A large white tent-like structure has sprung up on Truro’s Lemon Quay, emitting beautiful sounds that only a world-class orchestra could produce. That’s right. The fantastic iOrchestra has arrived! Housed within this streamlined structure is an emporium of interactive digital musical experience, also known as RE-RITE.
RE-RITE opened its’ doors to the public of Truro at 10am yesterday morning and will remain open until 13 July. Even as I stood waiting for the doors to open, inquisitive passers by gathered in groups behind me, drawn in by the spectacle and the music that could be heard in tantalizing snatches coming from the within the white walls.
Once inside the massive structure I was urged to have a look around and enjoy. Informative plaques are mounted to the walls which I stopped to read before enticing music compelled me to move further into the tent. Huge sheets of black fabric have been used to divide the larger area into smaller more contained sections, each housing an in-depth look at a different orchestral instrument. Projectors mounted to the ceiling hang in mid-air and project film footage of the Philharmonia Orchestra onto the black fabric walls, and hidden speakers emit music.
Throughout the installation various interactive elements are set out, encouraging you to get involved and have a go – after all you have nothing to lose! You can have a go at being a conductor, don a black coat and step up to the plate; try out different percussion instruments, from a big bass drum to the triangle and listen to engaging commentary via headphones.
What struck me about the installation was that it was educational without feeling educational; even when reading the informative plaques I was engaged and entertained rather than bored! Having not a musical bone in my body, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience and how much new knowledge I took away with me. (I now know the secrets behind the seemingly strange jerky movements of conductors!)
It was also great to see how willing others were to have a go and make the most of the interactive elements. It think people are often afraid to try something new because they fear doing something wrong, but that’s not what RE-RITE and indeed the whole iOrchestra project is about. It’s about trying something new and changing your perception of classical music and orchestras and having fun doing it!
I was lucky enough to speak to James, the man behind iOrchestra, and ask him a few questions about the project and why it’s so important to Truro and Cornwall and Devon as a whole.
Why did you choose Truro, Plymouth and Torbay as locations for iOrchestra?
The project is part funded by Arts Council and they challenged arts organisations to find new ways of reaching new audiences that don’t have as much access to particular art forms as people in London. We are very conscious that in the Peninsula regions the opportunities to hear world-class orchestras are fairly limited. We decided, working with a consortium of local partners, to look at how we could potentially use our assets as a Philharmonia and find a new way of presenting them within a form that really suited Truro, Plymouth and Torbay. The idea of an outdoor function really appealed to us, and this meshed in well with what our consortium of partners were trying to achieve with their cultural programmes.
RE-RITE is part of wider project: iOrchestra and the mobile installation MusicLab. We identified five locations around Cornwall that were particularly under-served on a cultural level from our art-music position. These locations have great links to local visual arts scenes but don’t have access to great orchestral music, which is where MusicLab comes in. (MusicLab is a pop-up digital installation which uses cutting edge digital technology and innovative interactive design, offering a series of hands-on musical games and interactions, designed to put the visitor in the shoes of a composer, performer, producer, and conductor). We wanted MusicLab to inspire audiences to continue their journey and come to Truro to experience RE-RITE and the live orchestra. For example there are free buses to take you into Truro so that your journey doesn’t stop with just one element of the project, your journey continues on-wards from that. We have also worked with a lot of schools. iOrchestra is a terrific education project; it’s so hands on and can focus on orchestral music in a way that is very hard to achieve in a class room.
How does the set up work inside RE-RITE? How long did it take to put together?
RE-RITE was actually recorded back in 2009, in Watford Colosseum in one day. Five or six takes of the performance have been edited together, which is a very complicated process. You have to visually separate the orchestra to allow violins to appear on one screen and trombones on the other, but you also have to separate out the sounds. When you take a normal recording you take a blend which makes up the orchestral sound, what we tried to do here was unpick that blend, separate it out and then rebuild it so that when you’re in the trombone room, for example, you hear more of the trombones than you would the violins. In each room we wanted to replicate for the visitor what they would be looking at and what they would hear if they were sat in that seat. It has been quite a massive process. It has taken a year to edit the whole things and then put it together, but no one has ever done anything like this so we didn’t even know whether it was going to work in 2009! Luckily thanks to the geniuses that put it all together it all worked very very well.
Having premiered in 2009, this project has toured the world; it has been to China, Turkey, America etc. But we have never presented it in this format which is in the giant tent structure. It’s the first time that it has been presented outdoors, usually it gets presented in a museum or an art gallery.
How did you decide on all the different interactive aspects?
It comes back to what the core principle of what we’re trying to achieve is which is demystifying and breaking down barriers. We were very responsive to all the questions that we get asked everyday when we do concerts. One of the key ones, for example, is: what does the man or lady in the middle with the white stick do, why are they there? And so we were really keen to find ways of allowing people to understand things better and try things out for themselves. So through this installation you can conduct for the audience, you can listen to the conductor talk about what he’s doing and watch him at the same time. You begin to think okay the conductor isn’t just waving his arms around, he’s actually keeping rhythm and there are certain patterns within that. We wanted to show basic facts that will enhance people’s understand of what we do.
Then in terms of hands on instruments, the percussion instruments I think are visually the most exciting within the orchestra and the most immediately transferable to somebody who doesn’t perhaps know much about music. Anyone can play a Base Drum, everyone can play the Symbols. What we’re trying to do through this project is to follow the Guitar Hero trend from 2009; where you play along even though you may not be musical or even read music. You can still be a part of a creating music and that’s what we’re trying to replicate in the percussion room here; you can watch a tutorial and then play with the orchestra. This is the premise that we take forward in MusicLab. In MusicLab you can actually play the French Horn, Clarinet and the Cello. It’s a phenomenal opportunity, particularity for young people, to try out instruments that they would no otherwise get to feel or touch let alone play.
Has the digital element always been a part of iOrchestra?
I think we are always really conscious that digital technology is a means to enhancing the live performance, it’s not replacing it. We don’t think about how what we do can be applied to the latest technology, but how the latest technology can serve what we do to achieve new principles like reaching new audiences. For example; we are presenting what we do in a tent in the middle of a city center. People will walk by and think what’s going on in there and take a look. Technology is moving forward everyday, the technology that RE-RITE is running on is now actually obsolete; it’s quite old. We have a sister installation called Universe of Sound, which was made in 2012, and it’s quite amazing to see the difference between RE-RITE and Universe of Sound. We’ll be bringing Universe of Sound to Truro next year. You’ll see technology has moved forward incredibly, the conducting experience is much more high-tech – it uses the technology that drives the Wii, for example, and there are all sorts of editions including HD visuals. Although we are constantly keeping an eye on technology, it’s always subservient to live performance which is what the orchestra does.
What happens after iOrchestra in Truro?
iOrchestra continues for two years. We will come back with a similar format in year two, visiting the same communities, bringing Universe of Sound and again more concerts, and aim to work in partnership with other organisations in the interim period creating new projects.
The key thing iOrchestra allows is to put classical music on a pedestal. Truro is actually really lucky in terms of classical music, even though it doesn’t get that many visiting orchestras. It has Hall For Cornwall which has an orchestral series and a very good orchestra of its own (Truro Symphony); the Cathedral which does fantastic live music for free; Truro Free Arts. There are so many opportunities and what we’re trying to do is to use this project to inspire people who perhaps didn’t think that classical music was for them to explore further what is on their doorstep. This is the start of the journey, in the RE-RITE there is a huge table full of information about local events that people can continue their journey into. We want to support as best we can what else is going on in the region.
It is clear that iOrchestra is a fantastic initiative and I urge you all to go and visit RE-RITE on Lemon Quay while you have this existing installation on your doorstep. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you never know you might discover a new passion.
The Philharmonia Orchestra has produced music for blockbuster films such as Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World and will be playing a free open-air concert on Sunday 13 July at 5pm on Lemon Quay. The concert will include music from Dambusters, Romeo & Juliet, the Blue Danube, Pirates of the Caribbean and a few more! We will see you there.
Finally a big thank you to the iOrchestra team for having me a long this morning and answering all my questions!
If you would like more information on iOrchestra in Truro visit: www.enjoytruro.co.uk/whatson/family_fun/10836