The Brilliant and the Dark

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The Brilliant and the Dark interrogates proprietary rights that reside within archive material and tests the portability of open source methodologies to wider creative contexts – imagining the archive as source material and reenacting and remixing this source through collective female voice. At its centre is the idea of the freeing the artist/author from the conditions of the market by using the viral logic of copyleft to allow open collaboration with others and embracing this process to generate unknown, unpredictable outcomes and potentials.

The Brilliant and the Dark takes as a starting point a cantata for women’s voices, of the same name, composed by Malcolm Williamson and Ursula Vaughan Williams, and first performed by 1,000 women volunteers at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969.

Through negotiation with copyright owners, music publishers Josef Weinberger, artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White secured permissions for the elements of the original 1969 score to be used as a basis for a new work. An invitation to 22 piece women's choir Gaggle to participate in the new copyleft work that explored remix and reenactment through pre-recorded and live performance, resulted in the composition of a new work for women's voices – taking lyrics, melodic phrases and rhythms from the original and paralleling the operatic format.

The artists also created a new film, which mimics the methodology of the music video as a site of pre-recorded playback and live lip synch, and appropriates the tactics of the promotional music video. The film re-animates the 1969 performance by re-staging moments documented in photographs of the event held in the Women's Library collection - from backstage preparations to choreographed movements from the live performance. The performers are seen in new costumes referencing the originals and amidst remade props. The archive reenactment takes place in The Women's Library, the space which functions to protect the material that informed the resulting work and provides the location for the video shoot.

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VBKO, Vienna

The work is re-configured at VBKÖ, with archive elements offered for takeaway, alongside the artists' film (2010) and a video of a live performance of the full-length work by women’s choir Gaggle at ICA London (2012). Display boards offer a storyboard assembled from archive images of the 1969 performance and have been painted in colours to mirror elements of Open Hearing by artist Marysia Lewandowska, a project activating the legal battles of women at Greenham Common and alongside which The Brilliant and the Dark originally appeared at the Women’s Library in 2010.


<videoflash type="vimeo" class="video800">11923601</videoflash>

Download at Vimeo

Audio Downloads

The Brilliant and the Dark - Live at ICA (MP3)

The Brilliant and the Dark - samples for remix (MP3)

The Brilliant and the Dark - Vinyl

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We worked with Transgressive Records to release a live recording of the ICA performance on vinyl. The recording is released under creative commons attribution sharealike 3.0 - generating a new resource available for future use and features a B side of copyleft licensed samples and stripped down elements for remix.

The vinyl is available from Transgressive Records