished to communicate myself. It was happenstance, really, but a very happy accident.”
Paradise Lost furthers Gainsborough’s interest in juxtaposition, and combining musical worlds. “I think everything I’m writing now is like that. It’s not self-conscious in the sense that ‘oh I’ve got 70 per cent classical and now there’s 20 per cent electronic’. It’s more that I feel a voice developing and it happens to be referencing several different forms.
It will musically be quite elastic, I think. Springing around from baroque music, early music to pop to almost playful, abstract contemporary forms. It’ll be a hotchpotch, but a good one.Sebastian Gainsborough, AKA Vessel
“I don’t necessarily feel I have a solid home in any one of those forms, but it feels like they all have a place in my voice, so to speak.”
Manchester Collective and Vessel present Paradise Lost at Leeds Town Hall on Friday June 14 at 8pm.