Distinguising Features


Illustrious Company, founded in 2000 by Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware, has been on an exciting sonic voyage over the last twenty years. True, there have been high points and low points, but overall the innovative core of the work Illustrious has meant that there is never really a dull moment.

At the turn of the 21st Century, and in reaction to the decline of the music industry, Vince Clarke (former member of Yazoo, Depeche Mode and Erasure) and Martyn Ware (The Human League, Heaven 17 and BEF) decided that in order to continue their love of musical creativity but in a more industry-orientated form, they would collaborate to form a company whose modus operandi was to use the spatialisation of sound to enrich the human experience. As they both had deep roots spanning 25 years in the production and performance side of the music industry, it was important for them to establish that they did not need to rely on the use of synthesisers in order to be innovators and be forward thinking. Originally Illustrious was intended to be geared towards the creation of film and television soundtracks, but after a commission in Sheffield to become involved with the, now defunct, National Centre for Popular Music, their love of three-dimensional sound spatialisation was born. After consulting with Paul Gilleiron Acoustic Design, Martyn and Vince, with funding from the museum, developed a piece of three dimensional sound software called 3D Audioscape. The next natural step was to write music to be spatialised using this software, so Pretentious and Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, two albums released in 2001 on Mute Records, were born.

Despite the fact that the short-lived National Centre for Popular Music closed after a year, Illustrious and PGAD acquired the rights to use the 3D Audioscape software. Pretentious and Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle were experimental ambient albums rendered in binaural, allowing the listener to experience, for the first time, a taste the future potential of 3D sonification. Illustrious developed, after this initial introduction to the 3D sound, a two-pronged approach to creating soundscapes. One was from a technological point of view - they wanted to understand what the software system was technically capable of, and the second from a creative perspective.

Illustrious was developed on the premise that it would take between three to five years for the idea of 3D sound as a business to catch fire and see some exponential growth. In reality, it is only now after 20 years of innovation and risk taking that Illustrious starting to see real traction. ‘Having said that’, Martyn notes, ‘during the intervening period, Illustrious has been successful in terms of the number of important projects we’ve done, so I think we can honestly say, even though it didn’t develop commercially as fast as we'd anticipated, artistically we have done an enormous range of work and our CV or playbook is now so all encompassing, there are very few uses of sound that we haven’t had a chance to try using commercially.’

A few of the stand-out projects that Illustrious have been commissioned to do really illustrate the range of work and creative briefs they can respond to. ‘The most memorable installation’, Martyn claims, ‘was the Millennium Bridge project called Tales from the Bridge, in fact it was so popular that two Facebook groups were set up to lobby to keep it installed permanently’. In 2012, Illustrious was commissioned to create a soundscape spanning 300m, the length of the bridge, in order to bring the rich history of the river thames to life - http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/installation/tales-bridge. Martyn contacted the LA-based Grammy award-winning composer Eric Whitacre and was granted permission to use his piece ‘Water Night’ featuring a 3500-piece choir to specialise across the the length of the bridge. Along with a specially-commissioned impressionistic poetry composition by Mario Petrucci discussing the history of the Thames, at the start of the hour long loop, every hour, the 3500- person choir would sing the piece and the different sections of the choir were spread across the bridge. ‘The sound of the choir was so convincing that we noticed as people were walking over the bridge, they were looking down and around trying to figure out where the ‘real’ choir were; it sounded ultra real.’ A major success, the soundscape was played for 8 weeks and around 4 million people witnessed it.

‘The most exciting project we’ve done has got to be the Mexico City Sound Oasis project (http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/installation/sound-oasis), - this was also the most massive project we have done”. In 2004 Illustrious were commissioned to create a soundscape to fill the square outside of the main Opera House in Mexico City; 150m x 150m by 20m high. The content of the soundscape was twelve, two hour pieces written by a mixture of Mexican and international sound artists, inspired by the sounds of Mexico City. ‘We gave each of the artists a day and trained them in how to use our software and they ran with it and created really amazing pieces of work’.

The Crossing project was commissioned and created in 2015 http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/installation/crossing. ‘It was really the most challenging, but commercially rewarding project we have done to date’, Martyn remarks. This project, commissioned by Grosvenor (owners of Liverpool One shopping destination) to commemorate 150 years of voyages between Liverpool to New York, called for extensive community and national historical research. ‘We wanted the listeners to feel as if they were inside the liner, travelling sonically through geographical space and time on a journey to and from New York. The size and shape of the main area of the open air shopping centre was relatively similar to that of the liner itself, so we wanted to make people really feel like there was music from different centuries coming from different decks of the ship, through specially postiponaled speakers’. The local historical context that this soundscape was seeking to employ, meant that the Liverpool community felt involved and part of the experience. ‘We’d have shoppers coming up to us telling us stories of their ancestors that worked on the shipyards, people really connected to this cultural heritage being displayed.”. With help from the Maritime museum, local historians, newspapers, national archives and radio stations, Illustrious were able to pool together knowledge and stories from across the 150 year period, ultimately creating a soundscape that was awarded a Purple Apple National Marketing Award against 200 nominees for the ‘Most effective marketing event in the UK’. The fact that people spent 10% more money shopping In the location during the installation, shows just how affective sound can be in pure marketing terms.

The future for Illustrious is bright, with new markets expanding - AI systems and neural networks combine with an ever-growing commercial demand for the uses of sound for wellbeing. ‘We always say that if you can imagine it in sound and space, and there are enough available resources to facilitate it, we can make it happen’, Martyn emphasises. The range of knowledge Illustrious has acquired over the past 20 years means that they are capable of providing unparalleled levels of expertise in the spatialisation of sound and how to engage audiences and create something truly innovative, unique and memorable. Illustrious also seeks to consolidate the research based work they have conducted with university institutions such as Queen Mary, Goldsmiths, Central St Martins and others to mobilise the use of sound to present complex data to the public. For example, Martyn notes, ‘if someone came up to us and said, I want to make a soundscape based on the data from the changing weather patterns because of climate change, we could make that happen”. Similarly, the use of sound in healthcare greatly interests Illustrious, as their many years of working with other technologies; interactive, visual and generative, means that they can adapt their expertise to create solutions to many problems… both small and large scale. ‘Sound has the capability to create a ‘lingua franca’ that all can access regardless of level of education, age or nationality; we want to keep finding ways to bring enriching and diverse experiences to the masses and make the most of the power of connectivity that we all share.’