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4th november 2012 the juxtavoices choir of sheffield and the birmingham improvisers orchestra gathered at what is now known as the magna centre in rotherham. they had congregated to realise a creative vision of geoff bright, gillian whiteley and walt shaw. they would improvise a ninety minute performance. i was present to document the moments of the present that i find interesting with an intention of making a video document of the performance.

the assembled performers attended a nineteen minute briefing in which the background and technical elements of the architecture of the improvisation were described.  these are my highlights of that briefing:

first up, geoff bright spoke of his experience 35 years ago a steel as a worker in Sheffield and a trade union activist engaged in attempting to save the steel mills at the point of their impending closure. he added that now he works as an academic looking at social consequences of post industrialiasion particularly social consequences with particular emphasis on the consequences for young people. he went on the talk about how he wanted for some time to explore a creative work, working with the present and the past as it is still present in that present. magna is an ideal site to explore the creative idea. he encouraged the musicians and singers to geographically explore the site, working with what is still there from the past, what’s here in the present and tapping into that sonically with a view to opening up meanings in this site that for him are often neglected.

“ if we conjure some sonic ghosts of the past and we can make that present today and make that available through our collective improvisations, that will be absolutely terrific……  “ geoff bright

next to speak was walt shaw outlining the architecture of the performance with additional help from matt harling.

“ there are four groups …. each group is led by a marshall who wears the corresponding coloured hard hat ….” walt shaw

“ you can’t really break a steel works “ matt harling

“what will seem like a casual walk is actually all based on military precision timing….which you don’t need to worry about. “ walt shaw

“ if bruce is conducting it’s really aimed largely at instrumentalists with vocalists augmenting and supporting….”  walt shaw


“ …. the last few minutes, maybe 3 or 4  of the gig is where we’re aiming to reconstruct, or trying to, the kind of sonic level that  we might have got in the steel works in the 70’s or 80’s and try and raise this roof …. we’re doing our best to get disturbing in terms of energy and intensity….”  walt shaw

listening to the briefing added to what i already knew about the overall creative vision from conversations with walt shaw. my approach to the day was a development of the approach i’d adopted in previous documentation commissions.


thanks go to chris trent for the extracts of main arena sound recordings.

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