OperaShots: Jocelyn Pook's 'Ingerland'
For some time now I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of football and the place it currently holds in society. My interest started as purely abstract and visceral. Living near Arsenal stadium I would often hear the distant roar of a mass of voices on the wind; thousands of people singing their hearts out in unison with a fervour and commitment rarely heard outside a concert hall.
At that time I asked a friend who was going to a match to take a tape recorder and record the whole event. Then I created a piece (Arsenal: Trevor’s Conversion, also written for string quartet, piano and voices) using fragments of these field recordings – chants, cheers, boos, rants – which inform and drive the piece in various ways.
I wondered whether Ingerland could be an opportunity to continue playing with and developing ideas around football chants, and also to explore ideas around the drama of the game, and around ritual, trance, worship, tribalism and identity, as well as heightened emotions – ecstatic, exuberant, gutted – and maniacal vitriol…
The director Matthew Lenton, who is used to devising new work with his theatre company, was suggested by a friend. I was happy that he encouraged me to go with my instincts and not start with a libretto. Not that I rule out the possibility of bringing in a librettist/dramaturg at some point, but I wanted the piece to evolve gradually, alongside workshops with the singers and discussions with Matthew and visual artist Dragan Aleksic (the other principal member of the creative team), before a libretto took the piece in a particular direction. I also wanted to play with non-verbal chants and onomatopoeia, and with reportage of particular football matches that I have found.
The workshop days in November, with Matthew and six singers, were very fruitful. A lot of playing, talking and vocalising. Small narrative ideas started to emerge from some of the real-life stories that were shared, and I went away and continued to produce and record material at home, occasionally calling in one of the singers to replace my squeaky vocals.
As well as making new audio field recordings from various matches I attended, Dragan and I were interested in doing a series of videoed interviews of supporters about their relationship to the game. How we might use these in our piece isn’t yet clear but I’ve learned a lot from the material we’ve collected so far. I had no idea how deep the emotions run for some people, and the degree of importance this game holds in their lives.
I went to a match with some friends and watched this sudden transformation in them: faces contorted with rage, swearing and roaring at the tops of their voices. I had mixed feelings about it: on the one hand I find it strange that people get so worked up about 22 millionaires kicking a ball, but it did seem to be an incredibly cathartic experience.
We are at a stage now where we have a lot of material and are not yet sure which direction to focus on, or whether all the disparate elements can be married together so that small narrative ideas will thread through the more abstract, atmospheric material, going from impressionistic bursts of raw emotions – profound and prosaic, primitive and poetic – to more conventional songs relating to particular characters (e.g. a father and son trying to bond through the medium of football, WAGS worried about their weight/boyfriend’s fidelity).