An Open Ear: Elizabeth Alker

The Demented Goddess: Sometimes it takes more than one listen to understand a new voice, or tone. Is there an artist, composer or band whom you particularly didn’t get, or didn’t feel you would get and grew to understand and love?

I always try to approach everything I’m about to hear with an open ear. I’ve been working in the music industry for 18 years and, at the beginning of my career, I’d be trying to tip the ‘next best thing’ or look for trends in music I believed would fly and resonate with audiences, and I would get it wrong. Often because I was listening and exploring with preconceived ideas. So, I try to appreciate all sides from which an artist is coming, and I try not to be too snobby about music. I ask things like, how unique is their story? How can I hear that in their sound? How are they experimenting with sound? How fresh does their music feel? How genuine is their sentiment?

DG: I don’t like it when playlists are suggested for me by streaming services, but actually, there have been times when certain artists have been more meaningful, or when an artist I love has felt unbearable. I found it impossible, for example, to listen to most rock music when pregnant, especially Prince, who is one of my greatest idols and influences. Are there certain voices or sounds which have made more or less sense at different times in your life?

Oh sure! Especially if music helps you articulate how you’re feeling at any one given time. Or if it helps you make sense of and deal with an experience. Certain artists become completely tied up with what you were going through at those specific moments in your life and are utterly and viscerally triggering of the memories and feelings you were having. Sometimes this is lovely and sometimes it’s completely unbearable.

I honestly have that response to so many artists – maybe Bob Dylan because his music has soundtracked my entire life (my dad was a huge fan) and his lyrics for me are the most life affirming – there’s a line for pretty much every aspect of life. I approach some of his albums with caution.
My go-to for calm I think is Nala Sinephro – she grew up in Martinique and Belgium and says that the birds in those places became her teachers – she lives in London now and knits all those natural sounds and influences together with a much more metropolitan jazz vibe that is just really smart and “classy “ – I think that’s good word for it.

DG: Who are your favourite artists, composers or songwriters for whom English is not their first language, and why?

This is tough because thousands of composers through the years have written choral music in their native tongue. I think I’ll say Krzysztof Penderecki because I’ve just been researching and immersing myself in his music. His story is so interesting – 20th century Polish composer who found a new and very striking sonic language to express his experiences of living in Poland through the most difficult political times, from WW2 to more recent years. He’s been a huge influence on Radiohead (Jonny Greenwood), and other rock musicians such as The Manic Street Preachers and Led Zeppelin.

“Penderecki built an arboretum at his country residence in Luslawice and he would go there to speak to God.”

Penderecki’s music also features in the film The Shining. There is such a deep and heart-wrenchingly sincere sense of spirituality in his music. He built an arboretum at his country residence in Luslawice and he would go there to speak to God. His choral music feels like an extension of those private and very precious utterances and callings out to a higher power.

DG: Is there an artist from a genre that doesn’t usually appeal to you whom you love?

Working at Radio 3, I am listening to music of all different styles all the time, so I never think about music in terms of what genre it’s in really. I’m always just looking for something that surprises me, calms me down, makes me want to dance or cry.

Elizabeth was talking to Editor Soma Ghosh.

You can hear Elizabeth’s music choices on Unclassified, 11.30 Radio 3, Thursday nights and on Saturday Breakfast, 7-9am, Radio 3. Her new poetry and music series, ‘Northern Drift’ comes to Radio 3 on 25th October. A live performance of Unclassifed takes place 29th October, at The Southbank, with Afrodeutsche, Daniel Avery and Aisha Devi. 

Follow Elizabeth https://twitter.com/elizabethalker?s=20

Follow Soma https://twitter.com/calcourtesan?s=20

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