Making Beautiful Digital Projects

The London Sinfonietta is partnering with the hub to produce Make, Do and Bend, a project bringing together musicians, composers and creative technologists to explore how digital technology can open up new forms of interaction. Andrew Burke, Chief Executive of the London Sinfonietta, writes:

LS Blog Picture 2

At the London Sinfonietta, I’ve tried to embrace the possibilities of digital technology in different ways. We have a remit to do things differently and using technology allows us to make, present and educate about new music in new ways. Some of our work has been hugely successful, some has been more of a learning experience. I crave beautiful, poetic digital projects for the ensemble: those that enhance the live performance of new music or engage people deeply. I don’t think there is a fixed formula for making these projects, but these are some of the things I have noticed about them.

It inspires us to make art differently

A lot of work in the arts has pointed digital technology at what we do already. This kind of super-marketing is really important – anything that inspires new audiences to engage with existing powerful performance art is great. Yet, as important for the future is how we can imagine a new type of artistic project where digital technology is a fundamental part of the first idea, its creation and the performance, which will engage the public in new ways.

The best ideas fit the platform

It seems to me that the best digital and arts ideas are a really good fit between the artistic experience and the digital platform or channel that is involved. Ideally, you are having a unique experience that you really can’t have better anywhere else. A friend and digital thinker Brian Moran pointed me towards a great project by Arcade Fire, which was designed for the computer; users were encouraged to upload information and photos of themselves, which were then embedded into a play-out of the band’s latest video and song making it a personal experience for the fan. The project was cleverly exploiting the way we already use computers for storing digital photos and sending them to each other. I’m proud too of this ‘good fit’ on our own Steve Reich’s Clapping Music App which has now been downloaded over 100,000 times. The touchscreen iPhone was a perfect way for people to learn and perform this particular rhythmic piece – and a mobile device is with people all the time, so people engaged on the move, in their travel downtime.

People come together, as well as online

I think the arts have a powerful role in society to bring people together at compelling live events. And for us, with a bunch of brilliant musicians in our ensemble, it is so much more powerful for people to hear them live. A really exciting part of our own app project was a live event competition – which drove people to try harder and share their new-found skill at live events, performing with our percussionists and in front of each other.

You see things, and ourselves, differently

Whilst I was at BBC Wales in 2001, a digital arts showcase brought several striking ideas to life. One project in particular has stayed with me, which projected red lips onto a Cardiff pavement, signalling a place for the public to talk to people online, anywhere in the world. A video feed sent the street image to my computer, and I could type sentences for an automated voice to speak at passers-by. Beyond the inevitable joking around I had a conversation with a tramp and ended up buying him a meal in a nearby Indian restaurant. Would I have done this were it not for this beautiful digital art project?  Probably not.

Time for some R&D…

It seems a good time – having made a bunch of work for a live performing ensemble such as the London Sinfonietta – to set off on this R&D project to find the next generation of ideas that could map themselves onto a group like ours. I hope we find these next, brilliant ideas and make some beautiful experiences for the public and our audience. I’ll report back…



We explore partnerships old and new in Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June, with our 22nd commission from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and very first from the promising young voice of Tom Coult.

Ahead of the world premiere of Spirit of the Staircase, Tom has put together a playlist reflecting our theme of past and present:


For my ‘old’ music, a piece each from my five desert island composers. Maybe what links these pieces is their boundless energy and vivacity… the sense that the composers (sometimes against the prevailing winds of their musical cultures) were taking great pleasure in creating fizzy, bubbling, ebullient musical pleasure-palaces. As in The Wizard of Oz, when suddenly we leave monochrome Kansas and arrive in the sensuous world of technicolour.

W.A. Mozart The Magic Flute

Maurice Ravel Ma mère l’oye

György Ligeti Piano Concerto

Igor Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks

J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concertos


For my ‘new’ music, I’ve picked pieces by five fantastic composers of broadly similar age to myself. They all seem to have something in common that appeals to me – an absolute single-minded focus and clarity. The musical ideas in these pieces are incredibly simple and direct, but any suggestion of naïvety is counteracted by the sophistication of their finely-tuned inner ears, so that the music has a refined, colourful and imaginative surface.

Christian Mason Learning Self Modulation

Naomi Pinnock String Quartet No. 2

Edmund Finnis Seeing is Flux

Seeing is Flux

Samantha Fernando Look Up

Arne Gieshoff Umschreibung

As a postscript to my ‘new’ music – a piece from my former teacher Camden Reeves, to whom my Spirit of the Staircase is dedicated. Many very fine composers since the 1960s have struggled to impose their personal compositional voice on the difficult medium of solo piano music, but I think Camden has written a rather distinctive and striking piece here. Again, there’s a clarity of idea – 18 movements are linked by a focus on ascending lines and acceleration – that nevertheless allows for a great variety in invention. The six mensuration canons within the piece also link with a number of favourite pieces of mine – many of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, George Benjamin’s Shadowlines, Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee and Unsuk Chin’s Miroirs des temps – in finding an idiosyncratic (perhaps occasionally contrary) approach to writing canons in modern times.

Camden Reeves Lucifer’s Dynamo


CONNECT Workshop

The evening of Wednesday 18 May marked the beginning of our CONNECT creative journey with a workshop led by British composer Christian Mason.

CONNECT, supported by ART MENTOR FOUNDATION LUCERNE, is a pan-European project uniting four leading ensembles with two composers to develop new ways of engaging with audiences.

This very first workshop invited members of the public to help develop Christian Mason’s commission In the Midst of the Sonorous Islands. Premiered in London on Saturday 22 October before being performed across Europe through the autumn, Christian hopes to immerse his audience in a range of metallic and blown sounds using triangles, tin foil, baoding balls and bottles. These sounds will mirror the instruments played by our professional London Sinfonietta percussionists, with every person contributing a vital element to the sound world on stage.

Here are some photographs taken in the workshop:

CONNECT is an initiative generously supported by ART MENTOR FOUNDATION LUCERNE in collaboration with London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern, Asko|Schönberg and Remix Ensemble Casa da Música.


(C) Rikard ÖsterlundTansy Davies cropped

We explore partnerships old and new in Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June, with our 22nd commission from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and very first from Tom Coult.

Our relationship with Tansy Davies also grows stronger, as we perform her Falling Angel for the first time in London, and she’s put together a playlist reflecting our theme of past and present:


Tristan Murail Contes Cruels

Karlheinz Stockhausen Welt Parlament

Luigi Nono A Pierre

Michael Finnissy Above Earth’s Shadow…

Paul Hillier / Guilhelm IX de Poitiers: Farias un Vers de Dreit Nien

Konstantia Gourzi Vibrato 2



David Lang The Passing Measures

Abbatoir Shhhh

Maja Ratkje Live at the Punkt Festival 2013

Christian Mason Open to Infinity: A Grain of Sand

Alleluia Adorabo ad templum

Larry Goves a glimpse of the sea in a fold of the hills

Make, Do and Bend: the title of our project, yes, but also a good philosophy

The London Sinfonietta is partnering with the hub to produce Make, Do and Bend, a project bringing together musicians, composers and creative technologists to explore how digital technology can open up new forms of interaction. Julia Payne, director of the hub, introduces the project:

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Imagine the scene – 25 or so of Europe’s most curious and forward thinking composers, musicians and creative technologists, gathered together at NESTA HQ for a ‘nothing’s impossible’ day of plotting and conspiring, eating and drinking, thinking and doing. All in the name of exploring the next frontiers of live performance, and how digital technology can most creatively play its part in that.

Well that’s pretty much the plan for the first part of Make, Do and Bend, a Lab on Tuesday 7 June dreamed up by the hub in collaboration with London Sinfonietta. Make Do and Bend will give our carefully curated group of fellow explorers the chance to do just that: make stuff that they can’t make on their own, do things that can’t be done under their individual steam, and bend and shape each other’s thinking into new performance ideas that none of them could have come up with on their own.

We think. We do. We Learn. We share. Those are the guiding principles of the hub, and the approach that underpins Make, Do and Bend. Inherently curious about the world around us, and by nature collaborative, sharing what we know and helping people connect with each other is second nature to us. It’s just how we roll. Like all of the work the hub is involved in making, Make Do and Bend has at its heart a central question, something we want to understand more about. In this instance, it’s all about exploring what ‘performance’ and ‘interaction’ between composers, artists and audiences can look like in this digital age – on stage, digitally and in settings which marry the two together.

It’s a subject that Andrew (London Sinfonietta’s CEO, and an old friend) and I have spent many an hour debating over the last few years, usually with the aid of distinctly old school pencils, paper, crazy drawings and much good natured table thumping… and a glass or two of red wine! So, like all good R&D projects tend to do, Make Do and Bend has developed iteratively, powered by ongoing discussion (between us and with our partners at NESTA and Sound and Music), and informed by the work we’ve both been doing: the hub’s Bring & Byte hack weekend we ran last year as part of our Joining the Dots programme, and London Sinfonietta’s ongoing digital work which most recently resulted in the amazing Steve Reich’s Clapping Music app.

Over the years one of the things I’ve realised to be an absolute truth is that when you bring together people with different ‘normals’ and starting points, you get ‘atomic collisions’; thinking that just wouldn’t have come about in other circumstance, and ideas that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day. Everyone involved leaves a little bit changed by the experience, the seeds are sewn for new collaborations and stuff gets done. And that’s exciting!

So that’s what Make Do and Bend is all about…atomic collisions…bringing together composers, coders, musicians, video artists, developers, instrument designers and all manner of other people who absolutely love music, and are curious about this central question around performance and technology. Make Do and Bend borrows from hack culture, and over the course of the day, we’ll share our inspirations and pool our ideas, before getting down to some serious playing, making, breaking and putting back together again. By the end of the day, what will we have created? Alongside new friendships, our hope is that  we’ll also have the bare bones of some great new ‘stuff’ – maybe some brand new tech, or  some new ideas for how to use tech we already have, a new ‘instrument’ (whatever one of those looks like in this context) or maybe a new way of thinking about instrumental playing, maybe some ideas for performances where their live and digital iterations get equal billing? Who knows?! And of course, at the end of it all, there’s the chance for some of the teams that formed over the day to win a development bursary to take their ideas to the next stage and perhaps even go on to work with London Sinfonietta and others to bring them ‘properly’ to life.

Having read this, it perhaps won’t surprise you that my favourite question is ‘what if’, and that the phrase I most overuse is ‘that’s a good idea’. Small wonder I can’t wait to get started!


We explore partnerships old and new in Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June, with our 22nd commission from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and very first from Tom Coult – one of the most promising young voices of his generation.

Before we give the world premiere of Tom’s new commission Spirit of the Staircase he took some time to answer our quickfire questions:


What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?
The music I feel most affection for tends to be measured in pages – sections of music between about two and four pages long. I can think of some examples in my recent pieces Codex (Homage to Serafini), Sonnet Machine, My Curves are not Mad and Beautiful Caged Thing. As a whole piece however, I think there is a clarity and precision about Four Perpetual Motions for 10 players (2013) – it does exactly what it sets out to do.

What do you fear?
That the effects of decades of neoliberalism – on equality, education, the public realm, human relations, labour, the arts – will prove irreversible.

Which piece of music has had the biggest effect on you?
Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of?
I’ve performed in a couple that were raided by police.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?
Three candles (‘nah nah, three candles…’andles for threeks’), a copy of the Equity magazine, a small chicken figurine and a Harry Potter colouring book.

What was the first recording you ever bought?
I remember buying a CD by The Offspring quite early. The first classical CD was Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos played by Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Bach is still my absolute favourite composer, though my taste in performances have dropped by about a semitone since then.

Describe yourself in three words.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?
I’d make clocks.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Igor Stravinsky.

Tell us your best musical joke.
A diner is eating in an Oasis-themed restaurant and is served a starter of leek and potato soup. ‘Excuse me waiter,’ she says, ‘but in what way is this leek and potato soup related to Oasis?’.

Witheringly, the waiter replies, ‘You got a roll with it’.


Since 1968, the London Sinfonietta has commissioned and premiered over 20 extraordinary works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (22 to be precise!). His music has been a golden thread through our history and we hope you will join us for the world premiere of his newest commission Five Lessons in a Frame, which will feature in our concert Duets in a Frame on Wednesday 1 June at St John’s Smith Square.

duets strip

Below is a complete list of pieces commissioned or co-commissioned by or for the London Sinfonietta:

Birtwistle History

Take a listen to some of our favourite works from the above list:

For more information on our concert Duets in a Frame and to book tickets click here.


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