Wow. TEDx Aldeburgh was today, and my mind is buzzing with ideas and thoughts as a result. There’s too much to cover in a single post, but here are just a few notes and thoughts about the speakers, mainly to remind me of all the future posts the day has made me want to write !
The day started with our charming, genial host Thomas Dolby giving a great introduction to the TEDx idea, including revealing his own personal connections with both TED, where he is musical director, and Aldeburgh – his great-great grandfather built the converted maltings building where today’s event took place.
Next David Toop ruminated poetically on listening, noise and the qualities of sound and silence, all to an intriguing ambient soundtrack.
Thomas Dolby then talked to William Orbit, who managed to be insightful, witty and inspiring despite having almost no voice left to speak with. Subjects included working with superstars, Trevor Horn’s production methods, the proximity effect, doubt and insecurity and what a producer does.
Sarah Nicolls described the reasons and process behind turning a piano literally inside out – and then showed us in performance exactly why you might want to.
Nick Ryan showcased “Papa Sangre“, an intriguing new iPhone game with a unique premise – a first-person thriller without visuals – you find your way around only by listening to the game’s 3D binaural sound.
But the standout moment of the day for me was Tod Machover‘s presentation on his astonishing work over the years. From hyper-instruments (instruments that know how the player is playing them, and respond with an electronically augmented accompaniments to suit) and hyper-scores (graphic scores written in simple visual notation and used everywhere from schools to musical therapy) through musical therapy and personalised music to an opera where the central character leaves the stage early on in the first act and the stage itself takes over his role, along with a small horde of robots !
What impressed me most about Tod’s presentation was not so much the way he used complex technical wizardry, but that it was always focused on being inclusive and enabling – for example installations allowing anyone to make music, whether they have just walked in off the street or have a challenging condition like cerebral palsy like Dan Ellsey, who appears in this amazing video.
All of which was perfectly brought together by Peter Gregson‘s stunning performance immediately afterwards, playing cello with one Tod’s hyper-bows, and allowing the sound of the instrument to envelop us in ambisonic surround-sound. Any scepticism I had about the implementation of the hyperbow were put to rest talking to Peter later – he assured me that the way it responds to his playing is very consistent and intuitive, and certainly hearing the piece felt very much like listening to a living, breathing performance, rather than simply someone playing with a backing track. This was an excerpt from a longer piece, “Spheres and Splinters”, which premieres next Friday in Snape, and on Saturday in London.
Expect a future post on hyper-instruments soon…
Unfortunately I had to leave before the end of the day and missed some of the people I was most looking forward to seeing – but here is what Jamie Cleaver wrote about them in the comments below:
Matt Farthing gave a great performance on the kettle drums, playing the piece he used to audition for entry to the National Youth Orchestra (he’s 14!)
Tim Exile stunned us by creating a track live using voice samples from himself and the audience. I was also impressed by him demo-ing his new interactive EP using the iPad.
Imogen Heap brought us up to speed with what she is currently doing, still giddy from her Royal Albert Hall performance the night before. She also wowed us with a great performance of her tune “Hide and Seek”.
You should also check out Jamie’s excellent Flickr slideshow from the day here – the images in this post are taken from it. And here is a great video snippet of Tim’s presentation. Thanks to the most excellent @kieronjames for posting this, shot on his iPhone. (And by the way, check out Kieron’s site too, he’s a great musician in his own right.)
I did have one or two quibbles about the day – for example, the live speakers were interspersed with an interesting selection of recorded presentations from other TED talks. These were excellent but the video and audio quality didn’t quite do them justice – and, as a regular online TED viewer I had personally seen several of them before and would have preferred a few less, in favour of a mid-session morning coffee-break with a little more time to connect with the speakers and other guests.
(Here’s one I hadn’t seen though, and loved – Itay Talgam – Lead like the great conductors )
There also seemed to be a cluster of performance-based items at the end of the day – it would have been nice if these had been spread out a little more, although I appreciated the idea of loose themes for each each section.
These comments are splitting hairs, though – overall TEDx Aldeburgh was a triumph, and I’m delighted I was there. Perhaps best of all was the real feeling that it was genuinely OK to approach anyone you saw there and start up a conversation – Thomas actually invited everyone to introduce themselves to the person they were sitting next to during his introduction, and this simple but effective ice-breaker really set the tone for the day.
There is a great playlist on SoundCloud now of the musical performances from the day – it’s a hand-held “in the room” recording so the quality isn’t superb, but it gives a great flavour nonetheless. Here is Immi’s spine-tingling acoustic performance of “Hide and Seek” – click through to hear the whole playlist.
Overall this was one of the most enjoyable, thought-provoking and inspiring musical events I’ve ever attended. Thomas Dolby did a fantastic job of initiating and organising the day, which was hosted extremely well by Snape Maltings – and I for one am already looking forward to next year’s event.
Oh, and Thomas, if you’re reading this, I’d like to take the opportunity to nominate two of my personal choices for speakers there, please – Evelyn Glennie and Brian Eno 🙂