Back in the summer of 2008, the York Late Music Festival saw the culmination of CoMA Yorkshire’s motion-sensor-activated, interactive dance installation based on samples of extended gamelan techniques. This year, it was the turn of York International Women’s Week, as we further explored the creative realms of interactive multi-media and live installation.

In our ninety-minute programme, we drew on silent film, live art,  Nintendo Wii, and projections of images from deep space, with no fewer than three world premieres thrown in for good measure!

We began our day-long event with a composition workshop in the afternoon.  Participants of the YIWW Festival worked with the group on re-creating Emily Crossland’s Time drops in decay…, an Open Score piece which was written especially for CoMA Yorkshire last year and is now available from the CoMA library. This piece asks the performers to assemble their own composition using the symbols provided, by cutting and pasting them onto the score. The score then simply offers the performers a structural framework for their ideas, which makes the piece an ideal resource for workshops of this nature. Our participants responded with great imagination to a challenge that was  entirely new to them. Later on, they would present their finished work to the public, performing in the concert, alongside CoMA Yorkshire. The whole experience clearly had a powerful effect on our guests, and their enthusiasm and positivity made the work all the more rewarding for us.

That evening, as the audience arrived for the concert, they were greeted with the sounds of an orchestra tuning-up, thanks to Christine Caulfield’s electronic composition The Show That Never Starts, which was being played through the speakers. At the same time, Jackie-Fenton Elliot’s sketches of what was going on in the room around her (and in her own imagination!) were projected live onto a screen onstage.

Of the three world premieres that night, two were written by members of the ensemble.  The humour and hijinx of Christine’s highly theatrical Boar Ring provided the ideal counterpoint to Karen Kirkup’s beautiful and serene Reaching Peak 20. Amy Preece’s No Say No was a ‘conducted improvisation’ which proved most effective – the conductor has one set of instructions, and the performers another, but it’s when they meet in the middle that the magic happens! The performance of these three premieres can now be seen on YouTube.

There were three improvised items on the programme. The first was played to a pre-made video of Jackie’s wax painting, while the others represented our own interpretation of pictures taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. One such picture was divided up as an orchestral score, with the wind instruments at the top through to the strings at the bottom. We decided beforehand to associate each colour with a musical gesture and, as the picture scrolled across our screen, we played the stars! An even more exciting improvisation was created using a Wii controller. A second Hubble photograph was blacked out, except for one small square, which gave us a window into the galaxies that lay beneath. The Wii controller allowed the conductor to guide the square across the screen. Each performer was assigned a colour and, as the square revealed one tiny, colourful corner of the universe at a time, each member of the ensemble read their part.
One of the highlights of the concert was the live score to the 1922 silent movie Danse Macabre. This short, choreographed film tells an allegorical story of Youth, Love and Death. Even from the very opening titles, grim images of a baby’s skeleton, a dark castle on a moonlit night, and the ever-present spectre of Death, provided a delightfully morbid pallette for the ensemble to work with. This film can be viewed on YouTube with its new CoMA soundtrack added!

Our programme was brought to a close by the delicate and highly effective He Was She Was, an Open Score commission from Irish composer Jennifer Walshe. Whispering voices and the rustling of twigs and paper bags was beautifully complemented by the quietly crackling tape part.

After so much work with projectors, video-cameras and motion sensors, CoMA Yorkshire are now bringing out a beautifully produced DVD featuring photographs, concert recordings and videos of our installations, theatre pieces, and our movie soundtrack.

CoMA Yorkshire would like to thank York International Women’s Week and St. Helen’s Church in York for their support in hosting our workshop and concert event.

Peter Moran

Videos of the concert

Karen Kirkup: Reaching Peak Twenty

Wii Window Improvisation

Crossland/Workshop: Time Drops in Decay

All: Danse Macabre

All: Improvisation to a sliding space picture

Christine Caulfield: Boar Ring