Imagine three musicians taking to the stage in front of an audience. They haven’t discussed what they are going to play, not in the dressing room, not in the months since they last played together, not even since they first started playing together 25 years ago.

There is no written music, there is not even an identifiable musical style they will play in. They haven’t rehearsed since their initial few months as a band. There will just be a moment’s silence in the room, and then one of them will start playing whatever comes into his head, and the other two will respond.

It’s a kind of three-way leap over a cliff.

This is the modus operandi of the Australian trio called The Necks, who are playing at RISK, a weekend which takes place at Birmingham’s Town Hall from November 1-3 devoted to exploring the many facets of risk-taking.

There will also be an all-night jazz marathon, collaborative performances by musicians who have never met before, explorations of risk in architecture and business start-ups, and an attempt to answer the question: just how dangerous is this bacon sandwich?

It’s the brainchild of the programming team at Town Hall Symphony Hall, and the man who is embracing the risk of it all is director of artistic programming and projects, Richard Hawley.

So how did it all come about?

“Various things led to the idea, but it was initially born off the back of bringing the jazz all-nighter back to the city. All-night jazz events used to happen regularly in Town Hall in the 1950s and 60s.

“Then there was the fact that we have a 24-hour licence for Town Hall but we don’t really utilise it.

“There was also this question: how could we develop a new event for the city that made sense of the jazz diaspora of Birmingham?

“Then The Necks approached us about returning to the city...”

It occurred to Richard that rather than put the trio on again in a smaller venue as on their previous visits, it might be a good idea to try them in Town Hall and in the round. And a question was starting to formulate in his mind:

“What would it look like if we developed a weekend around the idea of risk, immediacy, spontaneity and music created in the moment?”

Here was not only a fresh way of presenting exciting events to an audience, but here was a way in which the actual putting on of these events echoed their unifying subject matter. RISK was indeed looking like an excitingly risky business.

Another crucial element in the weekend’s music is provided by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who will not only be performing in the round with the sampler Jan Bang, but also in the At Your Own Risk event, where musicians from a wide range of backgrounds come together to collaborate in the moment.

Richard Hawley
Richard Hawley
 

The other musicians taking that particular risk will include Israeli violinist Ilan Volkov, Japanese composer and pianist Shiori Usui, and THSH’s artist-in-residence Sam Underwood on electronics.

Richard says: “My go-to guy for collaborations is Arve Henriksen. I have seen him do amazing things on the fly – all of his things with Supersilent, for example. And I trust him. I suppose this is all about trust. It’s also about building trust with an audience that wouldn’t expect this kind of programming from us.”

Another kind of programming the audience wouldn’t expect is a series of daytime talks, to be held during the Saturday. These include a discussion on the risks of starting a business from two men who have; a discussion on the risks of pushing at the limits of the human body; Maxwell Hutchinson on the subject of exploring and embracing risk in architecture; and David Spiegelhalter, who uses statistics to investigate the risks we take every day, including whether a bacon sandwich might be dangerous. What is less of a risk for all of us is the price of tickets, especially the £35 Weekend Pass, which will get us into everything – it’s a £50 saving on buying them all separately. It’s also certain to encourage risk-taking.

* RISK, Birmingham Town Hall, November 1: 8pm (till dawn) Jazz All-Nighter, featuring the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra, The Blam Composers Orchestra led by Lluis Mather, and many other bands. Sam Underwood will be the risk-jockey.

November 2: 12pm: Starting a Business - Clueless and Caffeinated, with Simon Jenner (co-founder Urban Coffee Company) and Ben Smith (founder of Frumtious).

1pm: Human Extremes: Pushing to the Limits, including Jo Davies, explorer and Stewart Stirling, ultra marathon runner.

2pm: Risk Compensation - The Failure of the Seatbelt Law, with John Adams (Emeritus Professor of Geography at University College London).

3pm: Professor Risk - How Lethal are Bacon Sandwiches? with David Spiegelhalter (Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk).

4pm: Exploring and Embracing Risk in Architecture, with Maxwell Hutchinson (former president of RIBA).

8pm: At Your Own Risk, with Arve Henriksen, Melinda Maxwell, Daniel Pioro, Sam Underwood, Shiori Usui, Ilan Volkov and Gail Brand.

November 3: 2pm Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang.

6.30pm The Necks.

What risk means to them

Lloyd Swanton, bass player of The Necks:

“Risk is what keeps us still making this music after all these years, because although we knew from very early on that we had a system in place that allowed us to generate big slabs of music out of next to nothing, we still can’t read each other’s minds, and hence there is still the potential to hugely misunderstand each other’s intentions. That is what provides the frisson of excitement.”

Arve Henriksen, trumpeter:

“When I make music I really want to discover new sounds and to put myself in musical situations and surroundings that challenge my musicality and my ability to communicate. I have for many years worked with curious musicians, visual artists, dancers and sound technicians. People who are willing to take the risk within the arts. That has been my inspirational source, and that inspires me to continue to take the risk in creative situations.”

Mike Fletcher, saxophonist:

“Any musical performance will include some element of risk, and if that performance includes improvisation then the element of risk is greater. In my music I try to manage the risk by maintaining my technical and creative facilities to allow me to react appropriately to the music as it happens rather than having to prepare in advance the exact notes I play.

“In this context I consider risk to be a synonym for gamble, with the stakes being the relative ‘success’ of the performance. The more audacious the gamble, the more exhilarating the results.”