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A composer and a historian were put together with a big band in an extraordinary musical depiction of Shanghai anno 1927.

The music is written by Danish Music Award nominee Signe Bisgaard, who has created an original musical experience. Live on stage is the critically acclaimed historian Søren Hein Rasmussen narrating his own monologues. The music is performed by one of the most modern and innovative big bands in Europe, Blood, Sweat, Drum + Bass.

The whole experience visually comes together in a light-based animated scenography, by the digital artists Laura Ratchschau and Ruben Lisboa. Among other things, they have designed a cyber harp, which works by the use of lasers and steam, they also use holograms projected on smoke and with the use of 3D-mapping of stage props.

The concerts are one of this year’s selected program highlights of Århundredets Festival, Aarhus. These concerts will be recorded and later released in a new rendition in the shape of an interactive concert format, as well as background music for an interactive comic of Shanghai 1927. These digital concert releases are developed by the company Kong Orange, the co-host of the concerts.

Shanghai anno 1927, was a gigantic and modern town. Along with Berlin, New York, and Paris it was one of the world’s four wildest inter-war metropolises. With the size of Shanghai and the vertiginous richness of the upper class the nightlife was never-ending. Night clubs played big band jazz, and the greatest jazz musicians had to perform in Shanghai to make a name for themselves.

Historian Søren Hein Rasmussen, who is also on stage during the concerts, explains why Shanghai anno 1927 is a engaging starting point for the concert experience.

The town is incredibly fascinating because it acts like a magnet for people of all kinds around the entire world. During 1927, Shanghai is surrounded by the nationalistic Chinese army, but the town’s pulse is well alive. The population is therefore literally put in a melting pot, which is close to explode. This is where we find the richest imperialists of the world, starving plebs, drug addicts, playboys, prostitutes, jazz musicians, adventurers from all over, indescribably brutal gangsters and political alligators. In 1927, the era of slaughtering the working class finds place in Shanghai. A bloody event, which is one of the primary sources of understanding the modern China.
— Søren Hein Rasmussen, historian and source based spoken word

Even if the concert does not have an actual story, it is still bears a resemblance to the upcoming Danish comic The Girl from Shanghai, which also takes place 1927. That way, the concert culminates with a musical and abstract scenographic depiction of the brutal slaughtering of the working class, that also shapes the base of the comic’s ending.

Big band music reinterpreted

Composer and creative leader on the project, Signe Bisgaard, tells about her work representing Shanghai musically:

The history is so interesting – and to me it was completely unknown until I was invited to join this project. The history has given the orchestra and myself a treasure chest of inspiration that never gets empty.

Through the music we will participate in tea dance on the fashionable Hotel Astor, inhale steam from hell in the silk fabrics, where child workers died like flies, and play whacky solos when visiting the opium cave.
— Signe Bisgaard, composer and creative leader

Signe Bisgaard and the big band creates an entirely modern musical experience, which reaches into the future with samples, laser harp, and saxophones, but it all spawns from a historic sound and story.

The visual expression will be like a time-travel that connects Shanghai of the 1920’s with modern day and constantly sends the viewer back and forth in time. This way my design has a new and modern look, which also respects the past. With a starting point in original source photos from the period and modern comic book illustration, the visuals and the music work together creating an artistic depiction of the story of a metropolis in an exciting and eventful period of world history.
— Laura Rathschau, scenographer and digital artist

Visual time machine

The raw material for the visual part of the experience is rich in photo material from the given time, collected by historian Søren Hein Rasmussen. Furthermore, newly animated cartoon elements from the digital comic that depict personal destinies from 1927 will be included.

The digital artists Ruben Lisboa and Laura Rathschau remix and compose the visual material. They create a multi-dimensional experience where projections appear on physical and sculptural surfaces, as well as “invisible” materials placed around the room; An experimenting universe that moves in close relation with the music which has been developed in close collaboration with composer Signe Bisgaard.

Experience big band music like never before and go back in time to an eventful town during its most crucial historic era, while the big band music and its historic show moves mountains for both big band music, depiction of history and digital scenography.

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