Vivid's director unlocks music's DNA through an electronic/orchestral collaboration
Life will flash before your ears at the highly anticipated collaboration between The Presets at the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Timeline. Director – and Creative Advisor for Vivid Sydney – Ignatius Jones speaks to Garrett Bithell.
As Peter Tragear postulates, music began with a big bang around 13.8 billion years ago. If sound is just vibrating matter in space, that primeval moment of created surely had a note. At the time of printing, ‘Que Sara’ by Justice was the number one song in the country, according to ARIA. But how did we get from that first note of the Big Bang to Justice Crew? Can we make sense of all the musical giants – and the giant leaps they took? How do we decode music’s DNA?
Timeline – a highly anticipated collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra, led by Richard Tognetti, and seminal electronic duo The Presets – aims to answer these questions. Or, at the very, trace the cause-and-effect trajectory of 40,000 years of Western music.
“It’s a gloriously wacky project, trying to tell the story of western music in two and a half hours,” director Ignatius Jones tells SX. “It’s crazy. But the people involved are pretty crazy!”
[Image] ACO's Richard Tognetti (centre) and the Presets. Photo: Destination NSW.
As Jones asserts, the development of Western music is a unique case. “One of the things that fascinated us about western music – and the thing that makes it different – is that it had more of an evolutionary journey than the music of any other part of the globe. Because of an accident of geography, Europe, the Middle East and Africa are all contiguous, and consequently, because of the fusion and the sharing of influences, Western music has had the greatest and most interesting evolution.
“If you look at the Gagaku court music of Japan, it was fundamentally the same for 3000 years. The same thing with the classical music of China – it really didn’t change until the Manchus started to mix up various provincial styles and they got modern Beijing opera. ButWestern music has been changing since the word go.”
Once Western music was isolated at the focus, it then became a case of identifying defining moments – important shifts in music that changed the cultural landscape.
WATCH:Take a trip through music history with Timeline.
“Once we had focussed on western music, and the fact that what distinguishes it is its evolutionary nature, then it was quite easy to start picking those points where things changed.”
“What we’re trying to do is help the audience hear the timeline. It gives us a sense of where we came from, but also it helps put things into context. That’s been one of my main jobs as director – to help the audience see what’s happening and what influenced the composers.I do that mainly through art, and sometimes contemporary photographs.Butit’s really interesting to see what people were thinking visually at the same time as what they’re thinking melodically. For instance, Beethoven could not have existed in a vacuum, he was very much a man of his time when the particular intellectual revolution of the Enlightenment and the foundations of democracy was happening around him.”
Buttressed by a cappella vocalists and Jones’ striking visuals, Tognetti and the Presets kick off from the Big Bang, Neolithic era and sacred music, through to the Renaissance, Reformation, Baroque, Enlightenment and the end of tonality. Part 2 then moves through Modernism, Neoclassicism, Decadence and the Great Depression, and Part 3 weaves through the jazz, rock & roll, 60s psychedelia, disco electronic and pop.
“Thank God we were working with the Presets so we don’t have to finish on Miley Cyrus or Justin Biever,” Jones laughs.
“For 2000-2014 they’ve created a mash-up of about 150 different songs, which sounds bizarre, but it really, really works. And then to finish everything they’ve composed a new piece with Richard called Continuum, which really talks about the fact that we’ve been there, we’ve come back, and we’ll go there again – about the cyclical and continuous nature of music. It’s an absolutelyextraordinary piece.
“The whole evening is fascinating. You need to walk in with an open mind and open ears.”
[Cover image] Ignatius Jones directs Timeline. Photo: Supplied
Timeline, May 20-21, 23-24, City Recital Hall, Angel Place; May 25 & 29, Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid Live. Go to www.aco.com.au.