I recently had the great pleasure of playing on a recording session for Thomas Hewitt Jones, to record music written especially for the 2012 Olympics. He has created a fantastic soundtrack for the ‘Olympics Mascots’ films, which you can hear being played at the Olympic Park throughout the games (or take a look at Tommy’s website to get the album on a CD or download).
As the Olympic buzz (and about 3 million tourists) arrived here in Central London, I invited Wenlock the Olympic Mascot round for a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Locog, where we talked about the emotional effect of musical harmony on unsuspecting Olympics-goers, and how olympic ideals can be expressed through music.
SHJ: So, what was it like working with my brother?
Wenlock: It was a blast. He really spoke our language. He watched us fly about in the sky on rainbows sprinkling Olympic fairy dust everywhere, then translated it all into music for Michael Morpurgo’s films.
SHJ: I’ve seen the videos. Somewhat hallucinogenic! But how on earth do you actually go about translating the adventures of cyclopic lumps of flying metal into music?
Wenlock: Hmm, I’ll take that as a compliment… well, Tommy has a knack for observing the subtleties of different characters. Then he creates sounds that really make you feel what each character feels. He uses tools like harmony and musical pacing to make a complex emotional experience for each listener.
SHJ: Wow… for a Mascot, you know a lot about musicology, Wenlock! But I know what you mean – there are some places in the films where the feeling is really dark; edgy almost. Like the bit where you and Mandeville get trapped in a container and start to be taken away on a ship…
Wenlock: …and the scary music reflects just how we felt at the time – very afraid! But then when the tension resolves… in comes our big tune – I call it the Wenlock and Mandeville signature tune! It’s so catchy, just like a ‘hook’ you get in a pop song. Hear it once and you won’t be able to get it out of your head!
SHJ: You’re right, it’s a serious earworm! But you must have heard it hundreds of times… aren’t you sick of your ‘anthem’ by now?
Wenlock: But you see, that’s the clever thing about this music! Sure, it’s really catchy. But because there are so many things going on beneath the surface – structural musical things, harmonic things – you never get bored of it. Each time you listen, you hear something else in the music. It’s a bit like ‘The Simpsons’ cartoons: children find the slapstick humour funny, but adults also enjoy them for the subtle innuendo and clever wordplay… they’re artforms you can appreciate on many different levels!
SHJ: Nice. So I guess Tommy is trying to appeal to as many different types of listener as possible, right?
Wenlock: Well, he knows a lot of people are going to hear this soundtrack. So I think he wanted to get through to as many of them as possible. Maybe someone who likes the tune and then buys the album will listen to it a few times – and then they are going to start to hear more and more details in the music. At best, this kind of music inspires people to listen a bit more deeply, become a bit more aware of the sounds around them.
SHJ: Are you saying this track will make you a better listener? Is there some kind of socio-political agenda behind all those big tunes?
Wenlock: Well, what’s the Olympics all about?
SHJ: Buying fast food, spending billions of pounds on security, and increasing tourist revenue?
Wenlock: Rubbish! Cynics like you don’t understand: the original Olympic ethos has got nothing to do with all that stuff. It’s about everyone coming together, it’s about the values of participation and cooperation, and it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be. It’s a social philosophy. It’s about how sport can help us develop inter-cultural understanding, peaceful co-existence, and social and moral education.
SHJ: But where does music fit into all of this?
Wenlock: Sport and the Arts can ultimately be a force for good OR ill. It’s up to us. But they can motivate and inspire humanity however we see fit – soundwaves, physical motion, emotion… they’re all extraordinarily powerful energies. So why not make the most of them? That’s why Mandeville and I took up the piano…
SHJ: You’ve inspired me! What can I do to embrace these wonderful philosophies?
Wenlock: You could buy Tommy’s album…
SHJ: I thought you might say that!
Make Wenlock happy! Listen to ‘Rainbow to the Games’ by clicking here:
My group Fifth Quadrant performed at the opening of a conference the other day, where no less a speaker than Malcolm Gladwell was giving a keynote. He had some fascinating insights about how global society is changing (which I think can inform the way in which musical ensembles, orchestras, and musicians model their work).
Generational Paradigm was his term for describing the fundamental shift in mindset that occurs between different generations. For people who lived through World War 2, the militaristic-hierarchical structures that powered much of society’s infrastructure were crucial to their need of forging a secure and stable reality in an environment that had often seemed apocalyptic.
As time passed, things began to change. New opportunities emerged throughout the Western world, and the arrival of the ‘Baby Boomers’ gave rise to a new sense of individualism that built upon the strength of hierarchy. ‘Pay me what I’m worth’, ‘the better/more/etc. that I achieve the higher up the hierarchies I will go’, ‘if I win a reward for what I do, it’s entirely mine to keep and spend’; these are all classic attitudes that have permeated much of the professional world during the final decades of the 1900s.
But as we move into the 21st Century, the ‘Millennials’ – loosely defined by Gladwell as those born in the 1980s and 1990s – have begun to turn away from hierarchical structures. Wikipedia, said Gladwell, is a great example: whereas a paper encyclopedia is a closed, finite structure, created by the few for the many, Wikipedia, is an open, crowd-sourced structure. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of an encyclopaedia. It’s a very different way of achieving the same thing (and brings with it very different problems).
What exactly has caused this change in mindset is beyond the scope of this blogpost, however it’s fair to say that the internet and networked social media has been the predominant force behind the change. Technology has enabled different types of behaviour, and those behaviours have in turn changed the structures that we use to make things happen.
Occupy is a good example of a movement that changed the global conversation about how society works. People grouped together on the basis of shared interest; there were many things they wanted to see happen, and much common ground between people about what they believed in. But they did so without a leader, and without an ideology.
This model of interaction reflects the transformation of how the youngest generation sees the world; the ‘old-fashioned’ offline perception of manifold, wide-ranging hierarchies is replaced by an ‘everyone is equal’ attitude, which mirrors the hyperlinked, social-media-enabled online worlds where everything is just one click away. If everyone can be linked directly to one another online, why not take a similar approach offline?
Of course, there are massive advantages and disadvantages to this ‘network model’ way of thinking that you won’t find in hierarchical models. Network learning, for example, offers big benefits; forget the received wisdom of 10,000 hours to become ‘really good’ at something — if you can eat up the accumulated wisdom of many thousands of other people, then in very little time you can acquire the knowledge of a master.
But therein lies the rub. Acquisition of knowledge is one thing; application is another. Just because you can cut the learning time in half, doesn’t mean that you can shortcut the mastery process. Learning still takes time, and for that, you need the guidance and leadership of someone who has already achieved mastery. In other words, you still need a hierarchy to guide you through. Someone who is committed to a network model instead of a hierarchical model is in danger of missing the important roles that hierarchical relationships have to play. I use learning as the example here, but it is true of many things.
The network model is just as susceptible to corruption as the hierarchical model, only in a different way. What happened in Egypt in 2011 was a perfect example, said Gladwell. The revolution was sparked initially through online networks. But once those online networks were blocked and people were forced offline and out of their houses in order to interact, that revolutionary energy spilled out into the ‘offline’ physical world.
But the revolution was not a success. The network model got things started, for sure, but the lack of effective hierarchy prevented any meaningful followthrough. The net result was that the candidates who finally ended up competing in the elections the following year had very little connection to the revolution at all. One was an incumbent minister of the previous pre-revolution administration, and the other was from the Muslim Brotherhood, which had kept apart from the revolution all along.
When the network failed, the hierarchy came into play. But for the Egyptians who had started the process, they were not the hierarchies which they had had in mind.
So, how do you successfully fuse hierarchy and network?
Culturally, this is going to be one of the biggest questions of the next few years. For music, we have especially interesting models to play with; orchestras and conductors offer fertile ground for exploration, although perhaps it is in the smaller and more subtle models such as the string quartet – where such tensions have always seen the most subtle interplays – that the most interesting insights will lie.
What would a musical ensemble look like if it optimised the best of hierarchy and network models? It certainly wouldn’t be the didactic, Toscanini-led conductor-as-god structure of the 20th century orchestra. What could it be instead?
1 May, 1 May… ah yes! 1st May 2005. That was the date that, as a naive undergraduate, I officially incorporated my own music company, funded with a prize from Deutsche Bank.
First as Court Lane, now as a semi-nameless entity that supports Fifth Quadrant, SHJ, London Violin Studio, Music and the City, Classical Revolution London, Road to Jericho, and various other projects that have come and gone. For whatever reason, I thought it would be the most secure route to artistic freedom, and I still do.
Somehow – I don’t quite know how, as it has been a long and winding road – it seems still to be trading and indeed growing. I’m still probably doing a lot wrong, indeed it took me the best part of five years to understand that financial and artistic value has zero tangible relationship except in exceptional circumstances, but I’m as convinced as ever that the core idea is fundamentally right.
Indeed, the whole philosophy – putting the great traditions of classical and contemporary classical music into a more contemporary, relevant context – has never wavered. And even through difficult times, sticking to that clear vision has helped realise some real change.
The next step is very real-world; I’m expanding London Violin Studio into a proper school and research centre, based next to Buckingham Palace in the heart of London’s Westminster. Today, I open two dedicated violin rooms in a location that I hope is something of a statement – I want to encourage culture and the arts to develop and thrive at the heart of the UK government and royal district. I was thrilled to see that there are several organisations doing the same – opposite the new school, in the same street, there is a THEATRE under construction. Yes, really! St James’s Theatre, the first new theatre in London in 30 years, which is being built upon the site of the old Westminster Theatre of 300 years ago, and will open in the Autumn. It’s an undeniably exciting place to be.
And indeed there’s everything to play for. I think that cultural values – as often articulated by the arts – totally belong at the heart of a society, because of the positive influence they have on other aspects of social development. England and the UK enjoy possibly one of the greatest heritages in the world (culturally at least; our international legacy is not so rosy in other areas, as I remember each time I visit a foreign country and find a plaque commemorating the destruction of the area by people based out of Whitehall…). Is that reputation fully justified right now? Is it reflected by the way the institutions that control our society operate? I’m not entirely sure. But I think it should be.
There’s an interesting article in the Guardian today, asking whether the ‘Classical Club Night’ trend is ‘tearing up the rulebook’ or ‘playing the game’. You can read it here:
And here’s my response… (I guess I’m coming down on the side of ‘playing the game’!)
A timely piece… we are launching ‘Classical Revolution’ in London tonight. It’s one of the longest established of these Club Nights, having been founded in 2006 in San Francisco.
The link is http://www.
For us, revolution is an easy word to use, but we’re not really reinventing the wheel – we’re putting really great performances of really great music into a nice bar. As I wrote here, there’s nothing wrong with the music, and it doesn’t need any help. Classical club nights just change the context and the presentation of Classical music. Why do this? To cater for two distinct types of people:
1) People who already love classical music but want to have a choice of environments to enjoy it in. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a full-blown tails-and-bow-tie evening out with a major symphony orchestra playing in a major concert hall. Other nights you just want a really intimate, low-key environment in which to experience a Beethoven String Quartet at close quarters. You get a very different experience if you’re on a sofa in a small room with a glass of wine, than if you’re sitting amongst a large audience in a big auditorium. Neither is the ‘right’ way of doing it, they’re just different.
2) People who aren’t already into classical music, and who are coming to it fresh. How do we make classical music attractive to people who haven’t spent several years going to classical concerts, and don’t really have any preconception of what a classical music concert might be like? (or who have a negative preconception). This isn’t an age thing – it’s equally applicable to young and old people. What’s important is that we’re re-imagining the context in which this great music is presented, so that it feels relevant to a contemporary urban audience. Then it won’t feel like a foreign or unapproachable culture to people who are new to classical music.
Once again, I’d reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with classical music itself. Classical music doesn’t need our help. It’s fine. What classical club nights can do is offer a unique type of setting in which people can enjoy classical performances in a different way. Offering these ‘alternative’ classical music experiences helps to reinforce the genre’s place at the heart of our musical culture.
Harry White is absolutely right to use historical examples of classical performance too – just take a look at 19th Century Vienna etc. and you’ll find plenty of examples of such models in action…
Conclusion from recent work:
Once you get someone to engage with an issue emotionally, they can see any human perspectives involved much more clearly. Once those human perspectives become apparent, the desire for change – if it is needed – becomes much, much stronger.
Yes but no but…
On our news site 'Classical Music UK', I noticed our editor had published this story in which Desmond Tutu criticizes the Cape Town Opera for touring to Israel, and the director of Israel Opera responds that both organizations 'relate to culture as a bridge, the aim of which is to be above any political dispute'.
Today, Drew and I are travelling to Switzerland to perform and speak at the Agenda Setting conference, a major international event for the media and political sectors, examining the issue of 'trust' in international media.
We'll be performing music by Mozart and Bach, as well as delivering a keynote about our work in Palestine, to mark the start of our new project 'Road to Jericho', an international concert tour and documentary film in the UK and Palestine.
'Road to Jericho' will be Fifth Quadrant's major project for 2011, and we've just this week welcomed Aldeburgh Music and Spitalfields Music as our key UK partners. We'll be performing a concert at the Spitalfields Festival on 10 June 2011.
We've put together a website (still in semi-draft form, there's plenty more to do…) which you can find at http://www.roadtojericho.com/
We're about to start a big initiative to connect with sponsors and funders, so if you know anyone who would like to get involved, please let us know!