The Rest Is Noise: immersion in learning

I’m inspired, energised and brimming with ideas after attending another Rest Is Noise weekend at London’s Southbank. The Rest Is Noise festival (inspired by Alex Ross’ book) is running throughout 2013, and so far I’ve managed to make it to three of these superbly curated weekends of talks, debates, films and performances which “help to explain the relationship between classical music and the social and political changes of the last century”, allowing us “to see the music of that period ‘in the round’ – bringing in the history of science, technology, philosophical and political movements”.

While that (possibly) sounds a little weighty, the programme is so brilliantly put together and accessible that it’s far from elitist. All presentations are engaging, often with some weird and wonderful titbits of information that stick in the mind (“Nazi Porno Kitsch” anybody?). Expertly overseen by the wonderful Jude Kelly, who has an obvious passion not only for the audience experience, but also a deep grasp of the diverse range of topics in the programme, The Rest Is Noise is without doubt my favourite way to spend a weekend in the UK.

There are usually around 5 parallel sessions every hour, but to give you a flavour, highlights so far (for me) have included:

AMERICA (March 2013) – some pictures here
Diane Silverthorne on Mondrian in New York (foxtrot)
Steven J Fowler on the Ethics of Dada
Marcus Chown’s science keynote (big bang-tastic)
Bonnie Greer on the Rise of Black Music. I love this woman.
– A session on the cross-cultural legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, where Ray Shell read some of the poetry of Langston Hughes alongside an amazing performance (including looping so I was in my element…) by Cleveland Watkins and Byron Wallen.

ART OF FEAR (May 2013) – some pictures here
Anne Applebaum’s opening lecture on the political landscape of Europe between 1930-50
– The Noise Bites session on Leni Riefenstahl, Picasso’s Guernica and Nazi Architecture
Jack Healy’s incredible one-man show “Shostakovich” (which saw me shed a tear not once but three times…)
– Frank Whitford’s exploration of what the Nazi regime termed ‘Degenerate Art’
Will Self’s closing lecture

POST-WAR WORLD (October 2013) – some pictures here
– The poetry of Paul Celan (which made my friend weep)
– Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture and it’s influence on the modern city (damn you, Niemeyer 😉
– Alice Mahon, Peter Jeager and Tim Atkins on Black Mountain College (heavily influenced by Dewey) and such luminaries as John Cage and Merce Cunningham. **MAJOR HIGHLIGHT FOR EDUCATORS!** We’ve found a documentary on YouTube that we’ll be watching tonight…
– John Carey’s closing keynote on the post-war intellectual environment. While known for his blistering cultural critique, we were struck by his warmth and the discussion between Carey and Jude Kelly was brilliant, touching on the social mobility that occurred as a result of the war (people read more – self educating – and so many lives were lost that people found themselves in roles which wouldn’t have been available to them before the war).
– Live performances for performers + electronics, showcasing pioneering techniques. The highlight for all of us was Alun McNeil-Watson’s performance of Temazcal by Alvarez (1984). My inner child giggled when Alun took the stage but after seeing this I’ll never look at maracas in the same way again. Such an accomplished and physically powerful performance, which we were lucky to see not once but twice. Here’s an excerpt:

Now, when I say these are my highlights this basically means that it’s a selection of some of the sessions I’ve managed to attend. What happens each time I come here is that the festival arouses such deep curiosity that I leave with a spinning head and a deep regret that I wasn’t able to attend EVERY session because…




The Rest Is Noise makes me want to go back to school. It makes me want to go back to school every day forever and ever as long it’s just like The Rest Is Noise. To be fully immersed in a period of time, through multiple perspectives and presentation formats (concerts, talks, debates, performances) we are stimulated, engaged and inspired and have an incredibly rich learning experience. We (a.k.a. Team Georgia) reconvene at the end of the weekend, having learned a great deal and fully energised knowing that “there’s so much more out there for me to learn and I’m just beginning to peak around the corner at it all” (quote from member of Team G). We share thoughts/takeaways over a few margaritas, then we go home and Google away, hungering to learn more about the things we’ve seen and heard. The Rest Is Noise: quite simply a feast for the mind and soul.

Every time, I leave thinking about ‘My fantasy school’, and it’s this. It’s an environment where there’s a theme (a decade seems a good place to start) where a cornucopia of talks, performances, exhibitions and debates immerse learners in a period of time from multiple perspectives. We don’t know what we’re interested in if we’ve never heard about it. Such an eclectic learning experience allows us to learn about our passions away from formal education and prescribed curriculum, and yet it can be so deeply enriching.

I have high hopes for The Next Generation @ Salford Media Festival, where we’re taking our students off timetable for a week so that they can immerse themselves fully in masterclasses, panel discussion and practical workshops delivered by big names in TV, Digital Media and Broadcasting.

There will be five strands to the programme:
• Specifics – sessions that are very specifically targeted at a particular group of students from specific courses
• Cross-over – sessions that are attractive to a wide range of students across many courses
• Inspiration – sessions designed to inspire students
• Working Lives – younger professionals presenting their experiences
• Next Steps – the next Steps the next generation need to take to get in and get on in TV, Broadcast and Digital Media.

Confirmed contributors so far include Josh Weinstein (The Simpsons), Hasraf Dulull (The Dark Knight, Prince of Persia, The Chronicles of Narnia), Leslie Woodhead (How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin, 9/11: The Day That Changed The World) and a host of others. If this is even a smidgen as inspiring as The Rest Is Noise, our students are in for a treat.

Learners – make the most of it! Go to sessions you think may not interest you. Go to sessions you think are of no use to you. Immerse yourselves, have fun, and ask lots of questions! You never know what you might learn…

2 thoughts on “The Rest Is Noise: immersion in learning

  1. Pingback: MINA 3rd Mobile Creativity & Mobile Innovation Symposium 2013 | Heloukee: EdTech and Digital Culture

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