Interview: Jonathon Baker from The Arms of Sleep
In one of its most ambitious and magical productions to date, The Voice Project has created an epic 10-hour choral work to be performed overnight in the grounds of historic Firle Place. We talk to Jonathan Baker, co-director of The Voice Project with Sian Croose.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the amazing Arms of Sleep?
It's a 10-hour durational piece. The audience gets to experience an entire night in the company of singers, including a large choir, some soloists and instrumentalists. There will be lots of vignettes - individual film events and visual things - which happen through the night.
Where did the idea and inspiration for the show come from?
Well, we’ve had this idea over a long period of time really. I think The Arms of Sleep stemmed from the way in which sleep just seems very fascinating and mysterious. What we wanted to try and develop was an overnight piece that would allow the audience to go to bed, but at the same time, for them to experience extraordinary things.
We wanted to develop a piece about dreams which most people seem to be interested in to a certain extent. Most people are interested in the mystery of sleep, why we sleep– how we sleep– all those things. We hooked up with a real expert, who’s from Brighton actually – professor Annul Seth – at the University of Sussex. He’s the head of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness. We’ve been having quite a lot of conversations with him about various sleep cycles and how to in-train Alpha states and Betas states and things like that.
We’ve been concentrating on those elements. And there was one more element that became very important to us as we were developing the show. This was the idea of the ‘second sleep’: the segmented sleep pattern, which is what people used to do much more than they do now, and still do in lots of agrarian regions in the worlds.
They would wake up in the middle of the night and go around each other’s houses for food or beer or a chat – any kind of activity in the middle of the night. We thought that was quite fascinating. The history of that has largely been lost because it wasn’t a particularly urban act, it was quite a rural activity.
What was it that interested you about creating an overnight experience?
I think there’s something very beautiful about watching people sleep, I think that’s quite amazing. I think there is something very beautiful about watching people watching people sleep as well. So, the idea that the choir are amongst the audience in some ways or get to see the audience sleeping is really quite special, and very restful.
I think this goes back centuries and centuries when we used to sleep in large groups of people for safety. I think there’s something we’ve forgotten, I really think we have, we’ve become a lot more atomised and fragmented within our society.
Why did you decide to form a new community choir? What are the benefits of this approach?
Sian and I have been working together for a long, long time and I think we have a very particular approach. We want to work with un-auditioned choirs, we want to work with people who think they can sing, and people who think they possibly can’t. People with experience and people with no experience at all. That has always been very important to us.
What does it mean to you to be commissioned to be part of Brighton Festival?
It’s really exciting. Brighton Festival is amazing. It’s a cutting-edge festival in the world of Arts and culture worldwide. Its renowned. It’s extremely exciting to be a part of that, so we’re really pleased. Actually, it’s lovely to do a co-commission together with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. It’s so brilliant to see Artistic Organizations working together across the country, sharing things out and becoming more expansive, which I think is really important.
Head to our event page to find out more about ticket availability.
To find out more, watch our Spotlight film on the Arms of Sleep.