Small, Smaller, Smallest
Last week I received an email from Matthew Herbert asking if I could help him with a composition he was planning for BBC Prom 44. Matthew has worked with the London Sinfonietta before and he was asked to create a live remix of the prom.
The performers of Ligeti's Poème Symphonique, relaxing in the Royal Albert Hall Green Room before their performance.
I've recently been working with Matthew on the relaunch of a new Radiophonic Workshop and we've been working with The Space on a number of other related projects. For the live remix of Prom 44 Matthew had a clear vision of what he wanted, and he invited some of the members of the new Radiophonic Workshop, along with some people for the London Sinfonietta to help create the composition. There were 12 volunteers in total, we were each issued with a clipboard and pencil, and were asked to bring along a smart phone - it was the first time I've be told to make sure my phone was fully charged before attending a classical concert!
The piece, Small, Smaller, Smallest, is a comment on the way we all consume music today, using small handheld devices often with very iffy sound quality. Also how the ripping, file sharing and free download culture has changed the relationship between the audience, the performers and the composer. Finally how the mobile phone has changed the culture of concert going (with the danger of random ring-tones going off in concerts), and the change in mind-set we have when we attend concerts (we choose to stay in touch and share our experiences by social media, even as we listen or watch). The piece also democratises the composition process, inviting not only the 12 volenteers, but the whole audience to contribute.
The clipboard was used to make a note of the recorded sections and are effectively a score of the composition.
The live re-mix would consist of recordings of the evening's performances made by 12 volunteers each using a mobile phone to make one short recording from the build up to the evening, and one recording from each of the 6 performances. The 12 volunteers would be situated in different places in and around the audience. The audience at the Royal Albert Hall would also be asked to contribute to the piece by sending themselves a SMS text message when cued by AndrÃ© Ridder, the conductor, therefore creating a ripple of around 800 SMS alert sounds to accompany the smartphone recordings. The original plan was for the 12 volunteers to play their 7 recordings from where they were located in the audience, but some testing revealed that Radio 3's microphones wouldn't pick up the mobile phones, so each volunteer made their way to the stage after Cage's 4'33 and was given a microphone.
After spending a geeky few minutes comparing field recording apps we set off to mingle with the audience and start our recordings. My choices for the 7 clips ranged from the backstage 3-minute warning to the Sinfonietta tuning up before a performance of Louis Andriessen's De Snelheid. Not to mention a 10 second clip of John Cage's 4'33. The performance of Small, Smaller, Smallest on stage worked well; the structure of the concert clearly audible in our performance and, though it was hard to hear how it sounded from the stage, feedback from both the live audience, and people listening on Radio 3 was very positive.
View from the stage of the Royal Albert Hall
My experiments with sound tend to address more technical questions, but I very much enjoyed the sonic exploration of the live remix of Prom 44. The whole of Prom 44 is available to hear on iPlayer for a limited time.
Anthony Churnside is a technologist in the R&D audio team based at Salford