Thursday, 26 September 2013

Melanie Wilson - Landscape II

Sound is working against Melanie Wilson. On the eve of the first 
showing in Dublin of Landscape II, the wilfully singular writer and 
performer's latest solo show, which tours to Tramway in Glasgow for one 
night only next week, Wilson is wandering an echoey corridor looking 
for a place where she can be heard. Given how key sound has become to 
Wilson's work ever since she brought her first solo piece, Simple Girl, 
to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe back in 2007, such attention to detail 
is all too fitting.

Wilson, after all, operates her own soundscapes using a console 
situated on a desk in front of her as she performs her work, lending a 
mysteriously hypnotic depth to her stories. Following Simple Girl and 
2009's Iris Brunette, as well as a larger work, Autobiographer in 2012, 
Landscape II is Wilson's most ambitious work to date, and incorporates 
a panoramic film and video backdrop into her increasingly multi-media 
mix. As applied to a story of three women separated by a hundred years 
that move between Afghanistan and the Devon hills, Wilson's 
ever-expansive palette should make for a tantalising experience.

“I was interested in womens' experiences,” says Wilson, having at last 
found somewhere acoustically compatible to conversation, “and how 
things are passed down from generation to generation, not just through 
our own families, but by other women in other places. Then I started to 
think about different types of isolation and solitude, first of all 
 from walking the hills in North Devon, then about women in Afghanistan, 
and how in some ways they're cut off from each other by wearing the 
burka, and how they live in their own world. That's a very different 
experience to our, and we'll never know that sense of isolation, but I 
also wanted  to look at solitude as a good thing, and how being alone 
and separate from the world can be quite empowering.”

Given her predilection for solo work, such parallels with Wilson's own 
experience are plain to see. It's ironic, then, that her work is 
becoming increasingly collaborative. While she has been looked after by 
maverick producers Fuel for some time now, for Landscapes II, Wilson 
has been working closely with film-maker Will Duke.

“The way sound operates in my work is very location-based,” Wilson 
says, “and I've thought about using images for a while, but not just 
for the sake of it, which could ruin the purity of the sound and 
theatre. Because this piece is very location-based, it felt like a good 
place to start working with images in quite an expansive way.”

An even bigger change for Wilson over the last couple of years has been 
the development of her sound design work. While her work on 
Autobiographer won her the Best Sound Design Award in the 2012 Off West 
End Awards, Wilson has collaborated with theatre director Katie 
Mitchell on two major large-scale productions. The first saw Wilson 
work alongside fellow sound designer Gareth Fry on an adaptation of 
Austrian writer Friederike Mayrocker's novel, Night Train in Cologne, 
while the second, produced earlier this year, was a version of 
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novella, The Yellow Wallpaper.

“These are by far the most radical things that have happened to me over 
the last couple of years,” Wilson says. “It was a huge jump up for me, 
because technically these shows are on a massive scale, and working on 
them has really helped me develop as a sound artist. The really 
admirable thing about Katie is that she's really interested in artists. 
When we met, she didn't know a thing about me, but we hit it off, and 
she's really interested in what you think about things. She gives you a 
lot of freedom and really lets you loose, but she's also really 
rigorous sand demands a lot, so it was great to flex that muscle in 
that way.

“I'm not a normal sound designer. The feelings and sensations of how 
sound can tell a story are a passion for me, so to go into those two 
shows was really terrifying for me at first, but I think I blossomed. 
It was really affirming, and gave me a lot of confidence.”

So much so, it seems, that, as well as possible future collaborations 
with Mitchell, Wilson has big plans of her own.

“My big new project for next year is an opera,” she says. “I've thought 
about it a lot, and I spoke to Katie about it, and after working with 
her I think I now have the confidence to work on that large-scale.”

Those intrigued by such a prospect perhaps shouldn't hold their breath, 
however.

“I'm so much at the beginning of it,” says Wilson. “It's the beginning 
of a very long journey.”

Landscape II, Tramway, Glasgow, September 25th.
www.tramway.org

The Herald, September 25th 2013

ends

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