The Spontaneous Orchestra

The Spontaneous Orchestra

This is a bit of an experiment we are working on just now and would love you to get involved. The goal is to explore innovative ways to improvise, compose and conduct a full orchestra, all live and in the moment, and to find ways for audiences to get involved doing this too. We’ll try it out for the first time, attempting a fully improvised performance with orchestra, backline, singers and more at Hidden Door festival on Sunday 24th May 2015.

See below for some ideas we’ll be exploring and how you can get involved too!

SUGGESTURE – Improvising & Conducting with Hand Signals.


This is a system developed by Mike Kearney which uses hand-signals to improvise with a band or, in this case, an orchestra.  Mike has devised numerous hand-signals and developed an in depth system of how to use them and work with musicians, bands & orchestras to write music on the fly! Check out Mike’s Suggesture blog and short video series to find out more.

Here’s episode 1 to give you a feel for it:


ACETATE COMPOSITION – Live composition using an overhead projector.

reh_11.11.12This idea was developed by composers Harry Whalley & Jack Nissan – in essence an old-fashioned overhead projector, some acetate sheets & marker pens.  The projector projects what is basically a blank canvas onto the wall, and a composer starts to make things up – notes, chord symbols, abstract visuals, graphic scores – anything to communicate ideas to the orchestra (and audience) who are seeing it appear for the first time in front of their eyes!



We are looking for suggestions from you for hand-signals & written symbols, which we will use to conduct and improvise a piece of music with full orchestra. We have set up a #SpontaneousOrchestra  handle on Twitter and a Facebook where you can post your suggestions and we promise to try them out with

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Come up with a hand-signal or gesture, or a written visual symbol or idea.

2. Try to describe what effect you would like it to have on the orchestra:

a) This could be quite a direct instruction – e.g. louder/softer, change the pitch, take a solo, etc.

b) Or more abstract – e.g. an explosion!, fragmented, floaty, scratchy sounds etc.

3. Take a photo or video of your hand signal/symbol, or a written description of it is fine too, and post it on facebook or twitter using the hashtag #SpontaneousOrchestra

We will collect your suggestions and try them out with the orchestra each week.  We’ll also try and record them and post back here so you can see how they worked out, and then on Sun 24th May we’ll bring a selection of them into the first ever Spontaneous Orchestra performance at Hidden Door festival, where we’ll be attempting a fully improvised show using hand signals and visuals!

Note: Anyone can do this and your ideas don’t need to be based in any music knowledge or theory – we’ve had a 9 year old conduct the orchestra with Suggesture before!  Just a symbol or hand signal and the kind of sound or effect you’d like it to create with the orchestra.  There are some examples below to help give you an idea..

Some examples

Here are a few photos & videos as an example of the kind of thing you can send us. Some are taken from Suggesture and some just made up now…

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 22.03 #2

Fragmented sounds

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 21.37

Flap hands like a bird/butterfly = fluttery melody

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 22.03

Shooting star – a short melody or sound flying overhead

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 21.37 #2

Play any note!

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 22.04

Joining people or ideas together in the orchestra – e.g. each dot is a different player.

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 21.34

Fist moves down = a hit / short stab / punchy sound

Photo on 06-05-2015 at 22.03 #3

Mirroring ideas – someone plays something and someone else plays it back

An explosion!