Delighting or going beyond the ordinary: the ACO, Cedric Price, and SXSW

Anyone guessed what this is about yet? I often get a head full of new and somewhat confused ideas at ACO concerts and Saturday night at the Angel Place Recital Hall in Sydney was no exception. Well, actually it was in a way because I enjoyed the whole program and we were given two amazing encores. It was also the third in a series of experiences that I’d had in one week in which the underlying theme was delighting an audience.
Maybe I should start again at the beginning. That was going to a public lecture one evening this week by Tom Baker (who has never been a Dr Who to my knowledge) who is now Professor of Innovation, Design and Architecture in the Faculty of Design Architecture and Building at UTS. There, in a fast-paced review of digital urbanism (the melding of the physical and virtual [cyber] worlds), he spoke quite a bit about the role architecture and design has today in providing extraordinary experiences for people in our cities by designing buildings, urban environments and dwellings that while being functional and efficient (from a use and energy consumption perspective) also delight us. It seems that one of his inspirations in this field was Cedric Price. Tom introduced us to even more exciting ideas that we might be able to use on and within our new library building such as energy saving initiatives, creation of a community space, using large digital media screens on the outside of the building, etc. Maybe we should ask him to talk to us specifically about what might be feasible for our new library?
Next came reading a blog post by Jeremy Keith (the web developer and microformats advocate from the UK) about his recent attendance at the recent SXSW Interactive. His most recent post is a great review of what he saw and heard at SXSW for those of us who could not attend. What caught my eye was his reference to a talk by a colleague of his (Paul Annett: Clearleft’s visual designer) about putting “the delighters” back into web design. What a fantastic concept! So I went over to Paul’s blog hoping to find out more and he described his talk as being about “putting delightful and entertaining niceties into the websites you design”. The talk was titled something like “Oooh, that’s clever! (unnatural experiments in web design)”. He continues:
Find inspiration for innovation. See technological quirks as opportunities. Try something previously unheard of with your site design. Laugh in the face of convention. Use and abuse CSS in ways never before imagined. Get away with it. And if it doesn’t work, try something else instead.
I think that is brilliant, and not just for website design. So when I read that, having heard about him only a couple of days ago, I was immediately reminded of Cedric Price. But wait, there’s more, my journey continues . . .
For some years (nearly 10?) I’ve subscribed to the ACO series of concerts in my former home town of Canberra. But late last year I was really lucky to be offered a new job at UTS in Sydney. For those who don’t understand “lucky”: no more war; no more Canberra. I’d had enough of both. There are small patches of delight in Canberra, but there are not enough (for me anyway), I’d seen them all and they don’t change or grow much. I’ll miss some people, but that is about it. So what was I to do with my 2009 subscription? I’m not sure yet, but as my music friends are away in South America, I managed to swap my ticket to go to the brilliant Inner Voices concert given by the ACO under guest conductor and Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto at Angel Place. The members of the orchestra play so well under Pekka that I believe he is probably penciled in as the next artistic director should Richard Tognetti, who this year celebrates 20 years as the ACO’s artistic director, ever move on. The music of Sibelius, Bach, Andrew Ford and Timo Alkotila wasn’t at all ordinary and the whole performance was a real delight. Pekka began the night with a warm and humorous welcome for one of the composers, Andrew Ford, who was in the audience. (Bach and Sibelius were not there: I checked.)
Under Richard Tognetti the ACO plays with an infectious enthusiasm, especially for new chamber music and with guest performers. They do the same under Pekka. And I’ve seen it before when he was out here last time. Pekka plays glorious music and he isn’t afraid to flaunt his obvious love of Finnish folk music and a long Finnish fiddling tradition. That alone probably horrifies some of his chamber music audiences, but it delights me. Like a skilled ballet dancer, he makes his playing look both graceful and easy.
So what does all this mean for me? Well, I’ve moved out of the museum and the strictly-cultural sector into a university library and I’m not yet completely sure, but would it be a bad thing if we all tried to delight our users occasionally? (Maybe we already do and I’ve witnessed some people doing just that on the client service desks in the Blake and Kuringai libraries.) Soon we are to build a library of the future on Broadway and maybe that new building will do it. Perhaps, as the university’s cultural hub, it could have one of those really cool small performance spaces that well known artists ask us to perform in? Maybe it will also be a bit of a showpiece for digital urbanism, alerting and showcasing what goes on inside the building on some of its external surfaces? Nevertheless, as we begin planning for it this year, I think that aiming to delight our clients, to laugh in the face of convention and to provide an extraordinary service in that library are decent and worthwhile objectives.
That’s all!

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