Artist's Statement: The ghost of Ian Curtis lyrics in Joy Division Reworked

| 30 August 2013

Artist’s Statement: The Heritage Orchestra has joined forces with former Gorillaz collaborator Matt Watkins on Joy Division Reworked, a Brighton Festival commission which made its international debut at the Sydney Opera House in May. Theirs is an idea which shouldn't work, admits the project's Chris Wheeler...

A photo of a projection of a male singer's face
© Philippe Carly
“There are really no projects like this that get to tour in the UK. It's experimental yet accessible, it has the punk ethic and includes a young amplified orchestra, and there's a massive visual installation.

Matt has captured the essence of Joy Division and somehow manages to project it onto multiple screens that surround the orchestra - it's incredibly powerful to look at. The whole combination is most certainly progressive rather than nostalgic.

Venues are quite risk-averse at the moment, but there is still an appetite for the alternative and progressive, and the venues who have booked this show have the foresight to present exciting new-works.

But it's only because of the Arts Council that this tour could even be achieved, so they must see some importance in this kind of production getting a wider audience.

From the initial idea of a Joy Division-inspired show, the process was truly unpredictable. It certainly wasn't conceived in one sitting.

It was more like Chinese whispers, where the idea grew and grew into something that nobody could have imagined.

First of all, our Musical Director, Scanner, deconstructed the classic Joy Division tunes into new electronic demos. These were then brought to life in the studio and developed by Matt Calvert (guitar) and Adam Betts (drums) - both members of instrumental noise-rock band Three Trapped Tigers - and John Calvert (bass).

After the music was well and truly dismantled, orchestrator Tom Trapp transcribed these live sessions, creating a score with this core band, strings, two female voices, brass and percussion.

We didn't know what it would really sound like until the first ever gig, but thanks to Jules Buckley, our esteemed conductor, the whole show came together rather well.

It's an unlikely marriage really, and fraught with danger. Messing with a cult band’s music and slamming it with an electronic musician and orchestra – it should never work.

We've worked with several visual artists and tend always to have a strong visual element to our performances - which is not the norm for an orchestra at all.

But then we don't play any classical repertoire and will more likely be found recording a session with The xx or performing with Aphex Twin at the Barbican than playing Beethoven or Brahms. Other orchestras can do that.

Done properly, visuals transform a performance. We had great success with our cover version of the Blade Runner soundtrack at the Sydney Opera House recently – this didn't show the film, but included suggestive and reminiscent imagery that was simply mindblowing.

For this show, Matt’s visuals provide the icing on the cake. Without them we would lose a visual connection. They definitely help immerse the audience in a super-scope world of Joy Division.

Laura Ducceschi, at Brighton Festival, suggested both Matt and Scanner as collaborators, and after properly checking them out we thought 'yeah, they're pretty cool.'

I was keen to have an electronic artist as our sounding board and main musical cohort. For us, working with people from different artistic backgrounds is crucial to an exciting and effective collaboration.

It's not a covers concert – the music has been transformed and reworked into an aggressive, very loud electro-orchestral odyssey, with massive Joy Division inspired visuals, of course.

There’s plenty of recognizable material for fans to raise a cheeky eyebrow to, it just won't be what they expect.

If Beck hadn’t done that really cool thing with David Bowie recently, I'd like to say we’d like to rework Mr Bowie next. And also Portishead, but they've been down the orchestra road before.

It would also be good to mess around with other bands like The Horrors, The Irrepressibles or an electronic artist like Burial or Caribou. Or something ridiculous like Red Hot Chili Peppers, even if was only [bassist] Flea.”

More pictures:

A photo of an orchestra rehearsing
© Neville Hornsey
A photo of an orchestra playing on a dark stage illuminated by blue lights
© Liz Johnson
A photo of an orchestral performance in a large theatre
A photo of a man playing a piano on a darkened stage under dim blue lights
© Liz Johnson
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