Barbican Guide
September 2020

© Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.

© Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.


Thanks for reading our September Guide. In this edition, there’s chance to hear from our Contemporary Music Programmers about how they pick the artists that perform on our stage. There’s also a fascinating interview with sound artist Peter Adjaye, who reveals how he created the soundscape for Toyin Ojih Odutola’s exhibition in The Curve.

We’re excited about the latest Leytonstone Loves Film festival, which looks quite different this year due to the coronavirus restrictions, but retains its strong community heart.

Read on to find out what’s going on in the Centre this month, and the exciting things you can see online.

Much of what’s on offer is free to attend with a ticket, so If you can, we’d love you to show your support by
making a donation when booking online. It means we can help more people discover and love the arts.

We look forward to seeing you here soon.

The Long Read

A Musical maze

Sound artist Peter Adjaye has created an immersive soundscape for our new exhibition in The Curve – the first UK commission by Toyin Ojih Odutola. He tells us how he worked with her and the space itself, to produce this new installation.

Tell us a bit about your process and how you began composing the sound installation Ceremonies Within. What details did Ojih Odutola share with you before you began composing and how did you use these as starting points for your composition?

The process I use the most is layering. I spent a lot of time speaking with Toyin about her impetus for the artwork that she was embarking on. She had listened to my Dialogues album and particularly loved a track called ‘Darkest Light’.
We shared lot of musical influences in our conversations and discussions which included contemporary classical, spiritual jazz, Japanese ambient, minimalism and indigenous African music.

You use an incredibly diverse range of sounds in your practice, and your Barbican composition is no exception – from classical strings to natural sounds to synths to West African instruments. Can you tell us more about these different elements and what interests you about building a soundscape from such an extensive range of sources?

The soundscape is made up of three main movements and nine sub-sections.

This felt like a natural way of dividing the space, and hence the composition, to symbolise the beginning, middle and ending. The first movement is about setting up the landscape in regards to its natural elements with rocks, stones, water, reeds and wind, but also the idea of genesis or the beginning of humankind fused with power and a spiritual presence. The balance of sounds in regards to foreground, background was very important and had to be clear and precise, and yet have a natural flow.

Discover how the second movement unfolds, and the effect The Curve had on creating this soundscape in the full interview.

'We have the best job in the world'

We speak to Contemporary music programmers to learn more about their roles at the Barbican.

Aphex Twin at the Barbican

Aphex Twin at the Barbican

If you’ve ever wondered how we pick the artists who perform on our stage, Contemporary music programmers Chris Sharp and Bryn Ormrod are behind most of the decisions. While concerts are on pause due to coronavirus, we decided to catch up with the pair to find out what makes them tick.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Chris Sharp:
My family isn’t musical, so there weren’t any musical instruments around, or many records. My parents liked middle-of-the-road stuff. I guess the first thing I can remember being aware of that wasn’t on Radio 2 was the Mod revival / 2-Tone thing, noticing older kids being into The Jam and The Specials. It wasn’t all exactly to my taste, but it made me realise there was more to music than what was in the charts. Being in Manchester, bands like The Smiths, New Order and The Fall all made an impact. I remember watching Morrissey on Top of the Pops, and my Dad was like “what does he look like?” A bit later, I starting going to the Hacienda, and getting exposed to House and Techno.

Bryn Ormrod: My family isn’t musical per se, but some of my earliest memories are of my father and uncle singing Irish sea shanties around a campfire on family holidays to the New Forest. I taught myself guitar and played in bands.

Left: Chris Sharp. Right: Bryn Ormrod

Left: Chris Sharp. Right: Bryn Ormrod

When did you first realise you wanted to work in music?
Growing up, I had no idea you could actually work in music, it just seemed like another world. I read English Literature at university, and like many people who did Arts degrees I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, other than some vague idea that it should be creative. One day, I was involved in a car accident which wasn’t my fault, and I got a £2,500 insurance pay-out. On a whim, I decided to use that money to move down to London.

I just ended up hanging out with interesting people, sitting in pubs talking about music. I met lots of writers for music magazines like NME and Melody Maker. And that’s how I got my first job - in public relations for Rough Trade Records. I went to an interview with [Rough Trade co-founder] Geoff Travis, and he asked me which journalists I knew and what records would I recommend to which one. I reeled off a list of the people I’d been drinking with - and got the job.

I worked at Rough Trade for a few years then went to Beggars Group, where I ran PR for the company, including labels such as XL for whom I spent a few years on tour with the Prodigy, which was hilarious. And then I was asked to be Managing Director of 4AD, where I spent eight years before joining the Barbican.

BO: I never had any particular plan when I was growing up. From teaching myself guitar I discovered the ‘cleansing fire of punk rock’ as Billy Bragg said, and I got into the DIY thing, and that approach to music.

When I left university, I moved to London and knew some people working as stewards at Glastonbury festival through my connections in the CND and at Greenpeace. So I worked at the festival on behalf of promoter Mean Fiddler, doing jobs like artist liaison and box office. Mean Fiddler owned venues like the Jazz Café, Astoria and the Town and Country Club [now the O2 Forum Kentish Town] and I ended up booking bands for their venues. I was surprised I ended up working in live music, but I loved it.

Tell us about how you joined the Barbican
After four years at Mean Fiddler I had started to settle down, I had a young kid, but working in the live industry was quite insecure. In 1996, I was asked by someone if I wanted to apply for the new Barbican contemporary music job. I’d never been to the venue before – it was classical music only as far as I was concerned. But artistic director, Graham Sheffield, who’d recently joined from the Southbank Centre where he’d started the Meltdown Festival, was keen to open up the programme more.

When I joined I was basically given a free rein. Previously, everything I did had to make a profit, but Graham said I just had to reach new audiences. I got to travel the world, discovering artists from places such as Cuba or Bangladesh, and bringing them to the Barbican. It was a dream come true.

CS: After many years of working for record labels, I had started to find some things frustrating, especially the narrow limits around the kinds of artists you could get involved with - my musical interests had broadened way beyond what I could explore with the label. And then I saw a newspaper advert for this job, so I applied!

What sort of things are you looking for when deciding what to book for the Barbican?
There are many factors to take into consideration. As a programmer, you have to be at the cutting-edge of what’s going on in music – which artists are rising, what sounds are getting popular. There’s no real formula, but the artists we work with have to fit the Barbican audience perspective. Sometimes we’ll be interested because an artist wants to do something really interesting with another art form, such as movement or visual art.

CS: We’re approached by so many artists – way more than we can possibly fit in the programme, so I’m always aware that by offering to show to someone you’re denying someone else an opportunity. Keeping in mind a diversity of performers is also important. Obviously, you want everything to sell out, but I also ask myself ‘if nobody comes, would I still feel pleased that we did it?’

BO: Yeah, there has to be something going on that excites me, because I can see how that translates to the audience. It’s important the act has an artistic statement to make or something to say.

'The Barbican has a unique culture of creative freedom, you’re able to take risks and I find that truly inspiring'

Is there one thing you most like about your job?
We find artists we believe in, and we help them achieve their vision - there are so few opportunities to do that. Plus, I love the fact we work with an incredible production team who rarely say no to all the crazy ideas we put to them. Like when Aphex Twin wanted to suspend a grand piano from the ceiling of the Hall, and swing it from side to side. I thought they would just tell us to get stuffed, but they found a way to make it happen.

BO: We are given a huge amount of freedom. You could look at it like we’re given enough rope to hang ourselves – ultimately if something doesn’t work, it’s not the marketing team’s fault, it’s ours. But I love that – the Barbican has a unique culture of creative freedom, you’re able to take risks and I find that truly inspiring.

Music's role in recovery

Saxophonist Jess Gillam says there’s an even more pressing need for music in these difficult times.

What did you do during lockdown? Some people learned a new skill, others took to baking or getting creative in other ways. And most of us just did whatever we could to keep our spirits up in the face of the grim daily news.

Not Jess Gillam. Desperately missing the joy of making music with others, the 22-year-old saxophonist, presenter, Young Musician of the Year finalist, and Classical BRIT winner launched her own virtual orchestra.

Musicians of all abilities could download parts for a piece of music from Gillam’s website. They then filmed themselves performing it to a click track, and sent her their efforts. All the performances were then collated into a video which Gillam played along to, live.

‘We had about 920 people join us,’ she enthuses over the phone from her home in Cumbria. ‘I never imagined the reaction would be as big as it has been.

‘I was really keen to make it accessible for as many people as possible, so there were parts for all levels. The idea of being part of bigger and the opportunity to make music with people at this time – albeit remotely – really attracted people.

‘People are missing so much in lockdown, so the connection with others and the experience of making music meant so much.’

She says with people from 20 countries involved, creating such an event in real life would have been impossible. But it’s missing the social aspect of performing with others that she not only recognised in others, but felt keenly herself.

‘For me, I’m not missing the experience of performing so much as I’m missing the human connection, both with other musicians and audiences.

Gillam was due to perform here in September as part of the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) Rising Stars showcase. She’d picked a broad programme for the concert, because she was hoping to show off the versatility of the saxophone.

‘It doesn’t always get spotlighted, so people don’t often know the instrument in its many guises,’ she says. ‘It’s like a chameleon – it can play so many styles beautifully.’

However, government advice means concerts are currently not possible. Which is a particular shame because, as she says, music should play an important role in the country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Music is often underestimated, but it’s part of the fabric of our society,’ says Gillam, a passionate advocate for the art form. ‘If you think about every major occasion in our lives – weddings, funerals, celebrations, festivals – there’s music. It strengthens and deepens our mutual understanding.

‘I think the role music plays in our society after lockdown needs to be encouraged.’

Stories of help and hope

Meet the cast of a compelling show postponed by the lockdown.

Choreographer Rhiannon Faith’s thought-provoking dance-theatre work, DROWNTOWN, was due to premiere here in June. Tackling issues of isolation, shame, and what happens when support systems are taken away, the subject is quite bleak, Faith says. However, it prompts us to think - what we would do if we saw someone in need?

The show was cancelled - due to the Covid-19 pandemic - and we’re hoping to reschedule in 2021; until then, Faith has created a prologue film to bridge the gap.

‘As soon as we realised putting on the show wasn’t going to happen – and had been through a little feeling of grief about that – we thought to ourselves “let’s try to be as dynamic as possible with our creativity, and think about what we can do”,’ says Faith.

In DROWNTOWN LOCKDOWN, we meet the cast of the production in their own homes, before they leave for the beach, the setting for the show.

‘It delves into the characters’ worlds more, as a way of introducing audiences to them before they come and see the production next year.’

Faith, whose Smack That (a conversation) was here in 2018, makes socially conscious work, and community engagement projects are an important part of that. While this work is currently online only until next year, that doesn’t mean the engagement stops.

For DROWNTOWN LOCKDOWN, Faith has created #VIRUSVULNERABILITIES, a series of creative task video workshops available to the public, which draw out the themes in the production.

‘#VIRUSVULNERABILITIES asks people to make a one-minute video talking about their inner world, their feelings in isolation, and how they might encourage other people to feel valued. It encourages people to reflect on what they might do if they had a voice and a platform.’


Why we back the Barbican

Patrons and donors what they think about supporting our work.

As you might expect, the lockdown which caused Britain to largely shut down has had a significant impact on Britain’s cultural sector – and us. We rely on the generosity of patrons, donors, Members, and companies to provide the breadth of programming you expect from the Barbican.

Since the Centre had to close because of the coronavirus restrictions, we’ve been touched by the generosity of people who’ve been donating in a variety of ways, from one-off contributions to more a regular commitment.

Richard Bridge is one of our Patrons. He says while the Barbican has been with him for all of his adult life, ‘only in the last ten years has it become my favourite cultural area in London (or anywhere). That’s because it has architectural and stylistic unity and integrity; because it unites all its efforts into a common thematic purpose; because it engages Londoners and everyone else; because it has all art forms and holds them in one place physically and intellectually; because its staff are deeply committed, and very welcoming; because it is where you go for the established best, and where you can find the new and experimental.’

Fellow Patron, Erica Cosburn says: ‘The Barbican is special to me as it contains such a wide and diverse representation of the arts all in one complex. The most important aspect of the work at the Barbican is the fine arts and that is where I get most pleasure from.’

We’ve had a relationship with architecture firm, tp bennett, since 2008. Principal director, Chris Wieszczycki says: ‘We like to think of ourselves as artists too. An association with a leading artistic organisation helps us to remind this to people we work with and people we work for.’

Over the years, tp bennett has been associated with exhibitions ranging from Le Corbusier and Bauhaus to Pop Art to Basquiat. ‘We particularly value the external recognition and private viewings for our clients,’ says Wieszczycki. ‘Curated tours are very popular and offer an attractive and unusual alternative to the norm in corporate entertainment‘.

‘We’re associated with the Barbican – how cool is that!’

Edge Foundation, an independent education foundation, supported the Barbican’s Careers Rewired project, which introduced young people from east London schools to the world of creative careers.

‘Projects like Careers Rewired provide young people not only with an insight into potential careers but introduces them to the dynamic and relevant resource that the Barbican Centre represents,’ says Jane Samuels, Director of Projects and Operations at Edge.

If you want to be part of this generous group and help to support our work, discover the variety of ways you can be involved at

New perspectives

‘I'm slightly obsessed with geometry and lines in my photography, and the Barbican provides so much material for that,’ says photographer Aurimas Sabalys (@awwwrimas), one of our Instagrammers in Residence. ‘This was just another day walk, enjoying the serene brutality of the estate, and a perfect discovery was just a glimpse away.

Support the Barbican

We rely on ticket sales and your enduring support and generosity to be able to present and share our programme with you and thousands of others. We’re all finding ourselves in completely new territory, which presents a real financial challenge for us and for those we work with. So, if you’re able, please consider donating to us so we can keep investing in the artists and organisations that help make this place what it is. Please also consider donating to our artistic residents and associates to support them through these difficult times.

My Barbican: Stefi Orazi

Author and designer Orazi paid tribute to the Barbican’s 50th anniversary in a stunning book, full of interviews and commentary from residents and renowned architects. Discover her favourite places around the area.

Buy the book

Gilbert Bridge

Gilbert Bridge

In the late 1990s, I was working as a designer for a men's magazine. After a work night out, a few of us ended up for more drinks at colleague's flat in the Barbican. I'd only ever been to the Arts Centre once and didn't know anything about the estate. Too tipsy to go home that evening, we kipped on the underfloor heating. The next morning, walking to the tube station, I walked across Gilbert Bridge for the first time and I will never forget that feeling of looking across the lake, towards the waterfall, with all the fountains on. Just amazing. To this day, every time I walk across that bridge I'm still staggered by the sheer ambition, scale, and extraordinariness of the place.

Waterside Cafe Toilets

Barbican Kitchen toilets

Semi circles are a recurrent theme across the Barbican – from Frobisher Crescent, the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the penthouse flats to the glass drum stairwell of the Barbican Centre. My favourite use of the curve is in the toilets tucked at the back of the lakeside cafe. Compact cubicles radiate from a narrow curved corridor which is entirely clad in terrazzo. Also, I particularly like the foot-operated taps.

Beech Gardens

Beech Gardens

Located at the north-west part of the estate, the podium around Beech Gardens had to be completely retiled a few years ago due to an issue with water penetrating the units below. It was a huge job that took several years. The City of London used this opportunity to fully re-landscape the existing, rather uninspiring and high-maintenance, gardens. The new and natural-looking planting was designed by Nigel Dunnett and is a joy. The site is now awash with diverse plants and foliage in dramatic colours and it looks better and better every year. There are two benches hidden amongst all the planting and are a particularly lovely spot to sit.

Hockney Poster

Hockney Poster

I used to pass this signed Hockney poster every day when I lived in the Barbican. It's hanging on the wall by the stairs that lead from the reception up to podium level — a handy shortcut! The print was produced to celebrate the opening of the Barbican Centre in March 1982 and features a detail of Hockney's drawing, Cubistic Bar — part of a set of stage designs he created for a triple bill (Parade, Les Mamelles de Tiresias, and L'Enfant et les Sortileges) performed at Metropolitan Opera House, New York, 1981. Hockney added the letters 'BICAN' for the poster.

Gilbert Bridge

Gilbert Bridge

Barbican Kitchen toilets

Barbican Kitchen toilets

Beech Gardens

Beech Gardens

Hockney Poster

Hockney Poster

What's On

We're starting to reopen following government guidance, and can't wait to welcome you back. Your safety is of the utmost importance, so not all types of events are taking place, but you can see what's coming up later in the year on our website.

With thanks

The City of London Corporation, founder and principal funder

Centre Partner
Christie Digital

Major Supporters
Arts Council England; Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation; Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement; The National Lottery Heritage Fund; Terra Foundation for American Art; UBS; Wellcome

Corporate Supporters
Aberdeen Standard Investments; Allford Hall Monaghan Morris; Audible; Bank of America; Bloomberg; Calvin Klein; CMS; DLA Piper; Howden M&A Limited; Leigh Day; Linklaters LLP; National Australia Bank; Natrium Capital Limited; Newgate Communications; Pinsent Masons; Slaughter and May; Sotheby's; Taittinger Champagne; tp bennett; UBS

Trusts & Foundations
The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust; The John S Cohen Foundation; SHM Foundation; Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from the Art Fund; Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

We also want to thank Barbican Patrons, donors to Name a Seat, Members, and everyone who has supported the Barbican by making a donation.

To find out more, visit or email [email protected]

The Barbican Centre Trust, registered charity no. 294282