A study in live music and light: two audiovisual performances

Complexity and contradiction are the topics explored in two audiovisual works, developed with support from the Wellcome Trust, to be performed together for the first time.

Both pieces have been performed separately at venues throughout the UK but will be combined at Kings Place, London, as part of their Out Hear programming, on 12 January 2014.

'Anarchy in the Organism' is a multimedia performance event, playing with ideas of what is simple and what is complex. This demanding work, led by Simeon Nelson, focuses on the science of cancer, placing this disease within its social and cultural contexts. It aims to transform simple concepts into highly intricate ones, and vice versa.

Like cancer and the emotions that surround it, the sound and images that make up 'Anarchy' tell a deeply complex story, yet present a simple message: that as a society we have to begin to accept cancer as a 'normal' part of life. It was conceived in collaboration with Macmillan Cancer Centre patients and produced in collaboration with Dr Simon Walker-Samuel, imaging physicist at UCL.

Professor Nelson explains: "The computer-coded organisms demonstrate growth, mutation and decay as normal aspects of being alive. Is cancer an aberration or is it an embedded aspect of being a complex organism? By situating cancer within a wider context of complex evolving systems from cities to trees to landscapes, this work attempts a reconciliation of cancer as a normative part of being in the world."

Anarchy is transforming from its site-specific installation version, previously located at UCLH Macmillan Cancer Centre, to a mixed-media concert hall work. With music by Rob Godman and software by Nick Rothwell, the transformation is completed with the introduction of players from the Goldfield Ensemble, clarinettist Kate Romano and a large-scale algorithmic video projection.

This incarnation of the work will premiere at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on 18 November 2013, before the Kings Place performance in January. The accompanying book, giving detailed insight into the artistic progression behind Simeon's extraordinary work, is available now from Black Dog Publishing.

Lexicon was inspired by a poem written by a 12-year-old boy, Tom Barbour-Might, which gives an insight into his feelings about struggling with dyslexia. Electro-acoustic composer Professor Andrew Lewis of Bangor University’s School of Music, whose daughter is dyslexic, wanted to find new ways of communicating and engaging people’s interest in the condition.

The composition is based on manipulations of recordings of Tom and other dyslexic people reading the poem, from both the original text and a revised version with conventional spelling.

Professor Lewis explains: "I'd describe the composition as a 'word-painting piece'. The message, if there is one, is that the so-called 'mistakes' that people make don’t have to be viewed as such. You can view them as creative alternatives. We don’t always have to think about the necessity to be correct 'according to the rules', and this can lead to unexpected and original creative thinking."

For the performances, the audience is immersed in a 360-degree spatial sound and visual experience in which words disintegrate and reassemble into new and surprising sonic and visual combinations, creating a kaleidoscopic, spatial labyrinth of sound, image and meaning.

Tom Barbor-Might, the author of the original poem, said: "When I was contacted for my consent for the poem to be used in the artwork, to be honest I couldn't even remember writing it. I think that made re-reading it after 20 years all the more strange. After deciphering the spelling, a lot of memories came back. Strange classroom mantras – A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for Cat – a lot of terrible stories concerning red, blue and green pirates.

"Essentially it brought back the struggle to get to grips with grammar, spelling and the way we structure thoughts on the page. Why should A be for Apple and B for Ball? Language isn't just a way to communicate; it's also a way of thinking, a way of making sense of the world, and as a child I remember feeling locked out of that. If the poem hints at that experience, then I am glad it's being used."

"I really hope that Andrew's piece will in some way help explain the experience of being dyslexic to an audience and in an artistic manner help promote empathy and legitimacy. It was a pleasure to be involved."

'Anarchy in the Organism' and 'Lexicon' will be performed on Sunday 12 January 2014 at 16.00 in Hall Two, Kings Place, London. 

The 'Anarchy in the Organism' book can be purchased via Amazon.