the NORTHERN LIGHTS musical sculpture
Paul Jefferies is no ordinary sculptor. His roots and primary trade are in instrument-making, specifically the complex, multifaceted world of percussion. ‘I made my first instrument (a drum kit) in 1988 just for fun. In 1994, a careers adviser suggested I combine my love of music with my desire to work with my hands, and make drums. Two years later I was self-employed running my own workshop.’ In 2011 Jefferies’ creativity took a different turn, when he was asked to participate in the BBC’s Scrapheap Orchestra television series. ‘It was during this that I really let loose my imagination, creating an eclectic set of instruments including a double bed.’
Working with conductor Charles Hazlewood and the BBC Concert Orchestra, Jefferies also utilised a cement mixer, pieces of X-ray lm, a car bonnet and a river buoy to create new instruments to perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. For Jefferies it was much more than just an exercise in garbage-reclaiming frivolity. ‘There are two fundamentals: they have to sound good and they have to be playable. If an instrument made from junk sounds terrible and is dif cult to play then the maker simply isn’t very good! Creating quality sound out of scrap was very challenging, but I discovered that I was good at it.’ This in turn led to his involvement in Moved By Art’s BrassRemade project, creating instruments from old gas and electricity meters.
For Nordic Music Days, Jefferies is pushing his ideas further than ever, creating a piece that will again be a playable musical instrument while also existing as a public sculpture. This combination is at the heart of the way Jefferies approaches his work. ‘All my instruments are very visual. I want them to look spectacular. Sometimes the musical constraints limit the scope of the sculpture, other times I start with a sculptural concept and incorporate the instrument and come up with new sounds.’
Echoing this year’s theme, his starting point is that quintessential Nordic phenomenon, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights), caused by Earth’s magnetic field interacting with the solar wind, resulting in vivid bursts of colour and sound in the atmosphere. In his sculpture Jefferies is not only seeking to embody these aspects, but also the juxtaposition of the natural and human worlds, ‘to celebrate and explore the aesthetic and the mess of human life with the mess of the sculptural representation of the natural world’. His ambitions remain constant, however:‘I want it to sound good, be fun to play on and to really recreate a taste of the aurora borealis in London. I’d like the viewer or musician to have one of those memorable moments that they can talk about years later with fondness and amusement.’