It’s been an intimate meeting here in Oxford, a bit like a return to the pre-Long Beach days in Monterey, when the audience was small enough that you made new friends early on and bumped into them repeatedly over the next few days. Yet the range of speakers has been fantastically diverse, and the music program at TEDGlobal 2009 has been one of the most eclectic ever. I don’t have many photos yet but
We kicked off with Matthew White, an amazing young euphonium player called Matthew White. He was trained in classical and the Northern brass band tradition, but he’s reinventing the instrument and evolving new techniques such as the ability to play intervals by blowing and singing at the same time. He’s also impressively fast and accurate with his streams of staccato notes. He was a big hit in the opening session, so we asked him back for a quick reprise on Day 2. I asked him on the mic what popped into his mind when he heard he would be going on right after Stephen Fry, and before Gordon Brown. He thought about it and then said: ‘I’ve peaked!’
The second morning featured a great performance by Imogen Heap. She’s performed at TED before, but that was 4 years ago with Frou Frou and her former partner Guy Sigsworth before she was doing all the technology herself. In the interim she’s become a phenomenon of the Internet music era. She’s never cracked the Billboard charts, or been on the cover of Rolling Stone; yet she’s spent over 18 months at #1 in the iTunes electronica downloads, and she has over 3/4 million followers on Twitter. When she wants to do a public appearance she just calls for a flash mob, and an hour later there’s a line around the block. She’s just completed her new album Ellipse, which I think is her best yet. This was her first live perfomance since finishing the album, and she hasn’t yet figured out how to perform the songs live: so she played one new song on the piano (‘Wait It Out’) and treated us to a couple of her best-known songs that she created entirely from scratch. One was ‘Just For Now’ which she builds up and down using a looper. Then she gave us the iconic ‘Hide And Seek’ with its lush vocals and memories of a troubled childhood. This made my wife Kathleen very sad because our daughter Harper sang and played it to us the day before she left home last month. I, of course, was too busy trying to work out the voicings she was using to control her Harmonizer.
Sophie Hunger is an interesting singer-songwriter from Switzerland who gave us a taste of her passionate and rather sombre music, accompanied by two acoustic guitars and a rather amazing trombone player who made great use of an antique Harmon mute as used by the big bands of the 1930s and ’40s.
Emanuel Jal was a warchild in Sudan who spent many of his childhood years toting a machine gun to avenge his village which was ransacked and destroyed. He was determined to kill as many Muslims and Arabs and he could; yet before long he found himself playing music and jamming with his former enemies which brought about his change of heart. He walked hundreds of miles with other refugee kids, most of whom didn’t make it out alive. He was eventually smuggled out of the country with no papers by a benevolent woman who has since died. Having survived the horrors of his childhood, he has now dedicated himself to doing something to help the next generation of kids in his home country, and he is speaking and rapping his way around the world raising money to build a school. His moving story brought many TEDsters to tears, and he has since received pledges of all sorts of help with his project, ranging from cash to designer chairs to free translations.
Eric Lewis returned for another late night piano session. As controversial as ever, he seems to split audience opinion down the middle—some think he’s reinventing jazz piano, while others feel he’s about as relevant to art as Liberace.
Radio Science Orchestra, Bruce Woolley’s unusual ensemble featuring harp, flute, Beamz and electronics, performed an homage to their favourite heroes and recurring themes like Leon Theremin, Sputnik, and Dr Who. The featured soloist was thereminist Lydia Kavina, niece of the great man himself who lives in Oxford. They also reprised my song Puls Kosmosa which I wrote for the Sputnik and Beyond performance at the ICA in 2007, and Bruce and I duetted on the Russian lyrics, co-written and translated for me by Melissa Jordan and now tweaked by Lydia for Communist-era folk authenticity.
Last night’s bonus session which was held not in the Playhouse but in the gorgeous Sheldonian Theatre. To open the proceedings, Felix’ Machines rattled and sang a delightful overture. Felix builds them painstakingly in his bedroom, and programs them from his laptop in Logic Studio. I love the way they make music that a machine would actually make. It would be easy enough to program them to imitate the kind of electronic music you hear everywhere. Instead Felix has created a whole new vocabulary for his machines that is interesting and mesmerising at the same time.
As TED’s music director I have the enviable task of selecting the musicians that appear here, and helping them tune their performances to fit the context. It’s an honour for me and for the musicians that play here to be able to add a little fairy dust that help these amazing ideas grow. TED’s truly making waves around the world now. If you have suggestions for musical acts that we should consider please send them to thomas at ted.com
We’ve got one final surprise in store for this the final morning of TED. I don’t want to be a spoiler so I’ll add a footnote about it later!
The final musical surprise was a return to the stage by Imogen Heap, who (having sent most of her gear home to Essex) used the audience as a human looping machine and three sections of us vocal lines to loop for her while she improvised over the top with hang drum rhythms and vocalising! Eyes closed, totally in the moment, summing up our feelings about the whole week in a single chant. I was so proud of her!
And just to end on a geeky note: I loved this WW2 German cipher machine that was part of the set!