Roger Thomas writes:
The group that was to become BxNT began as a class I taught at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. The course was entitled Making Electronic Music and entailed a progressive introduction to the ways in which electronic music can be created, followed by hands-on work with a selection of instruments that could be used to demonstrate these techniques. This was followed by a basic grounding in the process of improvisation. The course then concluded with the creation of a piece of collectively improvised electronic music, which was recorded for playback and analysis at the end of the course (with an added film accompaniment, purely because that seemed like a nice idea).
The participants seemed to be enjoying themselves and were keen to continue creating such music after the course came to an end. Since I was having as much fun as everyone else the idea immediately appealed. For various reasons it wasn’t possible to do this at the original venue, but there was no reason why we couldn’t do it somewhere else and perhaps add a few more members. So we did.
BxNT uses a performance setup called CIRCE which I had originally devised as a kind of pop-up workshop for use at electronic music gatherings, as foyer music for suitable gigs and so on. CIRCE stands for Collective Improvisation Recorded with Collaborative Electronics and comprises a selection of instruments operated by touchpads, proximity sensors and other types of interface that do not depend on conventional instrumental skills, making them accessible to and usable by both musicians and (in the traditional sense) non-musicians. CIRCE contains no custom-built devices, but relies instead on affordable off-the-shelf instruments, the sounds of which are combined in real time with an ambient mix created using Sonic Assault’s Mixed Reaction! software.
The original Circe was of course an enchantress who turned the companions of Odysseus into a herd of swine; happily this has yet to happen at a CIRCE event or BxNT gathering.
One of the many attractions of BxNT is the list of things it doesn’t need in order to function. It doesn’t need a fixed membership as no participant has a designated musical role, so it can operate as a pool from which anyone can choose to emerge if they want to join a given session. It doesn’t need trained musicians as the instruments involved don’t require conventional skills and/or defy formal study anyway. It doesn’t need a rehearsal schedule and the members don’t need to practise between sessions as there’s nothing to rehearse or practise. It doesn’t need to meet regularly (although we choose to do so) as there’s nothing the group needs to ‘learn’ by regular drilling. It doesn’t need fixed instrumentation as the music it creates isn’t intended for specific instruments and is at least partly defined by the capabilities of whatever instruments are available (in fact, varying the instrumental resources at each session has become an established strategy for keeping the group’s music in a state of refreshment). It doesn’t need an audience as, being a workshop group devoted to improvisation, the participants are also the audience (in that the collective process of improvising music is as much a surprise to those making it as those listening to it, so one group of people can cover both functions).
BxNT stands for Bishopsgate eXperimental Noise Theatre.When pressed to name the group I came up with a string of puerile acronyms including one for the above, as I quite liked the idea of running an ensemble called BENT (as in corrupt or wayward). This morphed into BxNT when the group’s webmaster-by-default began uploading our music to SoundCloud, which was probably for the best. The group’s name has retained the Bishopsgate connection in honour of its origins, but as we now work at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone there’s perhaps an argument for calling ourselves CxNT…