John Tilbury in conversation with Catherine Laws
John Tilbury in conversation with Catherine Laws, followed by a performance of Tilbury’s 2011 realisation of Beckett’s Worstward Ho (1983) for recorded voice, piano and electronics.
John Tilbury: voice and piano
Recordings: Aleks Kolkowski
Additional Sound: Sebastian Lexer
Sound Design: Aleks Kolkowski, Lynette Quek
Pianist John Tilbury has had a long, distinguished international career as a performer of new music, especially Experimental music (as one of the foremost interpreteters of the music of Morton Feldman, having worked closely with the composer), and as an improviser, including with British free group AMM. He was also a key member of Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra in the 1970s, and in 2008 published a monumental biography of Cardew. But John is also an actor with a particular love of the work of Samuel Beckett. Over a considerable period he has developed performance versions of some of Beckett texts, including the radio plays Cascando and Rough for Radio 1, including his own recorded voice alongside piano music. In 2011 he developed a version of Beckett’s extraordinary, fragmented prose text Worstward Ho (1983), with the recorded text, spoken by Tilbury, fed through the piano, which Tibury then plays. The piano becomes a resonator, the voice provoking specific frequecies from its body, and Tilbury’s composition then weaves additional piano sounds around this, producing, from Tilbury’s analysis of the prose, an additional layer that intersects with the patterns and resonances of the already doconstructed text. Worstward Ho includes some of the most often quoted of Beckett’s lines: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’; Tilbury writes, ‘The music is not a “setting” of the words; it simply runs concurrently. It is a (musician/pianist’s) response to Beckett’s work rather than an interpretation. It has no authenticity. It is flawed; in relation to Beckett’s work it expresses my ignorance and misunderstanding, my inadequacy, and my respect. And my commitment. It is the result of much mental and physical labour over several years.’ In conversation with Catherine Laws, Tilbury will discuss the response to Beckett and the questions that arise in producing a musical version of this text. He will then perform the piece.