Conducting an orchestra is an art-form that didn’t exist until the middle of the 19th century with the composers themselves previously undertaking the role. But as music scores became more complicated the need to have one authority who would stand and lead the players became a necessity, and a role that demanded impeccable calmness, timing, communication, and understanding of music.
But how a conductor would be judged was his own personal interpretation of the music score, and the unique manner in which he would communicate this, in some cases, to a 100-man symphony or philharmonic orchestra. Communicating the detailed musical expressions of allegro or pianissimo in a precise manner to such a large group of people, became a much revered talent across the world, with conductors gaining the same notoriety as surgeons, doctors, and politicians. Therefore the idea that one could conduct an orchestra and choir via remote control, immediately had music purists shaking their head and tutting rather loudly.
But, Richard James, a.ka. Aphex Twin, has successfully conducted a 48-piece orchestra and 24-man choir via remote control – his “remote orchestra.” James was commissioned to compose a series of short pieces for the European Culture Congress in Poland, one of which was his remote controlled orchestra, where-in he used midi controllers, headphones, and remote visual cues to conduct and control the sound of a 48-piece orchestra and 24-piece choir.
Footage of the performance that took place on September 10th 2011 has just been released, and the end result is a highly experimental offering that features an extensive and eery electronic sound manipulation. The performance immediately asks the question of whether or not the conductor could be replaced by a simple remote control or even a robot in the future?
The technophile would suggest that a musical performance is nothing short of a collection of physical actions that when organised correctly produces a unique and in some cases, spectacular sound. While the music purist would argue that analytical thought, emotional expressiveness, and pedagogical insight, are the human qualities that are needed to get the most from an orchestra. One thing that is certain is the debate regarding the future of the conductor has been opened, and when you see James’ remote control orchestra in action, the results are certainly food for thought.