Out of Lectures and into the Lab

This week is RNCM Lab Week, where students step out of the practice room to collaborate with one another and create something new. We caught up with Composition student Tywi Roberts about this intensive week of creativity

Our ensemble is called the UnHeard Hybrid Orchestra and for Lab Week we’re focusing on bringing together acoustic and electronic players to create a unique blend of the historical along with cutting-edge musical techniques. We’ve been developing our concept over the course of the week, filtering acoustic instruments through electronics to create the uncanny, the delicate, the chaotic, and the emergent – working up to premiering our pieces at the lunchtime concert on Thursday 13 February.

UnHeard Hybrid Orchestra

The ensemble is divided into four sections – each with an electronic performer acting as a sort of section leader. Some of our material (like Heléna Walsh’s piece) involves structured improvisation, so during Lab Week we’ve been finding ways to have the sound move between the groups and create communication and arrangements that leverage the layout to our advantage.

Nate Chivers, Fraz Ireland and myself all have existing pieces which we have brought into rehearsals, and we have been working through the week on arranging them for this group.

Nate, for example, had a piece originally written for solo guitar, but brought into this group it has taken on a whole new character. Similarly for a piece I wrote last year originally for two string quartets. Our approach has essentially been to play the score provided, and then mould it as needed, with the help of Omer Shteinhart, our indispensable conductor.

In terms of the process: the main feature of the group is that the acoustic instruments are captured with microphones, and the sound can be processed by the laptops and Nate’s guitar pedals. We four electronic performers then play with the recorded sound in various ways.

We have mainly been seeking out pieces which we can arrange for this unique configuration of instruments and electronics… we are essentially a scratch orchestra, so have needed pieces with a relatively open form.

Although one of Bach’s chorales served as a great starting point – they have a very natural structure which invites pauses at each fermata, so we practiced playing the piece and allowing space at those moments for the electronics players to respond to the acoustic players.

It’s been a great experience. One of the main things I’ve learned is how invaluable it is to have fluid/flexible roles for an ensemble like this.

There are so many unknowns – we weren’t even sure if we’d need a conductor until rehearsals began on Monday, but now Omer has joined us, he has been filling a vital role in guiding/managing certain pieces, but also switching to a playing role when required. Some of the players have been required to frequently shift positions in the group, even switching instruments sometimes.

We’ve also formed closer bonds with the RNCM Sound and Video team – they’ve really been brought in more seriously as a force supporting the creative aspect of this project. For example: their advice on microphone usage and placement has been crucial, and I think will offer us more avenues to explore in terms of the qualities of the sounds in the future.

Come and see the results of Lab Week – all events free admission, no ticket required.

12 February 2020