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Composer’s sound of solitude

Ironically, social media has not brought us together – it has rendered us lonelier than ever. Jane Clinton talks to Toni Castells, whose latest work, Hhumann X, highlights the problem

18 October, 2018 — By Jane Clinton

Toni Castells: ‘I experienced some deeply lonely times. Building networks of friends is not easy. London has the best of everything but it comes at a price’

IT is the invisible epidemic that walks among us. Loneliness is affecting increasing numbers of people at a time when ironically we are more technologically “connected” to one other than ever before.

A report from the Campaign to End Loneliness, a commission set up by the late MP Jo Cox, published a report in 2017 that found nine million adults in the UK described themselves as “often or always lonely”.

That in itself is chilling, but it also found that the blight of loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; and can cause an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, blood pressure, mental health problems and dementia.

These findings prompted composer Toni Castells to write his latest work, Hhumann X.

Its premiere performance at LSO St Luke’s will have a contribution from the north west London community choir “More Than Just A Choir” (whose musical director is David Phelps) which works with people living with mental illness and social isolation.

In the performance, members of the choir will sit anonymously among the audience during the concert and walk up to the stage when it is their time to perform. It is, says Toni, a way of showing that loneliness is among us and so often goes unnoticed.

Toni says issues of solitude and isolation also resonated with him on a personal level.

“When I first came to London from Spain in 2000 I knew no one and it was very tough,” he says from his home in south west London. “I experienced some deeply lonely times. Building networks of friends is not easy. London has the best of everything but it comes at a price.”

Hhumann X will be performed at LSO St Luke’s on October 20

In his own way he now makes a conscious effort to speak to or meet up with friends rather than rely on texts or Messenger. And while he uses technology for his work he engages with social media sparingly.

Indeed, he cites studies that show the rise of Facebook and other sites have had a deleterious effect on many, particularly the young.

“So many people are comparing themselves to other people’s posts on Facebook and it is causing anxiety even though these posts do not reflect the real world but are the edited highlights,” he says. “It is worrying, it is changing relationships.”

He also laments the fact that people are finding it harder to speak face-to-face – a possible consequence of spending so much time in the virtual world.

“There is data which shows that social media can have an adverse effect on young people,” he says. “[A reliance on such] technology risks taking us further away from what it is to be human.”

Despite this he says he believes technology could ultimately “save us” with the caveat that the human should be at the centre of, rather than enslaved by, it.

“We ourselves are the most amazing technology there is,” he says. “Look at our brains, our hands… we are far more sophisticated than any technology.”

Born in Berga, near Barcelona, Toni took up music at the age of four studying classical guitar and clarinet. He taught himself the piano and went on to study at the Conservatori Municipal de Música de Barcelona. He was in a symphonic rock band and they signed a record deal in 1998.

When he moved to London he began work with Spanish pop legend José Maria Cano. He also worked with the tenor Placido Domingo. Toni currently teaches sound technology and music technology at Imperial College London and the London College of Music.

His compositions, which have been described as a cross between Satie and Morricone, include 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal? which was a meditation on humanity’s drive to live forever.

He admits that he likes to raise awareness about the “double-edged effects” of modernisation upon Western society and “ask questions”.

A recent study by Age UK found that by 2025 half a million more people will “often” feel lonely. The lonelinesss epidemic is a challenge which Toni believes is not beyond us and one place to start is altering our reliance on technological hyper-connectedness.

“We need to transcend the model of the Middle Ages and move to a more Renaissance model with humans at the centre of new ideas, not a hostage to them. I think if we can get through this period then technology can repair the seemingly irreparable damage we’ve inflicted on our planet.”

Hhumann X will be performed on October 20 at 8pm at LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, EC1V 9NG. Details at https://lso.co.uk/whatson or call the box office on 020 7638 8891.

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