Christmas Eve special Late Junction sessions
This year has seen the start of an exciting new project for Late Junction. Inspired by the ever-intriguing juxtaposition of different musical genres and cultures in the programme - you might hear Gregorian chant nestled next to some industrial noise, or the ethereal sound of shakuhachi blending with Tuvan overtone singing - the Late Junction Sessions is an attempt to create that sense of musical serendipity in a live context.
The concept is simple: bring together two sets of musicians who have never worked together before, put them in the BBC's Maida Vale studios for a day and see what happens. And what has so far happened has been a fascinating blend of musics and cultures, the creation of some truly interesting musical hybrids and for many of the musicians a dynamic and liberating day of music making.
The series kicked off in February 2009 with the collaboration of Touareg desert bluesmen Tinariwen and English folk experimentalists Tunng. They had never met, didn't speak the same language even, but created a sound that was at once familiar and unsettling, as flavours from both bands mingled to create something fresh. The bands got on so well that day that they ended up taking their collaboration on tour around the UK. Electronic composer Mira Calix and songwriter Malcolm Middleton came away from their session in August with not only a set of haunting and at time disturbing ballads, but talk of recording a whole album together. The day had shown them both new ways of working, and inspired them to carry on that process.
What has struck me about the sessions has been the incredible way that musicians work when faced with a blank sheet of paper, and a limited time frame. They have all worked differently, but responded to the challenges inherent in the format by trying something new. In the next session, to be broadcast at midnight on Christmas Eve we asked a storyteller, folk singer and experimental percussionist to create a winter tale, from fragments of songs, stories and sounds. Assembling at Maida Vale as winter set in outside, percussionist Dave Price and singer Mary Hampton assembled an almightly battery of instruments and noise makers with which to underpin a new story from story teller Debs Newbold. Tubular bells, tam-tam, kit drums, timpani, vibraphone, celeste, temple bowls, a prepared grand piano, a fiddle, guitars, toast racks and metronomes can all be heard in the session, and that's before anyone starts singing.
In one day, aided only by BBC coffee and a recording of the Arctic wind from the depths of the BBC sound effects archive, these three musicians recorded an entirely acoustic, but highly evocative winter sound world, frantically running between instruments and microphones, to create a radio piece that is part sound-scape and part folk ballad. It will be available to listen again and as a podcast once it's been broadcast, but I'm looking forward to sitting in front of the fire as the clock chimes in Christmas day, and losing myself in their 'Midwinter Tale'.