Fireworks experts Titanium are increasingly combining pyrotechnics with music.
When it comes to generating a big bang you’d be hard pressed to find any fireworks companies with a larger payload than Titanium. The company is well used to creating stunning displays – and an awful lot of noise – for some of Scotland’s most iconic events including Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay show, the Forth Road Bridge 50th anniversary celebrations and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
But as well as just the pure, explosive joy of detonating huge quantities of gunpowder, the firm is increasingly combining its love of pyrotechnics with music. Which, if you’ve attended any an outdoor classical musical concerts recently, you might well recognise, such is the popularity of using fireworks to accompany pieces to their exciting crescendos.
Director Toby Alloway, as well as being the man with his hands on the plunger (by plunger, we mean a sophisticated suite of networked computerised ‘firing software’) is these days just as likely to be seen reading musical score sheets.
“If you’re doing a show with a live orchestra then you need to have a dedicated score reader, so in my case I’m the score reader as well as the firer, so it’s a far more intensive process, it’s almost like you’re playing an instrument.” Fortunately, Alloway is a trained pianist, so is just as well-versed in crotchets and quavers as he is in the correct quotients of explosive materials, a skill that serves him well as he times the rising chorus with the trajectory of multiple projectiles.
“I don’t play particularly often but I use my musical knowledge in all the displays that I design and fire. Whenever we do that sort of display we ask the orchestra to supply the score they will be playing and we get that annotated and marked up showing exactly where each sequence needs to fire. That way you can ensure that the display is as accurate and as close to a full computer-fired display as possible. We will annotate the score to account for the lift time, as it’s called, that’s the time that it takes for when the firework is fired into the sky to the moment that it bursts. It is quite a complex process; displays with a live orchestra are a totally different level to doing them with a pre-recorded soundtrack but it’s a fantastic thrill.”
As well as being a thrill, it’s also an intriguing blend of art and science that requires an unnerving degree of precision.
“Fireworks with a live orchestra is a very different challenge to doing it with a pre-recorded soundtrack, because no two orchestras will play the same piece at exactly the same time. But with our choreographed displays we have managed to get them accurate to within one hundredth of a second; you can’t just fire a pre-choreographed display with a live orchestra – it’s quite an in-depth process you have to go through, of listening to that particular orchestra playing that piece, and then you need to cut it down to sections to each 20 or 30-second section of music, and then break down those cues and take them into the score of the piece of music that’s playing.”
So far, Titanium has provided the live choreography for outdoors concerts including the BBC Proms in the Park, as well as for the Royal Philharmonic Concert orchestra. And it’s something he’d be keen to bring to Scotland for the busy summer schedule of outdoor events and festivals as well. “I think it would be great; we are doing them all over the country for all sorts of events. It’s just a great way to bring together people of all ages to celebrate. Music and fireworks together makes for an extremely good combination.”