Blue Touch Paper is where we light the fuse of new work, with different art forms in alternative spaces. Our next Blue Touch Paper event, on Wednesday 10 December at BFI Southbank, stages an innovative meeting of music and film. Five solo works have been specially written by emerging composers for double bass, cello, tuba, viola and flute, and each of these will have an accompanying film made by students at Central Saint Martins.
We chatted to our Participation & Learning Assistant, Shoubhik Bandopadhyay and the Course Director of Performance Design & Practice at Central Saint Martins, Michael Spencer about the importance of such collaborations between art forms and institutions.
Tell us about the relationship between Central Saint Martins and the London Sinfonietta and why it’s important.
Michael: The relationship between the London Sinfonietta and Performance Design & Practice course at Central Saint Martins (PDP) is important because it facilitates a dialogue across disciplines which are normally quite separate: that of classical music and visual performance. The original ethos of the Art School is to explore new territory and foster new collaborations across the creative fields. In a broader sense that is why the relationship is so important to develop, not least because of the future possibilities for collaborations between composers, players and designers/performers outside of our institutions.
Shoubhik: The relationship is important because it provides an opportunity for both partners to experience new challenges and to find creative solutions for them. Cross-art collaborations are fairly common these days but they are still very valuable as they take people out of their comfort zones and often result in new practices, new ideas and improved ways of doing things. Working with Michael and his PDP students is really great for this because they are encouraged to experiment and push boundaries wherever they see the opportunity, meaning the work is different every year and the project always feels fresh and relevant.
What does each party gain from collaborative projects such as Alternative Visions?
Michael: For the students to work with young composers and in particular the London Sinfonietta players is a real privilege, although no hierarchy is assumed or imposed. The students learn to develop the technical skills as they would in any project (e.g. film making), but more importantly they learn to negotiate ideas through their practice. They learn to respect and challenge others’ agendas in equal measure. These ‘skills’ or understandings cannot be taught in any other way.
Shoubhik: Firstly, it gives the London Sinfonietta a context in which to commission new music, which is at the heart of what we do. The relatively small scale of each commission also gives us a chance to work with composers with whom we would like to develop a relationship. Many of the composers who we have worked with in previous years have gone on to do larger commissions for us and some of the previous solo commissions have been recorded for release in the Sinfonietta Shorts series on NMC Recordings.
Secondly, it is an aim of the ensemble to place new music at the heart of the today’s culture, much as contemporary art and cinema are, and working with partners such as Central Saint Martins is an excellent way to do this. The audience profile is different at these events as well, which helps us to reach new people who either don’t think that concerts are for them or who generally attend more traditional shows.
How has Alternative Visions evolved from previous projects such as Hidden? And where do you hope the partnership will go next?
Shoubhik: In previous years PDP students were tasked with creating a bespoke environment to accompany the performance of the solo pieces which we had commissioned from five emerging composers. The designers responded to the unique challenges and features of each piece to create a setting that would enhance the audience’s experience of the work, focusing primarily on set and costume design, as well as some performance elements of their own. These were then staged in the backstage areas of Southbank Centre as part of The New Music Show, our ‘festival in a day’. The event had a real buzz around it, showcasing the ingenuity and creativity of the PDP students and giving audiences the chance to enjoy unique performances in spaces they usually couldn’t access.
This year The New Music Show has been replaced in our season by Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th birthday celebrations, meaning our usual performance context was lost. We did initially consider the idea of staging Hidden as a standalone event, but thought that we should embrace the opportunity to do something different instead. As a result, the PDP students have created films in response to the five solo pieces we commissioned and we are really excited to premiere them at BFI Southbank as part of their sci-fi season. The project provides us with new challenges and added benefits, namely a larger audience and the possibility of repeat performances later in the year.
Michael: After this I hope the partnership will expand into different manifestations of the basic aim outlined in my answer to question 1. I would like to see the work reaching a different audience – an audience not usually associated with classical music. This is because I feel the visual aspect opens up the possibility of audiences ‘hearing’ in a different way – a way that some might find more accessible. The context of such work will be important – and is inevitably outside of the established concert halls.