Daniel & Matthew Pencer on creating the soundtrack to Mies Julie

During the winter of 2010, the director of the upcoming Mies Julie, Yael Farber, began frequenting Le Depanneur Cafe in Montreal where two brothers, Daniel and Matthew Pencer, were performing a weekly 2-hour musical improvisation. Their idea was to “accompany the space, giving less of a performance, more of ‘existing in the room’. This musical concept resonated particularly well with Farber and the style of theatre she creates, and when she suggested a collaboration on her forthcoming production ofKadmos, a strong creative partnership was born.

The partnership was so successful that Farber invited the Pencer brothers to Cape Town in order to develop a musical soundscape for the forthcoming production of Mies Julie, now in development at the Baxter.

Matthew Pencer was originally a drummer, until he began doing sound design on computers, for radio and mixing. He explains that “At one point I began incorporating drum machines into my setup, basically a programmable synthesizer. The more I played, the more I got interested in programming and began experimenting with my computer as an instrument. Eventually I became obsessed with the potential of using various technologies for music.”

Younger brother Daniel Pencer has been studying the clarinet and sax for 17 years. He has “a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz performance at the University of Toronto where I studied music ranging from Balinese Gamelan to classical clarinet to West African drumming. After all that, I continued my studies in India, learning North Indian classical music on the Clarionette and Bansuri.”

Creating music for a new theatrical work brings its own challenges. Due to the fact that the work is always changing and morphing, ‘the sonic accompaniment’ needs to keep up. “The music we create is largely improvised at first and our challenge is to recreate what Miss Farber thinks is appropriate for her vision,” says Matthew. “It takes a lot of patience and a keen understanding of how each scene is transitioning into the next. Being aware of the character’s moods and emotional narrative is integral to our process of creating sound accompaniment.”

The musical team is enhanced by the presence of Mama NoFirst, a Xhosa throat-singer from the Eastern Cape who performs as part of the Ngoqoko Cultural Group. The Smithsonian Folkways site explains that “Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music.In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics.”

Watch this video as an example:

How do the Pencers feel about working with South African artists? “It’s been a real pleasure meeting such wonderfully warm people! The knowledge that Mama Nofirst has shared with us so far is invaluable and what an incredible musical force! The cast has been welcoming and encouraging. It’s an honour to work with such talented artists in such an intense theatre process. What can you say about Miss Farber? She takes no prisoners and her unrelenting work ethic is an inspiration. Her encouragement and straight up directing style allows us to work efficiently and as a team to propel all of our hard work into the devastating beauty that she is envisioning.”

Finally, they were asked what the soundtrack to Mies Julie would be like….”imagine Morton Feldman meets Yamataka Eye meets Mama Nofirst”, and if that means nothing to you, then you’ll just have to come and see the show!

You can listen a snippet of the Pencer’s previous experimental improvised work here: http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F24086639&show_artwork=true

Mies Julie runs at the Grahamstown Festival from the 2nd to the 4th of July. (Book online here). It runs at the Baxter from 11 July to 26 July. (Book online here). The run continues at the Edinburgh Festival, followed by the Pretoria State Theatre.