Photo: Bryony McIntyre

Phil Minton

Century FC


22 Mar 2009  •  The Arches, Glasgow


A 100 strong Feral Choir of people who've never improvised with their voices before, conducted by improviser yodeller, composer Phil Minton. It's one of the most democratic musical experiences we've ever seen: people coming together to improvise, who as little as two weeks before would have though the very idea absurd. And it sounds great: delicate and babbling, loud and thrumming; instinctive sounds, free of baggage.

Phil Minton ran workshops / rehearsals for his Feral Choir project throughout the festival leading participants through improvisation exercises and culminating in a performance on the Sunday afternoon.


Starting out as a trumpeter in jazz groups in the late 50’s, Phil has developed into one of the most interesting experimental/ improvising vocalists in Europe, with an expansive and personal vocabulary of abstract voices and approaches. Think of an improvising musician of note: in most cases I bet they’ve played with Phil (Veryan Weston, Chris Burn, Roger Turner, John Butcher, Fred Frith, Roger Turner, Peter Brötzmann, Maggie Nicols, Julie Tippetts, Radu Malfatti, Phil Wachsmann, Derek Bailey's Company, Tony Oxley, Bob Ostertag, Tom Cora, Sabu Toyozumi, Günter Müller, ErikM, Norbert Möslang, Andy Guhl, Axel Dörner, Thomas Lehn, Mike Westbrook, Chris Burn, Lol Coxhill, John Edwards, John Russell, Burkhard Beins, Michael Renkel, AMM……..). 


What is he doing?


Phil has presented his Feral Choir project all over the world and with people in all kinds of situations: prisoner inmates, community groups, actors.  It’s a project for people who want to sing, but maybe think that they can’t.  It’s about the universal, aesthetic and expressive qualities of the voice.  Each Feral Choir project starts out with a series of workshops through which people are encouraged to experiment with and express them selves through abstract vocal sounds.  This builds into a performance, which Phil conducts, with a kind of ‘bodily score’; like a conductor of an orchestra, but with more prompts, suggestions and control.  Century FC is a Feral Choir of 100 people, drawn from across Glasgow, and Scotland and with no need for them to have ever sung in public before.


Why is it interesting?


Here’s a really nice quote from Phil that goes some way to explaining why this project is interesting socially. “My recent experience of working with singers, many of whom think they cannot sing, has strengthened my conviction that the human voice is capable of so much more than is generally understood. In the workshops I have encouraged participants to realise that anyone who can breath, is capable of producing sounds that give a positive aesthetic contribution to the human condition and many of these contributions are without any cultural influences or references.” 


It’s a really empowering, open, communicative and in some ways democratic form of music.  Much experimental music rhetoric talks of being open to anybody, free form and able to communicate personal expressiveness.  The Feral Choir openly goes out of its way to encourage this, to engender an engagement with your own creativity.  And it takes the difficult step of relinquishing a good degree of control over the artistic output.   The final performance is can only be sculpted or prodded in certain directions by Phil: maybe he has an idea of where he’d like to go, or some degree of control over how it develops, but it’s the participants who are the musicians.And then also musically; I’ve seen the feral choir as few times, it’s always different, always dynamic and always a great coming together of sounds that make for more than it’s constituent components.  It can be delicate and full of hundreds of tiny details, or it can be loud enough to beat and thrum in your ears as 100 people make the lowest note they possibly can.


Thanks to Phil Hallett who managed this project.

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