Saturday, 23 July 2011

Research and Development

While performing is a real thrill, the process of creating a show can be equally exciting. Last month I was involved in R&D (research and development) for a show exploring light and aimed at very young children. It involved working with an expressive dancer who trained at the highly regarded Laban school of dance in London. Also involved were a specialist in shadow play and the director, both of whom are experienced puppeteers and manipulators of objects.

My own role was to improvise and interact, sonically, with the dancer and respond to the changing images and projections. We spent three consecutive days together and I used a computer in a live situation for the first time. Experience of watching others struggle with technology had put me off in the past but now I felt the time was right. And it paid off.

I was able to loop previously composed soundscapes, take out unwanted sections or layers, and add live sounds to the mix. In the past I would have burned a CD with various options but this was far more versatile. I remain wary of laptops but, like any tool, they should function properly provided they aren't pushed too hard.

The great thing about R&D is that it's pure play. Anything can, and should, be explored. A voyage of exploration to rival those of Captains Cook and Kirk.

And it was a treat working with a real dancer who truly inhabited and understood her body.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hawkwind to Hemsby - a tale of sonic attack. Part one...

I was fifteen when I went to my first real gig, sneaking out of a badly run boarding school and into the back of a transit van, borrowed from his father by an older day-boy. The band was Hawkwind and I was blown away by the event. The light show featured four slide projectors, mounted on a tower, that made dragons dance on a screen behind the band. The music was driving and the flute player (I'd begun learning the previous term) also played a saxophone. It may have been the first I'd ever seen. It was certainly the first I'd seen decorated with fluorescent paint.

I was also blown away by a strange cigarette that came my way (Congolese, the man said). It left me lying on the floor, unable even to crawl, while the band played a 'song' called Sonic Attack and I had my first brush with paranoia.

In the case of sonic attack survival means
"Every man for himself"
Statistically more people survive if they think
only of themselves
Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones
You have only a few seconds to escape
Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die
Think only of yourself
Think only of yourself
Do not panic
Think only of yourself
Think only of yourself

I hardly remembered breaking back into the boarding house at 2am with severe munchies, gorging on thick cream and lumps of cheese - the only food we could find in the school kitchen - and then praying with fervour to the porcelain trumpet. By the next day it could all have been a dream but for the reassuring ringing in my ears. That and the knowledge that nothing would ever be the same again.

Below: the author with that flute player, some time towards the end of the following decade.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A change of priorities

I snapped this with my phone the other day. I was at the house of a friend with young children. Behind the alphabet primer and numbers poster lies his CD collection. A reminder that life moves on.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sites and Sounds

Last Monday saw the launch of the Sites and Sounds project in Norfolk. This will see musical practitioners including singers, instrumentalists and beat-boxers going onto traveller sites in order to share their skills with the young people who live there. The launch took place at County Hall, the seat of regional government, a 1960's Brutalist edifice, outside which had been placed a vardo, or traditional gypsy wagon. I wish, now, I had taken a long shot to show the incongruity.

The keyboard club of a local primary school bashed out 'Wagon Wheel' with the assistance of some of the team of tutors, yours truly contributing an alto sax solo towards the end. We must have played this three times for various visitors and dignitaries. The band included a handful of traveller kids but most travellers are away at this time of year. Travelling of course.

Other tunes, with the children accompanying on various percussion, included 'Dark Eyes' the theme to the movie 'Chocolat' in which Johnny Depp plays a gypsy. You can probably tell by now that neither diaries nor the budget had allowed the members of our impromptu band the luxury of a rehearsal and we fell back on common repertoire.

Being the parent of daughters, dolls houses are not unfamiliar to me. I even had the misfortune to assemble the Barbie caravan as a kit (nothing fitted and I spent Christmas Day cursing under my breath while my friend built his son the immaculately engineered Lego castle). But I had never before seen a proper doll's caravan. These are used in schools with a traveller intake in order to make the environment feel less alien to very young children.

The project proper kicks off in the autumn and I shall post my impressions then.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Singing Bowls

One item that always scores a hit is the singing bowl. Children are fascinated and thrill-seeking (but usually clean living) Five Rhythms dancers can't get enough.

If, like me, you are fascinated by Tibetan singing bowls then this link to BBC News will interest you. It reports on research into the peculiar behaviour of water in the bowl when the instrument is sounded. If you have a singing bowl and have never tried this then give it a go.

The first bowl I acquired has a tiny hole in it so it is unsuited to this activity, at least indoors. Perhaps it would be prudent to hold your bowl over the sink for a moment while you check for leaks. Incidentally, my holed bowl is perfect and fully functioning in all other respects.

The BBC article touches on potential engineering applications when the physics of the bowls is understood. Perfume atomisers and fuel injectors are cited as early beneficiaries But so far, it seems, the Tibetan singing bowl has not given up its all its secrets.