Sunday, 2 December 2012

Concrete Disco!

The Young Studio meets Concrete Disco! :)
From left-right: Huw, Me (Henry), Johnny & Don (Concrete Disco), Nassy, Joe (Concrete Disco), and Hanaa, Chloe & Elle.
For those who aren't aware, since September, I have been working with a new initiative set up by Rob Watt of the National Theatre, called the 'Young Studio'. The aim of this was to get various different people from different areas within the arts to come together, essentially to create 'theatre' (I put the word theatre in inverted commas, as it's using it in a much broader sense than simply creating something to go on stage and be put in front of a seated audience in a designated building.)
The main stimulus, if you like, of this first season of the Young Studio, is 'Can we create theatre without words?'. That concept has evolved and been adjusted over the many weeks we've been working on it, but fundamentally, each week we've been working and experimenting with that idea, with the help of any external directors, sound designers, and anyone else related to the arts that's come in and ran an assignment.

A couple of weeks ago, with The Young Studio, we did a workshop-type thing with a band called "Concrete Disco" - they're sort of a weird electronic band that combines some of the best bits of DJ sets and live band music performances. (They were on Sky One's Must Be The Music a couple of years ago under the name "Toxic Funk Berry", but apparently later changed the name as it often wouldn't sink in on first hearing it). As I put it myself, "Concrete Disco" is more...well, "Concrete" :P

We began with a slightly awkward ten minute gig type thing from them, not quite knowing what to do - as the numbers for Young Studio have varied over the last few weeks due to availability (people being caught up at work, etc.), there were only about 10 of us or so on that particular day, and so we didn't really know what to do - personally, I'm usually quite energetic at gigs, but unfortunately while people certainly had energy, I just didn't feel the same sort of comfort that I feel at a gig of letting loose and and jumping around, as you can do at a packed small gig or at a relatively full large one. I suppose it's a feeling of 'safety in numbers', so to speak.

Anyway, after that, we spent some time going through the band's set up with them, and what they actually do, and how they go about making their music. All of which was very interesting, especially for someone like me, who is so interested in music and music production in itself, but particularly in the production of dance music like theirs. Joe was mostly the DJ/producer type guy, who had various pre-recorded loops, but the software he had set up allowed him to control when to play those loops through, so it wasn't just like some ordinary backing track. Joe also had a little mini keyboard too, which I think he mainly used for editing synths and samples stuff as they went out.
Then there was Joe's older brother, Don, who was the drummer. He had an electronic drum kit, and his was the most obvious and prominent live instrument. Along with his drums and cymbals though, he also had a little pad where you could have up to six pre-recorded sounds/sound effects on at any one time, which are played by him hitting/tapping the pad and that makes the sound play through. This also provides the opportunity to play through some sounds which any ordinary drum kit couldn't normally make.
Finally, there was Johnny, who again, was working with a laptop. The same software as Joe, but he had a keyboard which he was using much more, playing through synth sounds, and he also had a pedal at his feet to change the samples/synths he was working with - a lot easier than suddenly having to reach over and click with a computer mouse!

Anyway, after that, we started experimenting with what would happen if we started doing the viewpoints exercise with the music. Wandering around the space at different paces - stopping, starting, changing direction, hopping, skipping, jumping.
We started playing around with it, how the music affected what we did, how we affected what the band did with the music, and points where us and the music just sort of became in sync.

We then started pairing up and experimenting with this concept further, but experimenting with how us having sort-of 'objectives' affected it. To begin with, people were bordering just acting with music being there, but after realising this and trying the exercise again, it really started to work well. We really got into the music and the rhythm of it, and the band started experimenting further, too. On the last attempt, then rather than seamlessly changing songs at any given point (which they'd done throughout the evening when playing their music), they played one particular song, but started elongating the faster and slower parts of it. They said afterwards that that was particularly interesting for them, as through vigorous rehearsal of it and knowing the song so well, they end play it quite military-like, in terms of how precise and structured it is. Adjusting it to what we were doing and trying to sync up with our actions "onstage" meant that they experimented a lot more, and ran free and improvised with what was ordinarily just a regular 3 and a half minute song.

In mine and Tosin (my partner)'s pieces, I did a lot of jumping around and sidestepping and stuff to the music, which I really enjoyed (my first objective was to attempt to get past her, the second being even more loose, "dominating the space".) Don attempted to drum to the beat of me jumping up and down towards the end, and I think subconsciously, I was attempting to jump in sync with his drumming, so this worked quite well. :)

Overall, the whole experience was really exciting and fascinating. Music and Drama are absolutely some of my greatest loves, but being able to combine them in this way couldn't have been more exciting, and I was buzzing with excitement from when I left the studio, right until I got home!
This is one of the great things about Young Studio - you work with people that you might not otherwise work directly with within the industry, and as a consequence you grow as a performer (and in this case, get a great new band to listen to!)