When one goes to the orchestra, one does not always bring one's dancing shoes. There's usually a bunch of sitting involved.
But every few months, the New World Symphony throws everything you know about classical music out the window and breaks out the lasers for a bit of high-brow, late-night fun.
Pulse is NWS' most innovative event series, pairing a DJ with its world-class musicians for a genre-bending evening unlike anything you've experienced. It's nothing new, but it was new to us as we set out to see how the Slap & Tickle crew's Panic Bomber (AKA Richard Haig) met the challenge.
It turns out, not only can your boy sing, he can compose for a full musical ensemble.
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"It could have been a lot simpler," Panic Bomber says. "I could have chosen to play a DJ track or play a drum beat, but I was like, 'No, no, no. Let's do this right.
"This is kind of a dream come true, I've always really loved classical music and being involved in the more serious academic side of music, so this was really a special time."
It was also special as part of Haig's homecoming. The DJ and producer recently relocated to New York, looking for a change of pace and scenery. Since the move, he's focused more time on his music-writing game, so when NWS hit him up about teaming for Pulse, it was a no-brainer.
"It was quite comprehensive and I used every single part of my skill set," Haig says. "It's a challenge to work in that flow in a live setting, because electronic music is so often pre-composed and pre-recorded. Anytime you have a live element, you really have to consider it. You have to figure out how you're going to do it in a way that flexible."
The usual Pulse program calls for DJ sets interspersed with orchestral performances of classical and contemporary pieces, as well as a bit of improvisational collaboration.
However, Haig decided to take things one step further to compose and perform two original tracks, with orchestration help from his friend Vasily Shalashov.
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The years Haig spent studying piano at UM and producing electronic music proved to be pretty useful in the endeavor. One of the pieces was actually an older piece that Haig had written previously, but the other was a brand-new composition created specifically for Pulse and the NWS.
"They were very open to whatever I wanted to do, and they're quite ambitious, so I just figured, 'Hell, I'm going to be ambitious as well,'" Haig says. "It was a lot of work, but it was I think it went off really well."
Besides the Panic Bomber originals, Haim and the NWS did Pulse's usual DJ-and-orchestra trade-off. They premiered a piece written for Haig and the orchestra by Molly Joyce, and there was a great moment when Haig played some favorite tracks while an electric bassist, a trombone player and percussionist. The two-hour event culminated in a final DJ set from Panic Bomber, while across the hall, different sets of ensembles performed classic "unplugged" music from Claude Debussey to Josephine Baker.
Pulse is a truly unique and inspiring evening, in that it melds the two worlds of orchestral and dance as well as their fan bases into one amalgamation of toe-tapping, booty-shaking music geeks. You can tell the NWS musicians love the chance to break musical barriers and revel in the change of pace. The performance space, with it's top-of-the-line projection system and lighting equipment, is beautifully transformed into a chic SoBe club environment, albeit with stadium seating.
It's a thrilling way to bridge the gap, even if the gap isn't really all that wide to begin with.
"You've got the big soaring strings in a lot of house music and techno these days. That's all there in the orchestra, but it's real," Haig says. "You have all these great textures and pallets to choose from, so I think there really is a complementary fit with orchestras and dance music, and I've noticed a trend lately. You have a lot of big hits in the last year, Ten Walls with the big brass lines in there, and Maceo Plex using a lot of strings and brass in his work, so there's a precedent for sure."
In case you missed it, Pulse will be back with another DJ in March, just in time to lead up to Winter Music Conference / Miami Music Week shenanigans. You'll have to wait a little longer for the chance to see Panic Bomber again, but all this outside-the-box creativity has got his experimental juices flowing.
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"I got the impression that they really like working with me, and I'm going to do whatever I can to explore this in the future," he says. "I think it set a great precedent, and I hope to be able to start releasing more classically-influenced pieces."
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