Workshop presenting is a tough gig. Be it that big international conference, a masterclass for peers, or a quick 1 hour filler for internal staff. Audiences demand new ideas, snappy audio visual presentations and opportunities to play with your ideas and skills demonstrations. Coming up with hands on activities that have relevance to participants’ professional context is the winning Division 1 Tattslotto ticket for most professional facilitators and presenters.
There are yardsticks everywhere of course but what about from the world of children’s television?
Could you distill the very essence of your professional craft into a simple but compelling hands-on activity that would engage and entrance the majority of your audience in understanding it?
At a second hand store I came across a circa mid1960’s children's annual from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson SuperMarionation television production house.
Within it's mix of stories, comics and conundrums was this simple activity from Barry Gray, the Anderson's soundtrack composer extraordinaire.
The activity demonstrates how to create far out space sounds on your home reel-to-reel tape recorder thus illuminating deep insight into one of Gray's creative idiosyncrasies that contributed to the unique package of the Anderson’s puppet series stable including Joe 90, Captain Scarlet, the Thunderbirds and later, in the 1970’s, Space 1990.
Gray served as a post world war 2 musical assistant to Eartha Kitt, Hoagy Carmichael and Vera Lynn before in 1956 beginning a fruitful creative association with "Supermarionation" producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson where he scored soundtracks for their Twizzle, Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Thunderbirds TV puppet projects.
Supermarionation employed puppets suspended by wires that carried electrical current to control solenoid motors embedded within the marionette’s head. These motors controlled electrical devices that governed marionette facial gestures. Lip synchronization was achieved by converting pre recorded actors vocals into electrical pulses that traversed the wires and manipulated the solenoids that controlled the puppets lips.
Big on production values and shot on 35mm film, each series featured an astonishing array of mechanical models, puppets, thrilling plot lines and Gray’s compelling soundtrack all turning on an a universal axis of good versus evil.
Bridged orchestral big band font and centre drumming and associated percussion with military brass. A great example is his theme for the Anderson's Stingray where thumping drums call and respond to post modern doo wop vocal ensembles and release the hounds brass sections all working overtime. Turn this one up!
Other soundtrack items bridge the coming lysergic wash in popular music through his fascination with the Ondes Martenot, a pioneering electronic musical instrument created in 1928 by Maurice Martenot
The instrument is characterized by eerie wavering notes produced on a keyboard that varies the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes.
Take a listen to this example of the Ondes Martenot in Gray’s beautiful Mysterons theme from Captain Scarlet:
The synergy between these creative technologies was an intoxicating attack on the senses with the Anderson's hip vision of art, technology and science amplified through the brash overtures provided by Gray.
And…just about everyone knows the military quick step of Gray’s Thunderbirds theme.
We’ve only scratched the surface with Gray’s sublime creativity that gelled so deliciously with the Anderson’s sci-fi marionette retro future vision. The lesson for me is in finding that killer activity where participants get hands on with your ideas and emerge understanding and excited at possibilities becoming realities.