THE LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE
'The Little Christmas Tree' is based on the tale by Hans Christian Anderson. I wrote it during the time of my life that I spent a lot of time in Copenhagen as a singer. I was fascinated by the way of story telling of the Danish people from the ancient Scandinavian sagas, and via Hans Christian Anderson and Karen Blixen to Lars Von Trier and Peter Asmussen. These writers could never ever quite bring themselves to write a happy
ending. There is always a melancholy to what they write and yet the stories once you have put yourself through them have a curiously redemptive quality to them. I read Hans Christian Anderson tales and 'The Little Christmas Tree', really resonated with me so much I wanted to make a piece based on it.
I have always actually loved the time mid January to February. Nothing happens, it's a real low point in the year but you can feel the earth about to explode and if you look closely at the trees you can see tiny green leaf buds. This is in contrast to the live Christmas trees that people dump on the pavement. Once beautifully decorated and the centre piece of Christmas celebrations they are unceremoniously discarded. In 2005/6 when the piece was written also people were chucking out TV sets, flat screens were becoming cheaper and more available and it was the era where online media such as Netflix, YouTube and streaming were becoming ubiquitous. The old cathode ray tv sets were suffering a similar fate to the old Christmas trees, being tossed out onto the pavement to be picked up by scavengers like me. I saw a parallel between the fates of these two objects and the attitude to them.
I realised 'The Little Christmas Tree' as with many of my projects with no funding and was helped by my father who was an engineer. He was the type of person who on entering a room would make the technology purr. Growing up we rarely bought anything new. All the electronics in the house were beautifully engineered 'heath robinson-esque' contraptions with their own idiosyncratic way of working. He also had started his civilian career after the army working for radio rentals repairing TV sets and helped me with the design of the TV tree. I acquired the TVs by walking through the streets of London and picking up old machines that people had discarded or buying them up for pennies on eBay and at car boot sales. The TVs now languish in storage awaiting their next performance. It is one of the first things I wrote not for my own voice but for that of my great friend, mezzo and actress Lucy Stevens.
In my version of "The Little Christmas Tree' a giant Christmas tree was constructed out of old cathode ray TVs. On the screens a story was told in extended vocals and film about the end of a relationship maybe a marriage breaking down, people discarding each other like old socks and the casual cruelty inherent in that situation. This 'end-of-love story was interspersed with brash happy Christmas ads for new stuff, saccharine sugary Christmas songs and children's cartoons. As the story played itself out the TVs slowly fade until the whole TV tree was finally in total darkness.
At first glance the TV tree might look like a very late rip off of Nam June Paik, but my reason for using cathode ray TVs could not be more different. Paik used them in the 60s for their cutting edge technological aspect, at that time of course cathode ray TVs were the height of new tech. In the Little Christmas Tree they are used precisely for the opposite reason, that they represent ancient technology to be discarded ( or treasured), at the time this piece was made, people could not get rid of them fast enough.
'The Little Christmas Tree' was premiered as part of the B.A.C Scratch Night series.