Notes, Steps, Timelines, Collaborations – Rob Jones

When reflecting on the Notes, Steps, Timelines, and Collaborations course by the RPS I remember what a fantastic experience it was.

As a musician I rarely come in to contact with professional dancers/choreographers so it was hugely exciting to meet such a range of new people from varied backgrounds within the dance art form.

I was really surprised to discover that the choreographers on the course could talk about music in a much more insightful way than I can as a composer. This came to light during a session with Zoe Martlew where a composer and choreographer both took turns to comment on a piece on music, and talk about how they might use it for dance. The dancers could so easily get to the essence of the music and interpret it really effectively where I found myself quickly descending into analysis of the music and using technical terms that mean nothing when it comes to collaboration. This experience has taught me that I need to learn how to talk about music to non-musicians as communicating with a collaborator on the same level is so important. The choreographers showed me that dance can draw the audience’s attention to parts of the music that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

There were such a huge range of guest speakers who work with composers or choreographers in such a variety of ways that it became obvious that it doesn’t really matter how you collaborate with someone, it is more important to jump in at the deep and just make it happen.

Rob Jones

Notes, Steps, Timelines, Collaborations, an RPS Drummond Fund project, took place over 3 weekends in October 2014 bringing together composers and choreographers to share and exchange ideas

Notes, Steps, Timelines, Collaborations

‘Notes, Steps, Timelines, Collaborations’, organised by Tom Hutchinson and the Royal Philharmonic Society, was a fantastic 3 day course for emerging choreographers and composers to meet, learn and share ideas.

Throughout the course we had various sessions with Will Aitchison, from Laban, who made sure that by the end of our first hour session we knew everybody’s name as well as some random facts about them. His sessions got us up from our seats and made us get creative with various tasks. It made us all get to know each other very quickly. One particular task was picking up each other’s pedestrian movements and creating short phrases. We then developed them after learning and discussing different dynamics in movement. It was great to see what every group had come up with but also a great opportunity to discuss what rhythm, dynamics and space means to both composers and choreographers. This inspired quite a few debates, especially between the composers regarding what rhythm was. It made me realise that we might use all these words to describe something but we have to go a lot further into detail and give examples to each other of our interpretation and meaning. This way you can be on the same page as each other and not fall into the trap of agreeing but really being at opposite ends and realising too late.

On creating a third language to communicate with each other it was fascinating to watch Jonathon Burrows and Matteo Fargion perform ‘Both sitting duet’. They have found a completely unique way of working together and we had some interesting discussions of how both composer and choreographer can work more closely with each other. The last session on our first day was with Wayne McGregor who really inspired us to push on with our careers and to always find ways of connecting with new people.

Throughout many of the sessions all the choreographers including Mark Baldwin, Richard Alston and Jonathon Burrows explained that when collaborating with a composer you have to let go and be free enough to see where the project can go. However Wayne did feel that if the project is initiated by the choreographer, for example, they would get to make that ultimate final decision. It was something which seemed up for debate during our discussion with Kevin O’Hare, Kenneth Tharp, Sally Groves and Christopher Barron. Is it 50/50 or 50/60 with one person having the final say/vision?

Again I soon realised that every collaboration is different and unique and it’s about finding your relationship with that person and discovering your way together.

On the last day a group of dancers from Rambert gave us a demonstration of different works they perform and how they rehearse them. They performed excerpts of works by Merce Cunningham, Richard Alston, Mark Baldwin and Lucinda Child.  A huge range of works with some very different methods of collaborating.

Throughout the 3 days we heard about so many different methods and ideas that it also made me realise where I am amongst it all. How do I choreograph, what do I find important and what would I seek in a collaboration.

I came away knowing 17 new choreographers and composers, who knows what might happen next between us all!

Stina Quagebeur

Sound:Vision – Ed Scolding and Peter Groom collaboration

Inspired by PULSE, our major commission this year, we have once again joined forces with with IdeasTap, this time to create Sound:Vision, a new initiative offering five young filmmakers and five composers the chance to create their own short film/music collaborations. We recently caught up with two of the successful applicants, Ed Scolding and Peter Groom, about their resulting work, Brut, which will be screened in London later this year. 


When we first met to plot out the project, we agreed to base the new film on one of two existing recordings of my music – Air Unfolds or Torque. Since these pieces already stand on their own and we saw the film as a new, separate creation, I wanted to give Peter the freedom to use these recordings as he needed, to choose whatever in the recordings was useful to him, and if necessary to collaborate in editing or processing the recordings – whatever was needed for a stronger film.

I wanted to give Peter meaningful access to these pieces, to open up my music to him so that he could connect to my ideas, as the starting point for him to take forward into the new work.

Having discussed the pieces together, I wrote detailed accounts of each piece, plotting them like a script or storyboard, describing what I felt the moods were, what I had been imagining, how each moment related to previous moments, any physical performance features that might connect to movement in the film.

The decision was to go with Air Unfolds – used verbatim, as the original concert piece. Listen here.

When I wrote this piece, I was imagining a single point continuously moving, tracing a line as it moved, jumping and slipping between different people, sometimes latching to bring several people together, sometimes reaching each person only for a moment.


Taking inspiration from the title of the project SOUND:VISION, I was keen that each have their own identity as two separate things coming together to make something new. I didn’t want to create a choreography that was set to Ed’s music or create movements that would highlight or frame his composition. We set out instead to create a layering of images with sound; in the hope this would make something new for the viewer, that they may not necessarily have imagined just by listening to the music or seeing the film.

I tried to create a dream like structure, where images could repeat, fall back in on themselves or be seen again but slightly changed. We spoke a lot about freeing ourselves from a narrative of music and we tried to avoid creating a visual that would be story and focused on allowing the music to be the story with images coming in and out, like a dream or a remembering of something.

I began to listen to the music alone. I played it whenever I could for about two weeks, in the morning, last thing at night. I wanted to hear it as many different ways as I could. I started to write questions the music posed to me; ideas of reaching, longing, coming together, parting. These would form the beginning of questions I would ask the dancers to respond to in rehearsal.

During rehearsal we listened to the music very little, I didn’t want it in our heads as we worked. I wanted to create something with the dancers and then let what we had made meet the music later on. We spoke a lot about what people do to get rid of loneliness or to find tenderness/connection.

Once we had created the scenes we began to film, still free of the music, often filming one scene in many locations to give ourselves as much choice as we could for the edit. Then there was something new I had never experienced before. On stage, because it is live you finish the piece with the dancers still there, they are there at the dress rehearsal and at the premiere! But with this project once we had finished filming they left and what I was left with was bits of things still unfinished and you just watch these bits on a little screen and have to find a way that it works together.

I began by sifting through this material, searching for how it could hold together as a piece. The key was moods; creating moods with the images that could then be ordered to take us on a journey. Tenderness, care, loneliness, helplessness, confusion, passion.

Early on in the process I had asked Ed to write what he saw in his head when he listened to the pieces. He responded with ideas of tracing lines or a type of movement; he created a sort of guide that was so useful as though we were not recreating his plan, it enabled us to navigate our way through the moods in the music. So it was with these moods of images and Ed’s map that we began to slowly piece the film together.

I really hope you enjoy the film. I hope the visual doesn’t give you everything, but that when it is seen with music that it adds together. If either the film or the music seems strange or vague, all you need do is listen or watch and it will tell you.