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The evolution of Consciousness: Part 2

March 1, 2013
Human ear

Human ear

Consciousness, an audio-visual performance lecture that will transport the audience on a journey through the human mind, will take place at the Barbican this weekend as part of the Wonder season. In his second post about the making-of the show, Chris Sharp, Music Programmer at the Barbican, gives us a glimpse behind-the-scenes as the team come together for their final rehearsals.

After months of rumination, discussion and research – and countless phone calls, Skype sessions and emails – the moment has arrived for Consciousness to make its final, painstaking journey out of the brains, laptops and hard drives of the various contributors, and on to the stage at the Barbican Hall.

Our presenter Marcus du Sautoy has been hard at work on the script, refining the conceptual journey that our audience will undertake. Audio-visual designers one of us have been scouring the world’s scientific archives for high definition footage, which will illustrate the lecture’s themes. Musician and composer James Holden has generated hours of sonic material, ranging from fleeting chimes to lengthy, slowly-evolving soundtracks. We have confirmed a cast of scientific experts in Professors Mark Lythgoe, Vasu Reddy, Vincent Walsh and Bruce Hood, who will be joining Marcus on stage to talk about their work. And, finally, after many weeks of wrestling with the requirements of the Human Tissue Authority, we have our star – a brain.

Amongst our most ambitious plans for the show is to, at key moments in the performance, turn the audience themselves into a kind of neural network. In order to do this, we had to find a way of distributing sound throughout the auditorium. Sound designer James Bulley , in collaboration with Daniel Jones, was tasked with finding a technical solution to this challenge. And the result is ingenious. He hit upon a way of using smartphones as a collection of widely-distributed loudspeakers. People in the Hall will be able to log on to a specially designed interface, enter their seat number, and connect their device to a location-specific audio stream –allowing sound to ripple and cascade from Balcony to Circle to Stalls.

With all this preparatory work under their belts, the team gathered at producer Joana Seguro’s Hackney studio on Monday 25th February to assemble the show. The day took the form of an epic script conference, working through the lecture section by section and discussing how best to bring together words, sound and images. At the end of a tiring, but exhilarating day, everyone scattered once more to make their final preparations.

As one of us retreat to their studio to embark on a final round of editing, it’s time for the band to get together. Over the next few days James Holden and his chosen accomplices – saxophonist Etienne Jaumet, drummer Tom Page and tabla player Camilo Tirado – will work out the music that will accompany our exploration of “heightened consciousness” during the second half of the show. The composition is expressly designed to alter the state of neuronal activity in the brain – it remains to be seen what effect this will have on the audience!

We will all meet again on Friday, the day before the show. This time we will run the show from beginning to end for the first time. And, just 24 hours later, we’ll be lowering the lights in a sold out Barbican Hall and doing it for real.

Consciousness is part of Wonder – a season of events created by the Wellcome Trust and the Barbican that explores, and is inspired by, where art and neuroscience collide.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 1, 2013 5:33 pm

    Looking forward to it!

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