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Dan Jones –Sound and Fury, Massive Attack, Nitewoks and Edinburgh's Hogmanay

Dan Jones reckons his heart will be pounding at one minute to midnight on Hogmanay. This probably won't be an unusual experience for the several hundred thousand revellers who are likely to be on Princes Street in Edinburgh as they await the midnight fireworks at the climax of this year's Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party. For Bristol-based composer and sound designer Jones, however, the stress may be heightened. This is likely to be the case for both Jones and his collaborators who've created the first ever original soundwork to accompany the annual pyrotechnical spectacular will be sixty seconds away from seeing if their vision literally goes off with a bang.

This will be the culmination of a project commissioned by incoming Edinburgh's Hogmanay producers Underbelly, in which the turn of the year fireworks display will be choreographed to a single nine-minute sound-scape. Working with Skye-based band, Niteworks, and regular firework display designers, Titanium, Jones and co will knit together a selection of songs by Niteworks to create a full-on surround-sound experience designed to see in the new year to dazzling effect. Married to orchestrations played and recorded under Jones' guidance by the mammoth 74-piece ensemble who make up the BBC National Orchestra for Wales, the experience promises to be even more epic.

Executive producer of the event Martin Green has pulled together a formidable team, and has utilised his experience, both as head of ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and as director of Hull City of Culture. At the centre of this year's event is the firework display by Titanium, who, as well as designing Edinburgh's Hogmanay's fireworks for the last eight years, do something similar for London's New Year display. Outside of end of the year spectaculars, Titanium also designed the display which in June this year lit up the Wembley Stadium grand finale of the world tour by chart-topping chanteuse, Adele.

The all too appropriately named Niteworks, meanwhile, produce a dervish-like mash-up of Gaelic lyrics, traditional music and contemporary electronica to create a timeless fusion of club and ceilidh sounds. Since releasing their first EP in 2011, the four-piece has picked up the beats n' bagpipes mantle of the late Martyn Bennett, adding their own unique voice to the mix as they go.

“I've loved working with Niteworks,” says Jones. “They've been so generous in terms of giving me the keys to all these amazing individual tracks, which work brilliantly on their own, but I've been taking elements from each, and reshaping them in various ways, so with the orchestra as well, we're really upping the ante. It's very ambitious. We wanted to do something with sound at its heart, and which could bring people together in this great big celebration in a way that put them at the centre of everything.”

Jones is no stranger to creating sound-led site-specific spectacles great and small. This has been the case whether winning awards for his innovative sound designs with Sound and Fury, the theatre company he co-founded to put sound at the heart of performance. Productions include the award-winning Kursk, seen on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009, while his work elsewhere includes Going Dark and Ivan and the Dogs, both of which toured to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.

Jones' expansive string arrangements for Massive Attack and fellow Bristolians, Alpha, occupy much the same space as composer Craig Armstrong's work with the first band once did. On screen, Jones has scored Shadow of a Vampire, and won an Ivor Novello award for the 2004 film, Max. Beyond fiction, Jones scored Sir David Attenburgh's The Life of Mammals, and another Attenburgh documentary on Charles Darwin. More recently, Jones composed the soundtrack for Louis Theroux' film, My Scientology Movie, while this year alone he has worked on half a dozen films and TV dramas, with more pending.

More pertinently, perhaps, to Edinburgh's Hogmanay's midnight fireworks event, which Niteworks' piper Allan MacDonald has playfully dubbed the Niteworks x Dan Jones Edinburgh's Hogmanay 18 Fireworks Mix, are the large-scale outdoor events he has led. This includes Sky Orchestra, in which music was played from seven hot air balloons floating above the city. Following runs in Bristol and Birmingham, Sky Orchestra opened the 2007 Sydney Festival, then under the auspices of current Edinburgh International Festival artistic director, Fergus Linehan.

Jones also created Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans, in which a septet of chiming confectioners on wheels created a score that rang out across an entire neighbourhood. More recently, Jones has created large-scale sound-based events for the Paralympics and for Hull's tenure as UK City of Culture. Like these, Jones sees the immediate environment as vital to the Edinburgh's Hogmanay event.

“It's about reimagining those environments,” says Jones. “It's about taking an artwork out of a gallery, and un-boxing a concert from a concert hall and taking it out onto the street. The fireworks in Edinburgh has always been choreographed to music, and it has to be so precise. You have to listen to everyone as well to make it work. It's like when Toby from Titanium asked if it was possible to have a part where it was just drums, and looking at the computer simulations we're using, you totally understand why. There's a lot of talk about immersive theatre, but there's nothing more immersive than sound.”

Jones doesn't want to bombard people with sounds, and there will be space enough on Princes Street for people to find a quiet spot if they so wish. Such sensitivity to space and its relation to people influences all of Jones' work.

“It's really difficult to date back to when it was I first wanted to do large-scale events,” he says, “but there's something there about really wanting to celebrate people. That's the key to all these things.”

In Bristol, Jones lives a few doors down from Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley, but it's not like they hang out in a trip-hop version of Coronation Street or anything like that. Far from it, in fact.

“It's really funny, because everybody's really low-key, modest and down to earth. When Grant from Massive Attack comes round to listen to a string arrangement, what's interesting is that Massive Attack are very particular about preserving the elements of what makes them Massive Attack. They can work on a track for two years, and sometimes what I've done doesn't end up on it at all, because it's not right for the track, and that's fine, but when Grant from the band comes round, it's not like it's based on celebrity culture. I don't hobnob with these people. It's all based on a mutual desire to make music.”

While preparing for Hogmanay, a new TV mini series Jones has scored called The Miniaturist is scheduled to go out on BBC2 on Boxing Day. There's another film he's worked on that's scheduled to go to the Sundance film festival, and a new film about Vivienne Westwood. Come 11.59pm on Hogmanay, however, Jones will be in the thick of things, his heart pounding like everybody else.

“What I want to do with sound is make people feel like they're in the middle of a piece rather than just looking at something,” he says. “I've always felt that sound is about communication in a way that's more than just about narrative. What we're doing, and what Niteworks and Titanium are doing, and what everybody else involved are doing, it's about sharing space. And it's about discovering the beauty of what sound can do with that space.”

Edinburgh's Hogmanay fireworks take place on December 31 at midnight. Niteworks will also play the Waverley Stage.
www.edinburghshogmanay.com.

The Herald, December 26th 2017

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