BIRDSONG

Stories from Pripyat

Dir. Clara Casian, with live score by Robin Richards

An amusement park in the city of Pripyat was due to be opened on the 1st May 1986, but the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred just a few miles away on April 26th. The park’s owners opened the park for a couple of hours the following day for the people of Pripyat before the city was evacuated. Eerie images of the deserted Pripyat Amusement Park now permeate the visual representation of the city’s desolation.

Combining the immediacy and energy of live musical performance with the visual impact of film, this project aims to revisit a dramatic and devastating historical event using personal and scientific narratives to draw out the tensions and truths at play in our collective, cultural memories of this unfathomable event.

This cross-artform project brings together original contemporary classical composition with film to explore an historic event through storytelling, montage and archival footage, culminating in a series of live performances across Greater Manchester and Kiev, Ukraine. The narrative arc of the 40-minute film follows the journey of people with first-hand experience of the disaster, as personal records and testimonies are interwoven with original material.

Music enters into a continuous dialogue with film as part of a nuanced artistic process, designed to evoke the experiences of people from Pripyat and their recollections of the evacuation and the cleaning process following the disaster on April 26th 1986.

Robin Richards’ forty-minute piece in several movements is to be based on first hand testimonies of evacuees and liquidators from Ukraine and Belarus, while Clara Casian’s filmmaking process is underpinned by nuclear research, and incorporates found and archival footage with original material filmed on location in Ukraine. The pair made a four-day research trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in May 2016 to meet with local artists, filmmakers and historians, collect original footage and archival material.

Richards says “Since hearing about the trips young evacuees from Pripyat and neighbouring towns made to my hometown Stockport as part of charity programmes over the last 25 years, and reading personal accounts of those affected by the catastrophic nuclear disaster I have wanted to create an art piece depicting the stories, whilst also addressing environmental and scientific dimensions.

I am fascinated by the gestural vocabulary of film and its relationship to the formal properties of musical composition. I want to push beyond the notion that music should always be in service to visual narrative, and explore the possibilities of music’s power to create and transform meaning.”

The resulting piece, comprising a forty-minute original film and live score with chamber ensemble will be performed at related venues in North West England in late 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the disaster. The piece will premiere as the highlight of HOME’s Artist Film Weekender, followed by a second performance in Stockport’s historic art deco cinema The Plaza and student masterclass at the University of Salford. Each of these performances will be accompanied by a different companion piece, with the Plaza screening featuring a special appearance by singer songwriter Josephine Oniyama. A screening of the film with recorded score is programmed as part of an exhibition in Kiev in late October 2016.

This project is supported by the Arts Council, HOME, and the University of Salford.