Award-winning singer-songwriter PJ Harvey is to come face-to-face with Irish poet Paul Muldoon in the first of a series of events at a university that aims to explore the creative process.
The Soundings series is the brainchild of acclaimed American novelist Reif Larsen, recently appointed to the University of St Andrews as international writer in residence.
Part of his mission there, he said, is to “encourage the growth of contemporary, even avant-garde culture in this town, which often prides itself on its ancient history. I’d like Fife to become synonymous with artistic experimentation, and for St Andrews to be seen as a retreat for contemporary writers and musicians to work on new forms and to present cutting-edge material.”
“I have long been interested in interdisciplinary conversations,” Mr Larsen continued. “When writers talk to each other, it often leads to the same conclusions.” When artists working in different media brought their distinctive perspectives to the table, there was often “a lot more room for surprise”.
Each event in the Soundings series, therefore, will pair a writer and musician who admire and have influenced each other but are not such close friends that their conversations risk becoming too “chummy” or congratulatory.
Each will perform sets of their own, followed by an unscripted conversation about their working techniques. Mr Larsen noted that “we are not planning them too heavily – the first one will have no moderator – because we want people to be privy to a conversation which goes beneath the bonnet. We are asking the performers to peel back the process and let us peek in.”
Although “writers aren’t necessarily used to talking to musicians and vice versa”, Mr Larsen hoped that their “slight discomfort can become a real path to discovery. The best conversations are the ones that develop organically on the stage in front of the audience’s eyes.” In looking for suitable participants, he noticed that “the format seems to excite writers and musicians”.
To get the series moving, Mr Larsen joined forces with poet and musician Don Paterson, professor of English at St Andrews. Since he had edited Harvey’s only collection of poetry, The Hollow of the Hand, and also knew Muldoon, he suggested they would make an interesting pairing. Their conversation will take place in the 220-seat Byre Theatre in St Andrews (with a simultaneous broadcast in a spillover room) on 4 November.
The next two Soundings will be announced on the same day, with three or four more planned for each subsequent academic year. Each will be accompanied by what Mr Larsen called “a constellation of events”, giving postgraduate students in English and music a further opportunity to engage with the performers. In the longer term, there may also be satellite events in London.