The evolution of Consciousness: Part 1
Consciousness, a multimedia performance that will take the audience on a journey through the human mind, promises to be one of the highlights of the Wonder season. The production has brought together an eclectic group of collaborators from mathematicians to arts producers. Chris Sharp, Music Programmer at the , tells the story of how the team was assembled.
On a gloomy day at the beginning of January 2013, an unlikely cast of collaborators found themselves ensconced in the concrete depths of London’s Barbican Hall. Amongst those present were the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science Marcus du Sautoy, the composer, producer and DJ James Holden, Louis Mustill from the wonderful Soho-based production company one of us, artist, composer and sound designer James Bulley and arts producer Joana Seguro. This day-long gathering was part production meeting and part pure experimentation; the next stage in the evolution of an increasingly clear and strikingly ambitious plan for Consciousness – a multimedia journey through the human mind.
Consciousness was conceived, almost a year ago, as a creative response to the news that the British Neuroscience Association had decided to hold its Festival of Neuroscience at the Barbican in April 2013. As a Programmer in the Music Team at the Barbican -which means that it’s my job to book performances in the concert hall – I was given the task of recruiting a team to work on the performance.
The first person I contacted was Joana Seguro. She and I had previously worked together on a project called Brainwaves, in which the composers Mira Calix and Anna Meredith had responded to the experience of undergoing an MRI scan, so she was the obvious person to talk to when it came to devising a new performance inspired by the mysteries and marvels of the brain.
Galvanised by the encouragement and support of the Wellcome Trust, Joana and I started to assemble the elements that would make up the show. Scientific integrity was crucial, of course, but so was finding a way to convey neuroscientific work, concepts and discoveries to a non-specialist audience. Joana had the perfect solution in her address book – Marcus du Sautoy. As presenter of The Secret You, a documentary made for the BBC’s Horizon, Marcus had already spent time exploring this territory. He immediately set to work drafting a script and suggesting scientific participants. In the meantime, we set about recruiting the rest of the creative team.
We wanted Consciousness to be much more than a simple lecture. From the beginning the aim was to produce a thoroughly engaging experience, informed by the same scientific ideas that it explored. The final performance will blend sound, light, live music, moving images and the spoken word to create a show that will be as immersive as it is enlightening. James Holden – a mathematician by training and a DJ who summons trance states for a living – was enthusiastic about the prospect of composing music informed by scientific discoveries about how the brain responds to audible stimuli. His soundtrack to the evening – performed by himself and a cast of musicians including saxophonist Etienne Jaumet and tabla player Camilo Tirado, and enhanced by the treatments of sound designer James Bulley – is intended to summon a higher state of consciousness in the audience. That effect will be enhanced by audio-visual contributions from one of us. We are busy combing scientific archives, commissioning animations and devising lighting states, all of which will bring the experiments, stories and wonders of the mind to life.
Back to the Hall, and to the people clustered together in the empty stalls. Having spent a day refining the running order, listening to musical sketches, devising ways to move the sound spatially around the auditorium, discussing video material, and working out the best way to build a wide-screen projection surface across the Barbican stage, we’re closer than ever to realizing the vision for Consciousness.
There’s a lot of work still to be done but, as decisions are taken and uncertainty is stripped away, there’s a palpable sense of excitement building.