Making Beautiful Digital Projects

Posted on April 15, 2016


By Andrew Burke, Chief Executive of the London Sinfonietta

At the London Sinfonietta, I’ve tried to embrace the possibilities of digital technology in different ways. We have a remit to do things differently and using technology allows us to make, present and educate about new music in new ways. Some of our work has been hugely successful, some has been more of a learning experience. I crave beautiful, poetic digital projects for the ensemble: those that enhance the live performance of new music or engage people deeply. I don’t think there is a fixed formula for making these projects, but these are some of the things I have noticed about them.

It inspires us to make art differently

A lot of work in the arts has pointed digital technology at what we do already. This kind of super-marketing is really important – anything that inspires new audiences to engage with existing powerful performance art is great. Yet, as important for the future is how we can imagine a new type of artistic project where digital technology is a fundamental part of the first idea, its creation and the performance, which will engage the public in new ways.

The best ideas fit the platform

It seems to me that the best digital and arts ideas are a really good fit between the artistic experience and the digital platform or channel that is involved. Ideally, you are having a unique experience that you really can’t have better anywhere else. A friend and digital thinker Brian Moran pointed me towards a great project by Arcade Fire, which was designed for the computer; users were encouraged to upload information and photos of themselves, which were then embedded into a play-out of the band’s latest video and song making it a personal experience for the fan. The project was cleverly exploiting the way we already use computers for storing digital photos and sending them to each other. I’m proud too of this ‘good fit’ on our own Steve Reich’s Clapping Music App which has now been downloaded over 100,000 times. The touchscreen iPhone was a perfect way for people to learn and perform this particular rhythmic piece – and a mobile device is with people all the time, so people engaged on the move, in their travel downtime.

People come together, as well as online

I think the arts have a powerful role in society to bring people together at compelling live events. And for us, with a bunch of brilliant musicians in our ensemble, it is so much more powerful for people to hear them live. A really exciting part of our own app project was a live event competition – which drove people to try harder and share their new-found skill at live events, performing with our percussionists and in front of each other. 

You see things, and ourselves, differently

Whilst I was at BBC Wales in 2001, a digital arts showcase brought several striking ideas to life. One project in particular has stayed with me, which projected red lips onto a Cardiff pavement, signalling a place for the public to talk to people online, anywhere in the world. A video feed sent the street image to my computer, and I could type sentences for an automated voice to speak at passers-by. Beyond the inevitable joking around I had a conversation with a tramp and ended up buying him a meal in a nearby Indian restaurant. Would I have done this were it not for this beautiful digital art project?  Probably not.

Time for some R&D…

It seems a good time – having made a bunch of work for a live performing ensemble such as the London Sinfonietta – to set off on this R&D project to find the next generation of ideas that could map themselves onto a group like ours. I hope we find these next, brilliant ideas and make some beautiful experiences for the public and our audience. I’ll report back… 

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