Sense & Sustainability

Theatre

We’re wrapping things up this week at Hope Street Limited after an intense five month programme. I was fortunate enough to work as composer / musical director (and occasional performer) on four theatrical projects utilizing unusual performance spaces, audience immersion, and an innovative mix of audio, visuals, and performance. It’s been fantastic! And I just want to thank all the wonderful people I’ve worked with over the past five months who’s generosity and talent at what they do is truly inspirational.

Anyway, it’s been so busy I haven’t had chance to update my blog (oops), so over the next few days I’m going to write a little bit about each of the four projects and also post some samples of music I wrote. Starting with quite possibly the strangest project I have been lucky enough to work on (which is saying something) Sense & Sustainability:

 

Led by directorial tag team Cocoloco and Liverpool music legend Andy Frizell (is there an instrument he can’t play?) we took over the historic Bluecoat building to create an immersive theatrical experience exploring climate change in a fun and engaging manner. Given the scope of the project, me and Andy shared the workload with him focusing more on the songs sang by the actors and me writing the music for the various audio-visual installations. One such installation was a video set in a carriage made out of cardboard, combining the two themes of the show (Jane Austen / sustainability). This installation was a collaboration with digital artist Jordan Rodgers and sound designer Stephen Hull:

 

Playing some homemade vegetable instruments, they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and made great soup after the show.

Playing some homemade vegetable instruments, they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and made great soup after the show.

Early on in the R&D for the show I fell in love with the idea of using recycled / sustainable instruments for the show, particularly turning various veggies into instruments. However, it turns out it’s really hard to make a carrot toot… After three weeks of experimentation (not unlike this video), just a day before the show Andy came up with a winning combination. It wasn’t an exact science at all, we had no way of tuning them (although for some unknown reason they tended to be in the same key), but they were surprisingly loud, tuneful, and tasty!

As well as sustainable instruments, full cast songs, audio-visual installations, and three classical pianists my favourite room for writing music was without a doubt the “hedonistic room”. It was meant to represent the rampant indifference towards climate change with piles of rubbish, corporate messages, and pounding rave music that throughout the course of the three hour show got more and more warped / intense. I worked with the show’s sound designer, Stephen Hull, to create about half an hour’s worth of audio content that incorporated original music, spoken word, and warped remixes of existing tracks. The initial direction from Cocoloco was that it needed to be uncomfortable for the audience, the loud and dissonant music (we often had more than one song playing at once) represented information overload.

It sure was a big contrast for the audience, one minute walking through a tranquil Jane Austen-esque scene with classical piano to a modern day rave. This was one of the biggest challenges working as a musical director on the project, coherence. With so many genres and aesthetics, I decided to reuse melodies and themes from Andy’s cast songs in the other installations to tie the whole piece together. Also using similar instrumentation in the different areas of the show helped subtly bring everything together even if the musical genre was different.

The show itself was an absolute blast! For the first time in a long long while I performed live, we had planned every moment of the three hour show precisely but wanted an organic feel as actors sing a song and then suddenly wander off to another scene on the other side of the building. I played guitar, melodica, carrot recorder, and a couple of times conducted the actors (who despite their reservations did an amazing job singing an acapella choral piece). I’m not really used to performing music I have worked on, but it was great fun and I hope to do more of it in the future. It was a mad three weeks, but we pulled it off, and put on an incredible show!

Thanks to Jordan Rodgers and Hope Street Limited for these fantastic photos of the event, check out their respective pages for more info.

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