Bring Me The Orchestra: An interview with fixer and arranger Will Harvey

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Will Harvey is a violinist, violist, composer and arranger who is currently studying for a MMus at Trinity Laban. A few days before his recent concert at the Royal Albert Hall with British rock group Bring Me The Horizon*, we talked about his experiences playing with bands and arranging for them, the challenges this presents, and how he creates his own opportunities.

*Bring Me The Horizon is British band from Sheffield, formed in 2004. They have released five studio albums to date, and follow a busy touring schedule worldwide. Their latest album, ‘That’s The Spirit’ debuted at #2 in UK charts.  

You’ve just been on tour with Bring Me The Horizon, and you’re working towards a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Tell us more.

Actually I was preparing the arrangements for the tour. The other arranger, Simon Dobson, and I we were both happy with our versions of the arrangements but the band’s Musical Director (MD) insisted on going through the scores. There was no opportunity for us to meet with the band in London. It turned out the only way we could go over the music was to jump on a tour bus to Brussels! I ended up staying on the bus for a week.

Bring the Horizon got booked to play the show at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the series for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and the band asked me to arrange an orchestra for it back in September. They told me what their budget was and asked if it was possible. At the time I said ‘probably not, but I’d quite like to do it’. In the end we cooked up a plan and managed to find a way around it, and now it’s going ahead.

How did you find this opportunity?

Before I came to Trinity Laban, I used to be in a band called Dry The River for about five years. We were signed to RCA record label and toured the world for a while. We were the band of the moment for about five minutes in 2012. Through that I met so many people in different groups who I stayed in contact with, so have ended up working with a number of them.

Last year I established a session group called Parallax Orchestra with cellist Maddie Cutter. The idea was to work with bands but rather than just playing on sessions we would actively seek collaborative work. So for example we’d approach artists and ask them if they would be interested in string arrangements of their music, remixes and so on. We want it to be an artistic venture as well as a business initiative. Through Parallax Orchestra we started finding a lot more work. We’ve worked with quite a few groups recently, so we’re now in the position to fix performers for various artists and tours. We’ve kept our focus on playing on the recording sessions but we can pass out the live gigs to full-time professionals. Maddie and I are both studying so we’re limited in terms of time we can spend on external projects.

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What are the challenges of arranging music for a band like Bring Me The Horizon?

It’s quite complex. We have to think not just about the orchestra but about playing music with musicians who are not used to adapting to new arrangements. We have to use click tracks, in-ear monitors and match up our arrangements with the band’s existing structures, while some things run on backing tracks. Everything has to be precise, so we also record count-ins. One of the most difficult things about arranging for the band is how to build our arrangements around all of these different aspects.

There’s also a lot to think about when it comes to the style of arranging. We’ve got some of the band’s older songs which are much heavier, as well as more recent, softer material. How do you arrange for those different sounds? I was inspired by my time in punk bands, so I’ve essentially written ‘third-wave, ska-punk’ horn lines. Adapting that kind of sound for an orchestra presents new challenges. Also, some of the songs are epic and anthemic, but metal. Again a totally different approach. You can’t draw solely from classical sources, even though you’re writing for an orchestra.

Which skills were most useful for this work, and how have your studies at Trinity Laban benefited you?

The Paul Bartholomew arranging module was massively helpful. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to write for a symphony orchestra before coming to study at Trinity Laban. There’s just no way I would have been able to do that. At Trinity Laban if I didn’t know what to do there was always somebody I could ask for advice.

How does this experience compare to working towards a classical performance?

It’s completely different. It involves exponentially more work. I mean, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I’ve put in over 1000 hours of work into this gig. Seriously, over 1000. The music is up to me, and it’s never finished until the performance is over. The same is true of a classical performance of course – you can always practice more – but this isn’t just practice. If I don’t like the way something goes, I can change it. So it’s in this constant state of flux and I won’t stop working on it until the gig is over.

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What have been the highlights of this experience so far?

The whole thing has been so rewarding. Sometimes it’s hard but it’s quite remarkable when I consider how many sheer pages of music we’ve written over the last few months. It’s in the hundreds. The actual arranging process is really fun. Working with other arrangers too has been great and I’ve learned a lot from that. The conductor, Simon Dobson, has been amazing to work with. Simon is a trumpet player who writes for brass bands and string groups in studio sessions. But he also plays in rock and punk bands, so he’s got all the essential skills for this job. He’s been doing this kind of stuff for years, and because we spent a lot of time working in the same room, I’ve learned a lot from him.

What advice would you give to other students?

Don’t go on tour unless you’re getting paid well! Also, arranging music is much more work than one might think, so you should know exactly what you’re getting into.

Do you value these skills and experiences as a young musician operating in a highly competitive industry?

Absolutely. It seems that many people have the view that there is no work in music anymore, that the music industry is struggling, we’re all getting paid less and less and that it’s getting worse and worse. I don’t think that needs to be the case. There’s actually more and more music being made everywhere, and it’s up to you how you can be a part of that and turn it to your advantage. Just because there’s less work along the conventional routes doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and create your own, which is what has happened with Parallax Orchestra. We planted an idea in people’s heads and suggested that we do something, and they responded, saying ‘let’s do it’. We’ve created our own opportunities and our own demand.


Marlowe Thornes-Heywood

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

Hearing Dance in the Body: Interview with Jack Philp

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Photo: JK Photography

Trinity Laban alumnus Jack Philp meets me straight after finishing another discussion of his project, a dance-meets-neuroscience study with City University. Clearly tremendously passionate about this collaboration, he is excited to show me diagrams and research papers. So what’s it all about?

First, tell me about your time at Trinity Laban.

It was really exciting to be here. It was fast-paced – so much so that my time went really quickly. I feel really lucky to have networked with valuable contacts; I formed pretty strong relationships at Trinity Laban and it’s been really worthwhile leaving with those. It was a great time to play, have fun, explore ideas, and test myself and what I can do. I’m really humbled and grateful to have trained here – I never expected to be lucky enough to do so.

How has your choreographic career developed since you graduated in 2015?

Since completing my undergraduate degree, I’ve been teaching a lot. I’m lecturing in a few colleges and I’m co-directing a few youth companies which is really exciting. It’s been great to work with a wealth of new people since leaving. At the same time, I’m working with my own company, which I developed at the end of my second year of training. Part of that involves continuing to form links, and pushing our work in the public domain.

Now we’re running a collaborative project with the cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit at City University, so that’s been the bulk of my creative time. Aside from that, I’m working on some new pieces with a youth group at the moment to fundraise for the Red Cross at a charity showcase. I feel blessed to still be doing what I enjoy.

How did your collaboration with City University come about?

First of all as a maker, I’m really interested in working collaboratively with music, and I knew I wanted to make a piece with that vision at the core. So in thinking about how I could unpick that relationship with sound a little bit more, I had a conversation with the Dance Science department at Trinity Laban. The staff encouraged me to meet with Dr. Corrine Jola who’s a Trinity Laban graduate and neuroscientist. I then took part in a performance cognition lab with her and La Fabrique Autonome Des Acteurs in France last summer, where there was a wealth of different artists – from theatre to dance to language specialists. It was exciting looking at how we can embed cognitive processes within theatre as a learning tool.

Next, I met with Dr. Beatriz Calvo-Merino at City University, and we started to develop a direction for the project, and unearth what questions we could answer; how we could analyse cognitive processes in relation to sound. We’ve since been running some pilot tests, including a performance by my company at Resolution (The Place’s annual dance festival) of an exploratory work, Psychoacoustic, which was a really useful platform to help me think about how to develop the project. Now, we are pushing the project into its next phase.

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Photo: Alex Galvez-Pol

What’s the next stage for the research?

We’re interested in running another period of Research and Development (R&D) in the studio to really develop the work that we started for Resolution, and reshape it to form a more gallery-suitable, immersive piece. I’m interested in running a piece of performance and research at the same time. What we want to do is expand the initial pilot test* on a larger scale, and thus widen the data pool. Our concept is to place an immersive project in a gallery for people to walk through, with big body outlines on the walls for the public to draw on and highlight where they feel particular activations and sensations. So we will be giving the spectator a role in designing the space that they’re in, as well as generating research and art at the same time.

*Jack explained that the pilot involved getting participants to list words they associated with emotions. In the next stage, these words were morphed into abstract sounds. When participants listened to these sounds, and watched short clips of abstract dance, fascinatingly they tended to highlight similar areas on body outlines relating to where they felt a response, in line with previous research on bodily mapping.

How do you hope for the research to progress?

In summary, we are interested in learning how you can assess emotional responses in an audience, based on specifically crafted music and sound; how they can work coherently together to suggest a particular emotion. So we’re testing whether those emotional responses are proven within a spectator, and whether they’re coherent across a larger number of people. Furthermore, we want to understand what causes those reactions specifically. Is it where an audience member looks? We can observe this through eye tracking. Or is it perhaps driven by a sound?

I would like to then take the work back into the theatre in the long term, and maintain it as an immersive piece, giving the audience a role in the project. I’m really keen on making work that’s accessible for people. The ‘tagline’ for my choreography is that it’s both collaborative and physical, but I also strongly believe that it’s really important to burst the bubble of contemporary dance. Sometimes it can be a bit closed, and hard to read. With this project especially, it’s fusing with neuroscience, which is already so heavily academic. We then have to question how we make that accessible for the general public – for both specialists and non-specialists.

Essentially I would like to plug my audience in, perhaps with GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) watches and other gadgets which measure your body’s data – your heart rate, your pulse – and use that data to control the projection and the lighting of the space. So for example, if the audience’s pulse increases, the projection becomes faster. Much like performing the work in a gallery, the audience members still have a creative role in their watching, thus making it accessible because they are invested in it. They are creating part of it.

I would also like to culminate all of the work in a paper or a journal, so there’s an academic resource created at the end of the project. It would be great to combine all of the research, knowledge, movement and sound, so it becomes a coherent package of information that can then be used academically and creatively. I’m interested in not only making a piece for myself, but making work that serves purpose, that people can utilise, and that supports the field’s sustainability in the long term.

London 16 Januray 2016 - Jack Philip Company present Psychoacoustic as parto of Resolution 2016 at The Place.

Photo: Danilo Moroni

Do you see the research influencing your choreography in future?

For sure. I’ve always been interested in collaborative thinking and I’ve always been a bit of an academic as well, so it’s been brilliant to be able to collaborate with some real academic minds. For me, that’s really shaped how I approach choreography. I’m still learning, and that’s the beauty of it – I’m learning so much from them, but also about myself, and how I approach the studio and reconsider both creative and academic choices. I think it’s great to have experience of working with people who are outside of your industry. With that, they bring their own specialism. To employ that in what I do is really exciting.

Charlotte Constable

Graduate Intern – Press & PR

Jack Philp is Artistic Director of Jack Philp Company. You can find out more about his research on the City University website.