Bangor Music Festival

Audience will lap up music from wacky Xbox orchestra January 9, 2019

A wacky orchestra that uses computers and Xbox game controllers to make music will be taking centre stage at a top festival.

The Swansea Laptop Orchestra are promising an “exciting and stimulating” evening at the Bangor Music Festival which gets under way at the city’s Pontio centre on Friday, February 8.

According to the festival’s artistic director, Dr Guto Pryderi Puw, a Senior Lecturer in music and Head of Composition at Bangor University, the two-day event will feature a remarkable 21 premieres.

Among them will by new works by six Welsh sound artists written especially for the opening concert starring the Swansea Laptop Orchestra.

Dr Jenn Kirby, a lecturer in music composition and technology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, was one of the founding members of the orchestra and performs with her colleague Simon Kilshaw at venues and festivals around Wales.

She says the music they produce and perform is experimental, classical, electracoustic and electronic.

Jenn, who’s Irish, said: “What we do is different in that we make an instrument electronically and then learn to play it and how to perform using it.

“We borrow from classical instruments and then adapt the sound. For example we know what sound we get if we pluck a violin or perhaps a guitar. We understand that concept but we can map and distort that on a laptop to give us a new and very different sound.

“We use a lot of vocals too but by distorting and altering the sound we make the voice a very different instrument in its own right especially when it’s mapped and mixed through a laptop programme.

“We can then use game controllers or other equipment to make sounds and perform the music. By giving the composers we have been working with a new instrument made from a an old Xbox golf game we can make different sounds by using the way the software measures the swing of the golf club.”

She added: “It sounds more complex than it is but it’s a new and very exciting way of making experimental music.

“I guess we have a community of people creating electracoustic and electronic music now. People at all stages, some just learning and others experimenting and exploring electronic sound.”

She and Simon Kilshaw were delighted to have the opportunity to work with six new composers to create new works that will premiere at the festival.

Jenn said: “The work is excellent and we have been scoring the movement so we are choreographing as well as producing a musical score. We want to bring physicality to the music and have a 3D version using our hands and movements.

“It’s going to be an amazing concert and one we are really looking forward to. These are new composers, new electronic instruments and new sounds.”

According to Guto Pryderi Puw the Swansea Laptop Orchestra’s concert will be one of the highlights of this year’s festival.

He said: “Under the Codi Electronics project, Tŷ Cerdd has put out a Wales-wide call for scores with the idea that the six composers would work closely over an extended period of time with Dr Jenn Kirby and Simon Kilshaw of the Swansea Laptop Orchestra to bring their ideas to life.

“What they have produced are new and stimulating pieces of music. I’m looking forward to hearing what they have produced and to see what different approaches and styles each composer has taken. It’s going to be an amazing evening that will get the festival underway.”

He added: “It’s promises to be an amazing festival with so much going on that the whole family can enjoy. Remarkably we have no fewer than 21 world premieres taking place during the two day event at the Pontio arts centre in Bangor.

“We have workshops called Camau Nesaf Cerdd (Next Step in Music) on the theme of Echoes. This is for children aged from 15 months to three years and from four to seven.

“And internationally renowned flautist and head of Performance at Bangor University’s School of Music and Media, Richard Craig, will be joined by the world leading Electroacoustic Wales, which is based at the University, for an afternoon concert that will include new works by local composer Andrew Lewis, Menai Bridge-based Tristan Rhys Williams and Richard Craig who lives in Beaumaris.

“The final concert will feature the second performance of music by 10 Welsh composers, including my own work, Ultrasonic. The concert will feature the new Uproar Ensemble for what will be the second ever public performance of these works.

“The premiere concert received a very enthusiastic reception when it was performed at Cardiff last October. It’s going to be an amazing festival and I’d encourage any music lover, especially those that enjoy the experimental and the unusual, to come along.”