CONNECT: THE AUDIENCE AS ARTIST
23 Oct 2016
This Saturday, two ground-breaking commissions by Christian Mason and Huang Ruo give you the chance to perform in world premieres with the London Sinfonietta at St John's Smith Square as part of CONNECT: The Audience as Artist. With no musical experience needed, glass bottles, baoding balls, tin foil, harmonicas and whispers will be your instruments.
CONNECT is a European-wide project to create and perform new compositions which involve the public in their realisation. The works performed this weekend will also receive performances by the project's other core ensembles: Asko|Schönberg in Amsterdam, Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt and Remix Ensemble Casa da Música in Porto.
Ahead of the concert, we have created a playlist of music by both composers.
We're getting to know the people behind the music, in Step 2 of our online guide to London Sinfonietta's concert CONNECT: The Audience as Artist this Saturday. In this quickfire interview, we ask composer Christian Mason about his highs, his lows and his best musical joke.
What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?
Well, the piece which so far gets closest to my artistic ideal of an expansive sustained luminosity is probably The Years of Light. Also, the discovery of the handkerchief-harmonica (simply a harmonica wrapped in a handkerchief) which makes one of my favourite sounds and features in that piece. But there are other pieces with other concerns that I feel equally, or more, connected to depending on the time of day/week/month/year…
What do you fear?
Time, especially the lack of it.
What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?
Dawn improvisation in a field by the river Ouse (York), attended only by the local sheep.
What’s currently on your coffee table at home?
A book about Kingfishers and Piranesi’s Le Vedute di Roma.
What was the first recording you ever bought?
I think it was The Beatles 1967-70 Blue Album compilation (on cassette!).
Describe yourself in three words.
Melancholy yet joyful.
If you could have any other profession, what would it be?
Unemployed (in a society with a universal basic income).
Tell us your best musical joke.You’d be better off watching Monty Python’s ‘Johann Gambolputty' sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDPqB9i1ScY
Welcome to Step 3 of our online guide to the London Sinfonietta’s concert on Saturday 22 October 2016, CONNECT: The Audience as Artist. Usually this segment is an audio-illustrated article about one of the works on the bill. However — because new music is our thing — this is not always possible. This weekend consists of two world premieres by composers Christian Mason and Huang Ruo, whose works will involve the public in their realisataion.
We asked Philip Cashian (composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music) to discuss a work that reflects the public participation element of Saturday's concert and he has chosen to look at Workers Union, a work written by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.
Hugely influential Dutch composer Louis Andriessen was 36 when he wrote Workers Union in 1975 for the Orchestra de Volharding (of which he was a founding member and, at that time, the pianist). Andriessen’s music is heavily influenced by Stravinsky, jazz (particularly boogie-woogie) and American minimalism.
This twenty minute piece is scored for any loud sounding group of instruments and is one of his most performed pieces. It is a political work in which everybody plays in unison throughout: one voice united in delivering the same emphatic message and unified in their intent. After a while this strength in numbers makes the music become almost hypnotic in character even though it’s delivered in an uncompromising and at times ferocious manner. The skill and concentration required for each musician to remain exactly in unison with the rest of the ensemble throughout as Andriessen constantly varies and changes the rhythmic patterns makes a performance exhilarating to watch as it, on one level, becomes an act of physical agility.
Andriessen says of the work: “This piece is a combination of individual freedom and severe discipline: its rhythm is exactly fixed; the pitch, on the other hand, is indicated only approximately, on a single-lined stave. It is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, sort of thing like organising and carrying on political action”.
And in his performance note in the score he says: "Only in the case of every player playing with such an intention that their part is an essential one, the work will succeed; just as in the political work."
The piece is all about rhythm and Andriessen manages to create a single span of music that is uncompromising, obsessive, relentless and constantly surprising. A real tour de force of musical invention. He achieves this by using a very simple rhythmic cell as the basis for the entire work which you can hear in the opening moments of the piece.
The rest of the piece is made out of repetitions, juxtapositions and simple variations of this three note figure in which Andriessen lengthens or shortens part of it to create new rhythmic patterns. So you hear new ideas being introduced in the music but they always sound related. This helps give the piece a feeling of fusion.
Here's your guide for what to listen out for:
Opening-06” Three note rhythmic figure out of which he builds the entire piece.
56” Here is the first very noticeable change in the music.
2’53” Another introduction of a new 7 note rhythmic figure.
05’28” A new rhythmic figure very clearly related to the opening of the piece.
11’05”-11’15” A relentless motor rhythm
11’20”-11’45” A gradual diminuendo in the music.
14’35”-15’08” An obsessive, repetitive section where the music gets stuck in a groove.
15’04” A brief return to the opening of the piece.
Here is some further listening that I would recommend, to give context to Andriessen's music:
Terry Riley In C
Stravinsky Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring
Count Basie The Kid from the Red Bank Steve Reich Music for large ensemble Julia Wolfe Dig Deep – Ethel © Philip Cashian
Steve Reich Music for large ensemble Julia Wolfe Dig Deep – Ethel © Philip Cashian
Julia Wolfe Dig Deep – Ethel © Philip Cashian
© Philip Cashian
This is the fourth installment of our step-by-step guide to CONNECT: The Audience as Artist, which takes place at St John's Smith Square on Saturday 22 October 2016. Step 4 strives to give you an insight into the composer's creative process.
Ahead of the world premiere of his composition In the Midst of the Sonorous Islands tomorrow night, we visited Christian Mason and talked about hearing and feeling instruments in close proximity, the relationship between professional musicians and the audience and the significance behind learning a piece during it's performance — "it's not about the perfection, it's about going through the process".
Last Saturday (22 Oct 2016), we were thrilled to see the realisation of CONNECT. The day was kick-started by a thought-provoking conference for artists, arts organisations, audience members and curators, which was designed to address topics such as connecting music of today with a wider public, what do audiences and artists want, what can we learn from other art forms about engaging people in new work and the role of the funder.
We'll have more on the conference soon, including a posts from Project Manager, Barbara Palcynski on planning an event like this one - and a more photos from the day's activities.
That evening, we then ventured across the river to St John's Smith Square, where rehearsals with the public had been happening since Friday night. Over 60 participants signed up to take part in the performances of two new commissions by composers Christian Mason and Huang Ruo and on Saturday night both works received a warm reception with audience members excited by their involvement - performing on tinfoil, chains, baoding balls, glass bottles and harmonicas. We shared a handful of pictures on Instagram (see below or follow us here) which gave you a backstage pass to the rehearsals and organisation of such an event. Watch out for more photos still to come...
In the sixth and final step of our online guide to last Saturday's CONNECT: The Audience as Artist concert at St John's Smith Square – and its preceding conference at Southbank – we step back and debrief. In this installment, we hear from Barbara Palczynski. Barbara was the Project Consultant on CONNECT and she has kindly given us an insight into the work that's gone into such a mammoth project, and her very own step-by-step guide to organising a large-scale project.
ARRANGING YOUR JIGSAW PUZZLE
One of the most rewarding parts of being a Projects Consultant is the variety of work that comes your way. Having spent most of last year colluding with app developers and researchers to build our super successful Clapping Music app, it was quite a contrast to find myself sitting in a board room in the Casa da Música in Porto with the heads of four top European music ensembles, agreeing to oversee a large scale artistic collaboration. The Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne normally offers financial support to new commissions but last year they decided it was time to initiate a new approach, to explore new models of supporting new commissions. They chose to bring together four powerful new music moguls under one umbrella to commission new works from two young composers which would actively engage audience members through sharing ideas in the curation process, creative planning and ultimately through their participation in the final work. A sort of semi-immersive approach to developing new works. My task was to oversee it and ensure a timely delivery.
STEP 1: Write a creative brief – something to give to a wide range of composers whom the group felt capable of working to the specification of involving the audience.
STEP 2: Establish excellent communication – the key to running a smooth project. Getting to know the partners and understanding their different ways of working will help earn their trust. On a large scale project this can be a tall order, with the key players in London Sinfonietta, Remix Ensemble, Ensemble Modern and Asko Schoenberg, spread across four countries, a Swiss foundation, and our eventual composers – one in UK and the other in 3 time zones in New York, Amsterdam and China! Thanks to technology, through Skype, SoundCloud, YouTube, Dropbox and Basecamp, we perused proposals, listened to music, watched clips and Christian Mason and Huang Ruo were chosen as our inaugural composers.
STEP 3: Establish your timescale – ours looked pretty tight – but steadily, with some patience and negotiations of our four seasons and composers’ work schedules, we finally settled on performances in October, November and December 2016 across our four countries. The project was finally a reality – now we just had to ensure we had something to perform!
CREATING A PROJECT IDENTITY
After handing the creative responsibility over to the composers, and once the performance dates are settled, the next step is boring but necessary.
STEP 4: Contracting everything from composers’ commission fees with publishers and agents through to concert and rehearsal venue hire to ensure the nuts and bolts are all in place. This process often takes longer than you would expect, namely because turning around emails with multiple partners and settling on agreements can be a somewhat protracted phase. It’s easy to get bogged down at this stage but you just have to push through.
STEP 5: This step is more fun and gets us straight back into creative mode as we work out a project brand which will include a project name and a logo. It must convey in words the vision of the project, and the logo must encapsulate visually the essence of the project. It’s incredibly important that you get this right. So we are in Donald Draper territory. On this project, we need to find a name which can be understood across Europe. Some early suggestions include words like Refresh, Unite, Transform with straplines like Embracing New Audiences through New Music (too boring), Connecting people through music (too obvious), New Music in Motion (hmm, not sure). Putting U in the Music was clever (thanks @JoRynhold) but in the end the team agreed that it needs to be simple.
So we go with CONNECT: The Audience as Artist. Thanks to @thirty8digital, we work together on a logo to complement the project aims and I find there are about fifty shades of brownish grey to match the foundation’s logo. There are multiple rounds of discussions around fonts – who knew people feel so strongly about these things? Luckily there are some very talented people with an eye for design who are really skilled at this. You need to know where the strengths lie in your team and let them run with their ideas. Steer the ship without micro managing, listen and talk to everyone. Emailing is a very useful way to track conversations but it should not replace actual conversations.
STEP 6: The next step involves thinking about how we will get the brand out there. We write a good PR & Marketing strategy to fit the timeline of the project between all the different stakeholders’ marketing teams and to satisfy the funders. The collaborative aspect of the project is going really well and we are getting to know each other across our different countries.
All that remains now is to make the magic happen.