Significant Birds was created for the ILLUSION exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin in 2013. The Gallery specialises in shows that use art to illustrate, comment on or otherwise deal with scientific ideas, and ILLUSION looks at how we can learn about perception through (mostly visual) illusions. I took the principle behind my Exploded Sound
installation to create an audio illusion in which a spoken text is broken down into individual harmonics which chirp away in 12 bird cages – the listener hears them drift in and out of phase. As they coalesce it is impossible not to hear the voice although no individual speaker contains any more than a single fluctuating pure tone (like the chirping of a bird – the bird imagery extends my piece Bird:Cage).
There are a couple of interviews with me online here:
(this one is a little stilted at first because they had just persuaded me to demonstrate some vocal harmonics on camera so I’m trying to express myself in a way that will make that feel natural )
Significant Birds will tour the USA and Canada from May 2014 – watch the home page for details!
Imagine exploring the sound of a choir or orchestra from the inside, not just walking among the instruments, but entering the very stuff of sound itself, the “partials” that make up the complex musical sounds you hear.
The Exploded Sound consists of 60 individual suspended loudspeakers. Each speaker contributes a tiny proportion of the overall sound of the installation. Listeners moving through the space are able simultaneously to perceive the whole and its parts. Spatial perception is disrupted. A slowly evolving chord appears to hang in space, at once everywhere and nowhere! A disembodied voice gradually fuses and disintegrates!
The Exploded Sound was premiered at the Jakopic Gallery in Ljubljana in 2012 as part of the International Computer Music Conference and EarZoom Festival. It is the first public outcome of of a long term research project investigating the idea of freezing a decomposed sound in space to allow the listener to walk around inside the overtone structure (or partials) of the sound. The project has gone through a number of research phases both at the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts at Middlesex University and at CRiSAP, University of the Arts. These included the use of Ambisonics, and a live performance at the Science Museum in which I decomposed the sounds of a Mongolian overtone singer (Michael Ormiston) in real time across 77 loudspeakers. The installation runs on a specially designed hardware system by Jamie Campbell. This version was shown in at the Jakopic Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia in September 2012 as part of the EarZoom festival and ICMC2012.
Below is an extended extract from of the sound recording used in the video.
The recording is made from a fixed point which I suppose misses the point somewhat but it does give an impression of the aesthetic of the piece. Slowly evolving static chords hang in space. Each of the 60 loudspeakers contains separate partials of the sound. Occasionally speech sounds emerge, decompose or come into focus in addition to the static sounds. The excerpt starts with one of the more active phases of the piece (it goes through different behaviours, never quite repeating itself) with speech sounds entering and starting to fall apart. During the second speech section the harmonic material gradually drops out and can be heard returning one speaker (partial) at a time!
To give a slightly better idea of what it feels like to be inside the installation try listening to this binaural recording with headphones:
Locating Drama is a collaborative research project between the BBC radio drama development team and the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts at Middlesex University. Its aim is to find new narrative possibilities for locative media such as GPS enabled mobile devices by uncoupling them from the site-specific paradigm that has been prevalent, instead exploring what we call a translocational approach. We have produced one trial drama so far, entitled Scratch and written by Penelope Skinner. I was responsible for the interaction design and programming in Hewlett Packard’s MScape as well as the sound design (with Caleb Knightley at the BBC).
Scratch was trialled at the 2008 Free Thinking festival in Liverpool. I am currently extending this idea with musical material from my piece Triptych, originally created for the Science Museum.
Ludus was a lot of fun. It was the 2009 Rawsthorn commission for the Colourscape festival on Clapham Common. Colourscape is an amazing structure in which visitors walk around and experience the fascinating mixtures of coloured light filtering through the canvas walls. The structure is owned by the Nettlefold Trust who run it as a music venue for contemporary music. I had been struck by the similarity of a map of the structure to the layout of board games like Ludo and decided to devise musical games that could be played by two groups of musicians by throwing dice. Four games were devised with different rules and different musical materials. The throw of dice could generate the spatial structure of the pieces by determining the moves of the players. Decisions about the way the musical materials were treated was linked both to the numbers thrown and the colours the musicians landed in. An additional technological element was added (of course) with the two team captains carrying colour sensors that fed back to a central computer using wireless MIDI. Thus the colours influenced the spatial diffusion of the sound as well as the balance of various electronic materials and effects.
The game was originally played by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and the Navarino Saxophone Quartet. It was also performed as the finale to the Colourscape residency at the 2011 Capital of Culture in Turku, Finland with local musicians.
The Kingswood Symphony was a collaboration with my friend Matthew King with whom I had already done some work on an Opera on Brunel (it got as far as a BBC Radio 4 documentary but is still incomplete and teasing us with its potential). Matthew was commissioned to produce a piece for Kingswood in Kent which is run as an open air arts venue by Stour Valley Arts. He wanted to use electronics and approached me. The piece involved chains of Horn players calling out to each other across the space with electroacoustic transformations. Both audience and players have walking routes through the forest and come together in a valley for a grand finale. The first performance featured the most amazing thunder storm causing the event to be restaged a few months later! A second related work, the Kingswood Quintet was premiered in Wigmore Hall. Here the electronics serves to recreate the sense of depth and distance of the outdoor performance.
This was another piece of museum sound design which also allowed me to experiment a bit with spatial structure. I worked with interactive designers Rom and Son to produce two pieces for a major exhibition on Nelson and Napoleon at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The important part of the project from my point of view was the stairwell installation which was designed as a transitional space between a room focussing on Nelson’s domestic life in rural England and a room on the floor below which looked at the Battle of Trafalgar. I used sound design to literally take the visitor out to sea, with different sounds on each level, so that at the top there was a church bell, birds and horses, and sea sounds from below could be heard in the distance. As you walked down toward those sounds the church bells were replaced by the tolling of navigation boyes and the birds by seagulls etc. For each sound at the top there were corresponding sounds lower down so that a musical narrative emerged for each visitor as they moved through the space.
The other part of the project consisted of a 5.1 Battle of Trafalgar interactive exhibit. The sound described the battle and you could watch ship movements projected onto a huge table and interact to find out mor details about the ships involved.
The Moods and Music project was created with designers OnTap and Simon Grosser for the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. A commercial project using classic music from a variety of genres while (frankly) forcing footage from Heineken adverts onto the visitors, it nonetheless had interesting formal properties that have a strong relationship with other pieces on this site. The idea was to get people to mix and match different soundtracks and video clips to experience the variety of emotional moods and nuances that music can impose on an image. The interesting element for me was the use of visual and audio icons, little abstract loops of video and sound which drifted past the viewer who would use two joysicks to zoom in, revealing the clip or music associated through nice transformation effects. I can’t really post examples here for copyright reasons so you’ll have to try and imagine it!
Boomtown is quite a pivotal work for me. Created in 1998 for the 150th anniversary of the borough of Oldham, it was a multichannel installation designed to accompany an exhibition about the 19th Century Radical movement and ran at the old Oldham Art Gallery for six months. Archive interviews are used alongside industrial sounds to examine the personal and social histories of some of the town’s inhabitants. It launched my personal interest in oral history and spoken word in sonic art. It also introduced a way of working with space in which the movement of the audience determines their experience. Individual stories are located in small speakers around the room allowing each audience member to focus on individual narratives while simultaneously being aware of the whole. This draws attention to the personal experiences of the speakers, while positioning their stories within a wider context of social history.This is a stereo mix of the 8 channel original.