composer, improviser, sound artist, researcher
composer, improviser, sound artist, researcher
I’m not long back from the Sound + Environment 2017 conference at the University of Hull. The conference was a gathering of many of the leading figures in the field of sound art research and practice, with a particular focus on art and science collaborations. With excellent technical support from some of the students and technical staff, I installed a first test and evaluate model of if we do nothing in their very new and shiny state-of-the-art studio.
I set up pairs of loudspeakers at three stations around the room, with chairs facing, then created a social space in the middle. This offered visitors some variety in how they might listen to the work and created a space for discussion. This first model, a mapping of rising CO2 and glacier ablation (falling ice mass/area) from 1880- 2050, runs for approximately 30 minutes. I looped the piece every hour, leaving time for reflection and debate.
The conference was running paper sessions in parallel, along with multiple simultaneous installations, concerts, keynotes and other events, so the pattern of visitors was erratic. At one point I had people in the space to near capacity, then they had to dash to some other event. Although this was a testing and evaluation event and obviously subject to the conditions of a very busy conference, in production I’ll need to think very carefully and consult with partners on programming, duration, managing the public engagement and so forth. Nonetheless I had a good number of visitors, many of whom stayed around to give feedback and talk through the many issues and values around climate change and adaptation.
On the creative side creative I need to make some decisions on the synthesis of the two glissandi (sliding tones). I kept the volume very low throughout and this worked very well as it drew people in and suited the atmosphere of the room. But I’d have been hesitant to boost the volume because it’s clear that creating a sound which will remain reasonably pleasant in the region of 15kHz will be a challenge. I had some interesting feedback on this and will make some adjustments overt the summer.
My paper, which I was constantly reviewing in the light of new research, was well received and I wait to hear if there are intentions to publish.
I’m now working on a second model which involves a study of the oral histories of indigenous Arctic communities, comparing and contrasting their environmental values and adaptation strategies, expressed through song, myth and stories, with the methodologies and findings of climate change scientists and regulatory bodies such as governments. My idea is to synthesise selected recorded texts spoken in the native languages (by me - I have a specialist on board to assist me with the pronunciation), then digitally transform the sounds, mapping the transformations to data, drawn either from climate change science or from the social sciences. I’m aiming to test and evaluate this new model at the forthcoming conference Balance-Unbalance 2017 A Sense of Place (http://balanceunbalance2017. org) to be held in Plymouth from 21-23 August. I’ll also be presenting a poster at the conference and will take advantage of whatever publication options become available. Opportunities are being explored through the Balance-Unbalance relationship with the Leonardo journal, published by The MIT Press and Ubiquity: The Journal of Pervasive Media, published by Intellect Ltd.
Finally I’ve been invited to realise a headphone installation of one of the sonification models at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23, November 2017). For this I’ll need to establish a technical or support partner in Bonn or nearby so if anyone out there has any connections in West Central Germany please let me know!
Studio Improvisation, 1 March 2017
I thought it would be interesting to show what goes on in my studio. My neighbour thinks I watch porn all day. Never! That's a slur on my good name. What I actually do is experiment day after day, come to terms with failure as part of the process and occasionally learn something new and useful. It's a fundamentally human process, much under-rated in the current era. From this learning process I eventually make new work.
This short video shows me at work experimenting in the studio with two hand-made bowed psalteries, an ebow (electronic bow) and metal preparations - spring steel and ferrite rods, bandsaw blade, nails. The idea here is to make the ebow agitate the metal or whatever else I place on the psaltery, producing anything from a pendulum-like shimmering sound to a electronic/metallic percussive sound with a background sheen of string resonance. People often ask how I create the sounds in my compositions so I've demonstrated this by closing the gap between studio experiment and completed work. The sound in the video is taken from Koobi Fora Ash, a finished piece, released on my Bandcamp pages, which uses the same materials. After several recording sessions, I select, edit, timestretch and filter, re-record and so on till the job's done and it's time to mix. Interested to hear what others do.