How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk
And Other Stories on How to Design for Classical Music Experiences
TABLE OF CONTENTS | 1. Introduction | 2. Weaving Audience Engagement | 3. Creating Visual Design and Meaningful Audience Experiences | 4. Teddy in Space | 5. Shadow Play | 6. The World Online Orchestra | 7. Joystick | 8. A Concert with Striking Force | 9. Lots of Brass, Lots of Colors | 10. Opus Lux | 11. Epilogue
CHAPTER 8. This text was originally published on pages 72–77 in the book ‘How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk’, which summarizes the Designing Classical Music Experiences project.
A Concert with Striking Force: Leave Your Mark on the Music
An hour before the percussion concert, members of the audience are already filling the foyer of the Copenhagen Opera House. Something special is to happen before the doors to the concert hall open. Percussion instruments—bass drums, bongos, and even a marimba—are exhibited, and people are encouraged to play them. Besides playing the instruments, the audience is invited to record sounds and movements (clapping, stomping, finger snapping, etc.) that can be produced using their own bodies. Later, people were pleasantly surprised when they experienced that the movements they had made were incorporated into the concert by being projected on a large video-screen. The VJ on stage linked the recordings live to a composition written by one of the percussionists.
Concept, Prototyping, Production & After the Concert
For the Musik2Go percussion concert, the School of Design delivered concepts and prototypes and was responsible for the production of visuals connected to this concert. This percussion concert was planned ahead of our involvement through the Interreg project.
Arthur Maria Steijn and Jakob Ion Wille, artistic researchers at the School of Design, drew a chronological structure showing the connections between visual design, experiences and activities for the audience before, during and after the live concert (see figure 1).
In an early phase of the project, contact was established with one of the percussionists, Mathias Friis-Hansen, through a meeting organized by Dorte Grannov Balslev from the outreach department. At this meeting Arthur and Jakob presented the basic concept for the percussion concert in which bodily sounds as well as analogue, hand-made visuals would serve as a basis for the mediation before (1) and during (2) the live concert. Mathias, Arthur, and Jakob discussed possibilities and ways of connecting pre-recorded ‘bodily’ videos and sounds to live performed music. Shortly after, another percussionist, Mads Drewsen, expressed ideas for visualizing with colored liquids for a piece by composer Steve Reich, which was played at the same concert. These ideas where in line with our direction of deploying analogue means for visualizations. In cooperation with the authors and the musicians, our students further developed, sketched, and outlined concepts for visuals during the live concert (see figure 2).
The concept phase was followed by a laboratory for testing and prototyping in the classroom and our film- and photo studio at the design school.
Here we made test video-recordings for bodily sounds defined by Mathias, Arthur, and Jakob. We worked with three basic sounds related to bodily actions:
(1) A ‘pop’ sound produced by hitting the cheek while the mouth is open.
(2) The ‘clap’ sound from hands clapping (and also the sound of hands flicking).
(3) A ‘stomp’ generated by a foot stomping on the floor.
Several tests and video recordings reminiscent to the 1970s style of colored acid slide projections were made, by mixing colored liquids in a glass bowl filled with water. A style percussionist Mads suggested would be appropriate with Steve Reich’s music and ideas. See figure 3.
The idea and principles of the bodily sounds and recordings from the colored liquids were used in the final production.
Before the live concert (1), as illustrated in figure 1, two stations (1a and 1b) were established in the foyer of the opera. At station (1a), the audience was encouraged to try out and play various types of percussion instruments ahead of the concert under the guidance of the instrumentalists. At station (1b), audiences were invited in creating audio and visuals that were used in (2) during the live concert under (2c) and (2d), after the break, see figure 4.
The audience was invited to arrive one hour before the percussion concert to meet musicians and their instruments.
A recording station with a direct link to the VJ’s (Video Jockey) computer was installed in the foyer to capture images related to the three ‘main body sounds’. The feed was edited into sequences and projected to ‘fit’ Mathias’ live performed composition. Figure 5 schematically illustrates the flow from recordings to execution by the VJ, Thomas Sandberg.
A decision was made to place the VJ station on stage as a visible ‘actor’ taking part in the live performance. This placement had two advantages. (1) The VJ had direct contact with the musicians, and could therefore cue video sequences with precision. (2) The audience could experience the link between the live performed music to the live executed and remixed video sequences projected on the large PVC backdrop behind the drum ensemble, see figure 6.
After the Concert
After the concert there was time to interview the audience. Those involved in recording in the foyer were positive about their bodily movements becoming visible on the large projection screen during the live concert. Furthermore, a questionnaire had been prepared to be sent to the audience. This questionnaire, including questions on, for example, the relationship between activities in the foyer and the video projections during the concert, was unfortunately never distributed.
The collaboration between the musicians, the artistic researchers, and the design students turned out to be very fruitful. The musicians hope to find ways of realizing future projects together with the School of Design, in which experiments with new music compositions and visuals can be developed simultaneously, potentially resulting in high quality experiences.
Royal Danish Theatre, researchers and students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts—School of Design, musicians Mathias Friis-Hansen and Mads Drewsen, and VJ Thomas Sandberg.
The production period for the School of Design was around four weeks. The only opportunity to test and tweak the visuals and the live music was during the dress rehearsal the day before the premiere, which was on April 12, 2014.
Text: Arthur Maria Steijn, lecturer, PhD fellow, and artist (MFA), and Jakob Ion Wille, lecturer, PhD fellow, and dramaturge (MA). Both are affiliated with the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design in Copenhagen, Denmark.