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Actress Leads an Augmented Orchestra for a Special Boiler Room Concert

Electronic musician Actress' abstract and brooding beats with be performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra in a one-off collaborative concert.

by Kevin Holmes
28 January 2016, 2:10pm


Actress at The ICA 2015. Photo by Tom D Morgan

UK producer and electronic musician Actress (Darren J. Cunningham) will be teaming up with the London Contemporary Orchestra (LCO) for a one-off music event at London's Barbican on February 10, 2016. The event will be broacast live by Boiler Room who has commissioned it along with Arts Council England and Ninja Tune. It will see the orchestra perform live versions of Actress' tracks along with some new material, orchestral pieces designed using a synthesizer and created especially for this experimental environment.

Actress' sparse and abstract beats, his "R&B concrète," as it's known, will be augmented as his live electronica is blended with the acoustic instruments to form kind of musical symbiosis, striking a balance between the two different practices.

Actress' loops and percussions will be picked over and manipulated by the chamber musicians and the hybrid results will all be brought together by Hugh Brunt, principal conductor of the LCO.

Actress and the LCO have been rehearsing the concert for a number of weeks, so to find out more about this unique performance Actress answered some questions for The Creators Project, which give a deeper insight into the collaboration and the creative processes and concepts that inform it.


Image courtesy of Boiler Room

The Creators Project: How did the collaboration with LCO come about? Actress: The usual. A meeting happens, another meeting happens, and then a decision is made. I was looking for something to do, something that would challenge me, and this opportunity was too good to say no to. 

What dimension(s) will a live orchestra add to your work?

Multiple and infinite. I had recently finished designing a new studio to make new music on and needed to put it through its paces. Never before had I conventionally scored my music out, but working with an orchestra demands that level of musical communication. I'd been reading about Xanakis, Cage, and Stockhausen, and really wanted to explore some of the ideas I had in my head about building composition out of images and data. So this is a really early testing ground for some of these ideas.


Image courtesy of Boiler Room

Has the new material been created specifically for this live environment? If so how did that process differ (or not) from your standard creative process?

The biggest challenge was finding the meeting point between the electronics that I perform and how that would integrate with traditional acoustic instruments. Then I had to choose the instruments that I wanted to work with. I wanted to keep the orchestra minimal and so went for an eight-piece chamber style setup of piano, cello, upright bass, harp, violin, viola, clarinet, and percussion. We started with a couple of tracks from my previous album which would be easy to translate to instrument and rehearsed those, then I went away and created some new audio pieces which were then translated and scored to sheet music. As I got further into the process I started to create the notation around certain abstract design ideas. Like, for instance, creating a chord sequence system and then applying data to determine the way its played. Like a sort of sonic code graffiti.


Image courtesy of Boiler Room

The press release states you’ll be using the orchestra “as a new instrument.” Can you expand a little on how that will work and the concept behind that idea?

The instructions they have will be like me muting a mixing desk, or changing a sequence with midi. I'll not be conducting because it’ll sound like a mess, but there will be cues, and the music will not be linear. It will deviate and the players have the power to determine the course of a piece. The electronics I play will determine the way they play their instruments, and my improvisation will demand further improvisation from the player to find a resolution in a unified manner. So the performance will be quite alien and intense in parts, but there will also be sections of calm and hopefully some recognisable pieces. 

What is it like working with a live orchestra after mainly producing and performing music on your own?

Very lifting but also very difficult. You really have to concentrate on the characteristics of each instrument, and more so because I want it to be consistent with my style.


Image courtesy of Boiler Room

Is part of the thrill of a collaboration like this the idea that, prior to rehearsals, there’s a sense of no one knows what to expect? Yes totally, but honestly the players are so good they’ve made the whole process more comfortable for me to do my work. And part of the reason I do this is because of the thrill of stepping out into the unknown, but if the music sounds like anything that has been rehearsed or what I have created in isolation, I think it will be a real thrill for the audience too.

You can see the peformance streamed live at Boiler Room on February 10, 2016 from 7:30 to 11:00 PM.

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