Monday, April 20, 2009

What's in an idea

It got me thinking, what's in an idea?

For two weeks or so Shirley Thompson, a gifted composer and conductor, whose scores have lit up Broadway, London et al, had asked if I would produce a video for a piece she had been commissioned to make for Obama's 100 days.

Truthfully, I was excited and also fatigued.

At my Saturday morning aerobics gym, party to forty women and three men, myself included, I floated the idea to the group after our morning near-collapse work out.

I rang up a friend Dotun Adebayo who presents on the BBC and left him the idea. He duly emailed back saying he would do so on his next show.

The idea was a little ambitious. I wanted to find a family having a baby likely to call the child Obama. I would film the process; the parting shot, a baby held up to its parents as Obama's name faded onto the screen.

For the parents, it would hopefully be a moving piece, for the birth would be associated with the UK's festival Hall celebrations. I can't say it would make them famous, but I could imagine a quiet sense of satisfaction, looking at their video, with their child, with Shirley's score, played to the public.

The idea worked because it matched the score; the synergy of light and shade in birth and in Shirley's production - an undulating blend of contemporary fusion, crescendos and troughs.

Whats this?
Then something happened!

Nothing. My attempt to produce this on its budget, against the welter of other things was akin to that bout of creative turmoil we all go through when you're working the subject hard- creative angsts.

Then something else happened, two things actually Il Sistema, the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra were in town. I went to see them and their magic, their passion, their fullness was infectious.

I whistled so loudly I almost blew the ear drums out of Yoletta, my host on the day.

I came home reinvigorated, but still not thinking of Obama's piece.

But frankly you could have put a metal sheet in front of me and I would have attempted to produce a miniature Bo, through the wonders of origami.

The next day, Shirley rang: " I have been up all night she said. I have finished the score and am set for our first rehearsals"

Such is Shirley's pulling power that a number of high profiles - an opera singer and Mark, the inspiring leader from the BBC's highly acclaimed Last Choir standing wanted to get involved.

We met at the South Bank. She opened her Mac, with Sibelius chiming - a software programme for classical musicians - and with two mums and their toddlers gurgling and throwing toys in the background she guided me through five minutes of the transcendetal.

What happened next?

Shirley leaped out of her seat and hugged me.

"Obama" - we all both looked at each other.

It may see obvious now that a score celebrating Obama, should in fact have Obama.

But the first time she played the piece it wasn't. This one was.

Simply take video of the president and treat it in post to the score.

It was so obvious, you're probably going "Phut! "You creatives, problem is you're not".

Shirley and I share something in common which we discuss her music. We visualise it. It's not anything special other than a photographic interpretation of sound. We all do it. You hear a bip on the road you think car. In our case we're walking through the script of a film evolving.

And so, this morning after thinking where can I find Obama copyright video, the US Embassy, a delightful and helpful woman pointed me to mp4s, which are now downloaded to my Mac, sitting there, well, waiting to be treated.

Some time later this week I will have the score on my laptop to play around with. So much ado about nothing then. A score about President Obama, featuring Obama.

What's in an idea? Sometimes the idea, simple, unburdened, seemingly ethereal out-of-reach at first is the story. And when that happens it's a mesmerising experience.