The 405 meets LCO
Formed in 2008 by co-artistic directors Robert Ames and Hugh Brunt, the London Contemporary Orchestra have collaborated with a diverse range of artists which has witnessed them bring their classical underpinnings to electronic, rock and hip-hop projects.
In a short time, they have asserted themselves as a dynamic and forward-thinking ensemble, working with the likes of Foals, Actress, Goldfrapp, Terry Riley and Beck. Most recently, they collaborated on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and Frank Ocean’s Blonde.
The London Contemporary Orchestra will ring out the final night of Organ Reframed, a festival in Union Chapel dedicated to reimagining the instrument’s classical origins. Their performance is a collaboration with organist James McVinnie, which will feature five new commissions by Craig Armstrong, Mark Fell, Alex Groves, Chaines and Catherine Lamb – many of whom are writing for the organ for the first time. The festival and the performance will embrace the rich history of the instrument while celebrating its future possibilities.
Andrew Darley spoke to Robert Ames about the orchestra’s career to date, the collaborations they have worked on, and the potential for their own album.
When you reflect on LCO’s collaborations there is so much diversity in terms of genres and the type of artist you work with. When you are approached to work on a project are there certain qualities that you seek?
I suppose me and Hugh Brunt have a certain taste in music. How the orchestra started out was through playing composed pieces of contemporary classical music so that’s the world we come from. When we consider collaborations we look for people who are writing really interesting, great music.
The different types of music you’ve worked on must require the orchestra to be quick to adapt?
We’re really, really lucky – we have an amazing group of players. They’re not just orchestral musicians, a lot of them are improvisers or working on their own shows and collaborations. They’re all used to working with other musicians from a broad spectrum of music so we have a really open-minded bunch of people.
Working with someone outside of contemporary classical, is the aim to step into their world?
It’s about creating something together. The big project we’ve just finished with Actress recently at The Barbican, that was just us spending loads of time with him over a period of time, orchestrating and interpreting electronic sounds together. It’s about getting to know each other musically really.
Am I right in thinking Matmos was your first collaboration of this kind?
Yeah we did a show with Matmos at The Village Underground quite some time ago, which was with Anna Meredith who was orchestrating.
Since then has there been any specific collaborations which you’ve particularly learned from?
As well as being artistic director for the group, I sometimes conduct the group as well. On a purely musical level, I always take away something from each person we work with; whether that’s a way of working or thinking about music, or literally discovering new sounds through improvisation processes. It’s always eye-opening working in different genres and taking something from each of them.
Would you see what LCO does as a way of bridging the gap between the pop and classical world?
Certainly not. We just want to make music which very often means wooden, acoustic instruments being used to play electronic music. We’re not consciously trying to seek new ground, we want to find to exciting musicians to work with.
I’m sure you’ve already been asked a thousand times on what was it like working with Radiohead on A Moon Shaped Pool?
We’ve been working with Jonny Greenwood for quite a long time now on other projects. Aside from being a guitarist in Radiohead, he’s a very special composer so it was really great to work on it and write with him and he’s been writing pieces for us too.
Has the orchestra considered released your own record?
(Laughs) Yes, we have! It’s an interesting thing. We’ve got some ideas but it’s funny growing up in the classical music world, I don’t know how much you have to sell to reach the top of the classical charts. I’m excited about how easy digital music is so available and vinyl. We’ve started to work with Boiler Room, who we collaborated with for the Actress and Jonny Greenwood projects so it’s been great getting our work out to a crowd like that. We also have a monthly hour-long radio slot on NTS Radio. For me, that’s just as exciting as laying an album down but we are looking to release our sound.
Have you seen a shift in how classical music is being received recently?
I don’t know if I have or not. We formed in 2008 and given the type of music we play we’ve always had a young audience. We’ve just played live with Terry Riley at The Barbican which was an amazing experience. It was a fairly old piece of music but there was a huge crowd there for it and a standing ovation at the end with lots of energy. I’ve always seen audiences as really engaged and enthused. I suppose what I have noticed is the increase in electronic music with classical elements being made to such a high quality and lines are being blurred. The gig we have in Union Chapel is really exciting, we’re working with Mark Fell for example who has written a piece with organ, electronics and strings. I had a little look at it and it’s really, really exciting.
What do you think the significance of a festival like Organ Reframed today is?
I think festivals are just a nice way of getting people together and getting a message out. I think it’s great the organ is being celebrated and being approached by people who don’t really write for it.