Wallis Bird – Visions of Venus


Posted 1 month ago in Music Features

Wallis Bird has collaborated with the modern classical Berlin band, Spark! on ‘Visions of Venus’, an 18 song collection interpreting female composers over the last millennium. Drawing from sources as disparate as Joni Mitchell and Maria Theresia Von Paradis, the album as is breathlessly modern take on some of the most influential women in the history of music, and a beautiful collection of music to boot.

 

The project is incredible, and obviously sounds fantastic, but the scope of the work is massive. How did you go about starting such an undertaking?

Well, I think the project is one of the more meaningful things I’ve ever done. Spark! are a classical band based in Germany, and they tour as hard as any rock band. They contacted me shortly after our unique introduction, and told me about this project they were working on around one thousand years of female composers. They had chosen composers from a wide range of countries, and we’re still working on interpreting more pieces.

 

What kind of themes are you looking for when you unearth these often unsung composers?

It’s been an incredibly informative project, as you study the piece written by the composer you also find a lot about their life and it seems there’s a couple of red lines running through it. Women having to push for their work to be heard because it was social suicide to perform a piece written by a woman, or in some cases it was illegal to release your music as a woman. Or they may have had work stolen by partners, or peers. That was an especially common theme.

 

It seems so archaic to consider now.

It’s about defiance by simply existing. So for us, the point of choosing to do this project is to show without telling, to get into the female psyche, to say “this is how important these pieces are.” You can see how much contemporaries had stolen from these women. Some of them are incredibly original, preceding certain styles, music languages, or instrumentations. For example, Clara Schumann. She was a superstar and quite a lot of her work would have been plagiarized by her male counterparts, simply because she was such a visionary.

 

Did you find any commonalities between composers from different eras?

Common threads we discovered were often healing and spirituality through music, as well as defiance and challenge. One example would have been Hildegard von Bingen, she had to write to the pope to release music. She’s a bit like St. Brigid, she was a nun, and also incredibly in tune with herbal medicine. She was responsible for collecting and categorizing herbs and their medicinal properties for a thousand years, and so would be responsible for a lot of what’s written about how herbal medicine came into westernized medicine.

 

And you’ve also worked on songs from contemporary visionaries, like Kate Bush and Björk.

All the way up to Björk, who I am convinced is an alien. An absolute boss. I’m so glad that I’ve grown up having her as somebody to look up to. Somebody who really pushes the boundaries of what it means to make music and what it means to planet earth.

 

Will we be looking forward to seeing it over on these shores soon enough? What are the plans for the project going forward?

 

We’re hoping to take it to Ireland next summer. I’d like to take it to colleges, to be honest. I’d like the subject to be studied, it really is loaded with information. And even in my existence, music has moved away from capitalism and is slowly becoming more healing again. I have a feeling I’ll be working on this project for the rest of my life. It’s not just us working on it. We’d love to share it. We’d love to have it syndicated and have people working on it in their localities.

 

It’s a unique concept with a unique concept behind it.

I was thankfully joined into Sparks’ idea, and I’ve become really attached to it. They’re mad visionaries, with unusual instrumentation, things like Ancient Block Flutes. Occasionally you’ll get a flitter of the classical side of the instrument, but they’re such niche instruments and they’re very clever about it. You really understand why a pipe is one of the oldest instruments of all time, and the way they use it is so interesting.

Words: Adhamh Ó Caoimh

Images: Gregor Hohenberg

Visions Of Venus is out now on all streaming platforms and through Edel/Neue Meister Recordings.

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