Curated by Simon Wright
Northampton Complaints Choir (Open Song) was a temporary choral society that emerged from a series of workshops and social events over the space of three weekends between April and July 2023 in Northampton: 22-23 April, 20-21 May, and 1- 2 July.
The project was commissioned as part of Sensing Place, an initiative by NN Contemporary Art that asks: what does it take to create more just and equal environments? How can we collaboratively inhabit places and foster a sense of belonging in our communities? The choir offers an opportunity to meet new people, experiment and take part in collective music making and performance.
Why a choir?
In a choir, different voices make one voice-body. A choir creates a space for different voices to sound together, with and through each other, in unison or contrary motion.
A choir can chant, it can sound like one. It can sound like many at the same time. It can lament, protest, or hum and conjure harmonies. It can hold joy and rage. But it always speaks as one body. A choir is a social voice, a coming together. That makes it powerful, and beautiful, and dangerous, and hard to get hold of, and mesmerising.
This choir complains!
To complain means to decry, to weep together. To complain is to say how we think things should be and to say what we hope for. In the context of art, there is a tradition of choirs that complain. The first Complaints Choir was formed in Birmingham in 2005 by two artists, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen. More Complaints Choirs followed in Helsinki, Hamburg and St Petersburg in 2006. Since then, there have been Complaints Choirs in numerous different countries and cities. The term is a literal translation from the Finnish ‘valituskuoro’. But the idea of using a chorus to produce political, social or cultural commentary is ancient. It sits somewhere between the chorus in Greek tragedy or Noh theatre, protest songs and chants, and the singular voice of a football crowd.
Musarc is one of the UK’s foremost experimental choral assemblies. It was founded in 2008 at what is today the School of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University. The choir has distinct reputation for its interdisciplinary and research-led approach to music and performance, and the space it affords artists and singers to experiment with new ideas. Since its inception, the choir has collaborated with more than one hundred artists and composers, including Jennifer Walshe, Lin Chiwei, Laure Provost, Ed Atkins, Jenny Moore, Lina Lapelytė, Sam Belinfante, Fritz Hauser, Neil Luck and many others; and numerous festivals and arts organisations in the UK and abroad – including the BBC Proms, London Contemporary Music Festival, Post Disaster Rooftops EP03 (Taranto, Italy), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), the Royal Academy, CCA Goldsmiths, Extra City (Antwerp), Serpentine Gallery, MK Gallery, Wysing Polyphonic, STUK (Leuwen) Cafe OTO, and Whitechapel Gallery.