June 18, 2009 – 9:36 am
The Aftershock musicians on a lunchbreak
I wish there’d been time to blog what I’ve been doing over the past few days, but I’ve been so busy doing it that the opportunity just never presented itself.
My friend Stef and I are working on a project in Italy called Aftershock. It’s a collaboration between musicians from across Europe, led by Nitin Sawhney and culminating in a major concert event on Friday night. The musicians meet (mostly for the first time ever), and then compose a whole set of new pieces over 5 days.
There’s a real mix – vocalists, a drummer & beatboxer, a harpist, a percussionist, guitarist & bass-player, trumpeter… and Nitin leading the group, conducting workshops and overseeing the whole project. People from the UK, Italy, France and elsewhere. It’s quite an amazing and unique event.
Stef and I are building the website. Which is to say – Stef’s building the website.
What I do is less concrete but seemingly no less intensive. But the reason we’re actually in Genoa doing it is because it’s not just a website about Aftershock, it’s the Aftershock project itself put online.
That may not sound like a major difference – but where most events would be likely to have a website that is effectively an electronic brochure focused on promoting the event, we are more concerned with the underlying story: the creative process that takes place in the lead-up to the event, the characters of the musicians themselves, and the progress from the blank page to a full concert worth of music.
The people are amazing and very individual – there are some really strong characters, and lots of really amazing stuff going on. So what we’ve done is to give all 12 musicians a handheld video camera and told them to film whatever they thought was interesting. In a way, it’s like a reality show where the contestants get the cameras.
What’s great and interesting about that is that it allows the public to see into the development of the works, get to know the people involved, care about the characters and want to know the ‘end’ of the story – which is to say, come to the concert.
In other words, I’m approaching this as storytelling, rather than as marketing.
It’s a musical journey
One of the interesting things about what we’ve been doing is that it’s turned into a real adventure. Because the arrangements were so last minute, it was really expensive to get flights or trains, so Stef and I decided we’d drive from Birmingham to Genoa – a 22 hour trek across Europe, the highlight of which was crossing the alps.
The prototype website
Stef and I have been collecting up the footage, tagging it with the name of the people in the videos, and assembling them on the site, which is slowly coming together nicely.
The point of it all is that this one is the prototype. This is not just about building a website, but about inventing and formulating the way in which events like this one can be portrayed and presented online.
But how we thought it would work has, of course, changed in response to what we found when we arrived – which is sort of what we expected might happen. There is no way we could have anticipated how it would work, and this site could not have been accomplished had we stayed in Birmingham to do it.
Even what the cameras are for has changed. Nitin recognised that the portable digital video cameras were a great tool for the artists to take notes and record difficult pieces that they could then take away, study and rehearse – so the online presence has actually become part of the creative process as well, which is great.
Good times in Genoa
It’s an amazing experience, an amazing amount of fun, and quite a lot of hard work. It’s a real challenge to think through the way in which this all works, and make it an integrated part of the process. The results, though, are quite pleasing.
The site is coming together, and while it will change and adapt as we go along, the point of the whole thing is to get it how we want it, and then document the process so that it can be repeated for future events – like Aftershock Marseilles and Aftershock Manchester, which are to follow next.
We’re almost there on the site. It does almost everything it’s supposed to do technically, though we have a few cosmetic changes to make. Now my job is to continue collecting and uploading the video footage while writing up the documentation so that somebody else could walk in and make the next one work smoothly.
Of course, it’s an amazing experience to hang out and work with such incredible musicians in such an amazing place. I’m working on this 12 hours a day, and then going out and experiencing the city with Stef and the musicians. I’m making great friends and having a fantastic time.
I hope there’s a way I can be involved in future Aftershock events, even though the point of my job here is to make myself redundant.
Go explore the site, meet the musicians and see what we’re up to.