Chris Reeves publishes The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia
Butchering the classics through avant-garde amateurism: the Portsmouth Sinfonia embodied the joyous collectivism of 1970s British counterculture
The World's Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia
by Christopher M. Reeves (Author, Editor), Aaron Walker (Editor)
In 1970, galvanized in part by the musical experiments of avant-garde composers Gavin Bryars, John Cage and Cornelius Cardew, students at Portsmouth College of Art in England formed their own symphony orchestra. Christened the Portsmouth Sinfonia, its primary requirement for membership was that all players, regardless of skill, experience or musicianship, be unfamiliar with their chosen instruments. This restriction, coupled with the decision to play “only the familiar bits” of classical music, challenged the Sinfonia’s audience to reconsider the familiar, as the ensemble haplessly butchered the classics at venues ranging from avant-garde music festivals to the Royal Albert Hall. By the end of the decade, after three LPs of their anarchic renditions of classical and rock music and a revolving cast of over 100 musicians―including Michael Nyman and Brian Eno―the Sinfonia would cease performing, never officially retiring.
The first book devoted to the ensemble, The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Portsmouth Sinfonia examines the founding tenets, organizing principles and collective memories of the Sinfonia, whose historical position as “the world’s worst orchestra” underplays its unique accomplishment as a populist avant-garde project in which music, collectivity and humor all flourished. The unorthodox journey of the Sinfonia unfolds here through interviews with the orchestra’s original members and publicist/manager, magazine publications, photographs and unseen archival material, alongside an essay by Christopher M. Reeves.
The collaborative publications and curatorial projects of CHRISTOPHER M. REEVES and AARON WALKER deal with the generative possibilities of collective creative making.
CHRISTOPHER M. REEVES is a Chicago-based research creator and PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. There he coordinated “Expanded Art History for Plants,” a series of pedagogical and performance experiments in the UIC Greenhouse. He co-founded and ran Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum and Third Party Gallery in Cincinnati, OH from 2009-13; he currently co-runs Flatland in Chicago. His essays have been included in such publications as Incite Journal, Counter Signals 2 (Other Forms), and Emergency Index (Ugly Duckling Presse). His work has been exhibited in Europe and throughout the United States.
AARON WALKER is an artist and programmer living in South Carolina whose projects often spring out of an interest in self-organized, artist-run culture.