The Bascule Chamber Concerts are an annual series of new music and spoken word taking place in Tower Bridge’s subterranean Bascule Chamber as part of the annual Totally Thames festival.
Curated by composer Iain Chambers, the concerts provide public access to London’s greatest hidden space, providing a chance to see some of the capital’s most awe-inspiring Victorian engineering up close. The Bascule Chamber houses Tower Bridge’s huge counterweights during lifting. When the bridge is at rest, this dramatic brick-lined space stands empty.
Following the first series in 2015 – setting the sound of the bridge itself alongside Docklands Sinfonia Brass in a new piece by Iain Chambers – and an all vocal edition with Juice Vocal Ensemble and the Ben See Group in 2016, 2017’s concerts see a new interpretation of Handel’s Water Music by Langham Research Centre, exactly 300 years after that famous piece was premiered on the Thames. This ground breaking new piece sees the group ’play’ the sound of the bridge’s river and road traffic live, using hydrophones in the river and contact microphones on Tower Bridge itself.
Clarinettist Kate Romano performs alongside Langham Research Centre in a new composition for oscillators & bass clarinet, blurring the boundaries between wind instruments & the electronic instruments popularised by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Romano also performs a new realisation of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint, a rhythmically intricate work by the American composer for live and pre-recorded clarinet.
For the first time, the concerts feature new spoken word works, written and performed by the acclaimed poet Kayo Chingonyi, winner of an open call for performance poets. A newly-commissioned immersive sound walk by Chingonyi will take audiences from street level down the 100 steps to the bascule chamber.
Performances spill out for a new work by award-winning Franco-Cameroonian singer Coco Mbassi, performed in the Accumulator Chamber – a vast, cylindrical space housing the bridge’s original hydraulic lifting mechanism. This new piece imagines the conversations happening on board boats carrying immigrants.
Iain Chambers says: ‘The Bascule Chamber is one of London’s most surprising and inspiring spaces. The last thing you expect to find within such an iconic structure is a quasi-theatrical brick-lined space with a resonant acoustic. You hear boats passing above your head – you’re beneath the line of the Thames – and this year you have the chance to hear a contemporary response to Handel’s Water Music, alongside newly commissioned music and spoken word work. This year we’ll be expanding access to these spaces in new ways, and allowing audiences to explore more about this incredible place, and the different ways it’s inspiring new creative work.”
Iain Chambers is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Music Creators and by public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.