This is an excerpt – at the moment a thumbnail sketch- from a commissioned piece for Audiograft 2017 and currently a work in progress. This sound work will be a performance of recorded sound heard via multiple hand held speakers in amongst an audience. It will focus on sound from pulsars found in and outside our galaxy. Different rhythmic pulses heard in the work will correspond to the rotations of different pulsars. Jodrel Bank research describes a pulsar as,
‘ …a highly magnetized neutron star, with a radius of 10-15 km. Radiation is beamed out along the magnetic poles and pulses of radiation are received as the beam crosses the Earth.’ http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/research/pulsar/Education/Sounds/sounds.html (12.1.2017)
The distance between the listener and the original source creating the energy we eventually hear is extreme. Although the amount of light years varies for each different pulsar heard in the work, in the course of attempting to think about these distances our imagined landscape is extended, via the sound.
This piece progresses the work I have done in the practical research for my PhD where I sonified live streamed alpha muons (cosmic rays) to an attic in Bristol. (You Are Here – 2013 http://vimeo.com/111437221). The energy source of the alpha muons was estimated to be from the galaxy Centaurus A or NGC – 5182 and situated 11 million light years from earth.
Here below is an excerpt from the sound track that accompanies Primal (2016) a short film by Vicky Smith. The film is distributed by CMIR and has also been performed with live sound track at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2016 and Visions in the Nunnery Festival at Bow Arts London 2016 amongst others.
As an immersive photochemical and sonic experimental performance, the sounds from the cello played with different materials, i.e. paper plastic and tin, go hand in hand with the analogue nature of the filmmaker’s process – physically marking the 16mm film stock.
Also in the audio track are pre recorded subterranean sounds played from a laptop. The sounds, recorded with a basic pick up and metal sheeting clamped to bedrock, are in synthesis with the visual elemental energies and ‘primal’ intentions of the film.
This excerpt is from the end of the film PLAY IT LOUD!
Sonic Hide and Seek features active listening where the participants’ aural landscape is extended. Ear extensions or low-tech listening devices are individually constructed by the participants. These amplifying devices increase the capacity of the listeners’ ears to listen overhead, into and above trees, and also into small hidden crevices, down holes and along tracks. In the city similarly, listening above the rooftops and down alleyways – Breaking The Rules 2016 BEEF Summer School.
photo Tanya Moulson – Nonhearing or Nonseeing
Part of the activities include a collaborative tracking game which involves two people, one non-seeing listener and one non-hearing guide, helping each other to follow a sound. When one sense (either hearing or seeing) is impaired, the other senses then became more focused creating an alternative sensory experience.
photo Tanya Moulson – Listening Up
Manipulating the imagined geographic journeying of sound to our ears causes us to think, not only about the space around us but our habits of hearing and our ability to listen.
Sonic Hide and Seek has visited:
Sound Territories – Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts – Northants
Fir Tree School – Wallingford, Oxfordshire
South Wales University – Cardiff
Breaking the Rules – BEEF Summer School – Bristol
Round the Square was a site-specific sound performance outside in a square, where the surfaces of the pavement, path and road were ‘sounded out’ or ‘played’ by metal rims of different sizes being bowled along over them. A cohort of runners and walkers set off at a given time, to bowl along the rings and anyone could join in (40 rings were available.)
The texture of the surfaces, the size and type of the metal and the resonance of the space, along with the number and speed of the metal rings, created the sound. The sight of sound being made so simply, contrasted with the complex sound it created. Players stopped and started, went faster or slower when they pleased, and handed over their hoop when they had finished. The fact that it was dark gave an atmosphere to the proceedings. There was a transfer of the collaborative energy of the players to the sound.
The sound rang out amplified by the physical dimensions of the square itself, and continually changed according to one’s position in the square. While the sound and sound makers travelled, the square was used as a musical instrument.
The work pays homage to the centuries of boots, hooves and wheels that have sounded out and rounded the square.
I went to record sound from under the floor at the Bristol Old Vic main stage. The final 4min edit was played on the anniversary of their 250th birthday. The curtains went up, audience viewed an empty lit stage and heard the sound track I had pre recorded entirely from under the stage. The sounds were from their most recent show, but this audience was required – invited to create a show from their own imaginations.
Stage and Auditorium
The stage was hardboard, chipboard and floorboards over my head. I had borrowed a Maranz PMD620MKll sound recorder plus a rifle mic, 2 hydrophones (working as pickup mics placed flat to the wall joists) and my own Edirol R 09.
The sounds from the floor above were clear and audible also through the structural joists. As well as directly overhead there were sounds from backstage including tannoy calls and actors and props getting on stage via the trap door beside me (including buckets of water.)
Best with headphones
Recordings from Below Stage
The opportunity to record under the stage for the birthday arose when I approached them to record under the stage for my own research. I had become interested in the idea of recording under floors – looking up at the ceiling below to listen. So to start I went to record under stage floors. The Theatre Royal Bath, the Cube Cinema Bristol (with stage) and the Bristol Old Vic each held different ‘flavours’ and ‘atmospheres’.
I took note of the dragging rolling and dropping of objects, the walking, stepping, running, shouting and mumbling heard from underneath. The different floor materials gave up (down) varied sound qualities. I found that listening like this, at once ‘removed’ by the materials of the ceiling and building, but also physically connected to them, created a strange feeling of ‘displacement’. A feeling I’d like to find out more about.
Best with headphones
Under Theatre Royal
Under Cube Cinema
Old Vic Through The Joists
I wrote down
Beyond our sight – in another place we’re called upon to imagine -– not quite known – wood and dust – musty – underground – beyond our experience – beyond borders – cement – hidden – identity – muffled – close – aware of breathing – space – air space – shout – listen
This geophone ( a spiked microphone SM24) was picking up vibrations from under Portland Square.
Portland Square subterranean vibrations (listen with headphones)
The louder sounds heard are those of feet walking near the geophone. The softer sound is the ‘growl’ of the city and vibrations (audible and inaudible) from kilometres away in all directions.
Here in the new buildings of BEEF (Bristol Experimental Expanded Film) and on the day of the Launch of this new venture, several artists showed evidence of some of their experimental processes. Being new to Portland Square I read Bette. R. Burke’s book of the square’s long history and her recollections of living in this very building for over 40 years – Cinderella Square: A History of Portland Square. Listening under ground was my own initial exploration of the place.
The visitors to the Launch came through the front door and climbed the stairs to the second floor. The geophone cable however went up the front of the building and through a 2nd floor window.
Taking the vibrations live into the building via the cable could bring the experience of outside (and underneath the ground outside) to the inside of the building. Vibrations were being picked up from directly under the square and from down underneath the city, amplified with a preamp close to the geophone, run up the wall into the building (2nd floor window) along the corridor, into one of our new studio spaces, into an amp and subsequently into a couple of transducers placed on a table and chair.
The visitors were invited to come in and sit at the table experiencing the vibrations from the transducers, through the seat of the chair and the surface of the table.
They jumped when the transducer on the table rattled loudly, especially when someone walked along the pavement close to the geophone.
The power of the 3000W amp (Buttkicker) and transducers designed for extreme effect (Buttkicker) created some loud thumps along with the burr of the rattling lower frequencies. It was fed back to me that these oddly spaced and random occurrences seemed,
“… like the messages received in a séance.”
After having read so recently the book about Portland Square’s history, I couldn’t help thinking of the vibrations made by countless feet and indeed hooves over the centuries, impacting on the paving stones, cobbles and tracks around the square. Those times, though easy to imagine amongst the Georgian buildings of the square, seemed as transient and changeable as the nearby and new re generation (Cabots Circus!) of the city.
On the day of BEEF’s Launch, mixed with the experiences of the subterranean vibrations of the current activity of the city, the experience of the underlying vibrations of the deeper ground and strata, continued beneath as it has done for millions of years. The time frame I had been considering of a few hundred years, from the building of Portland Square to the present, was a mere instant in comparison.
Ground Box – a 22inch cone subwoofer in a constructed wood box attached to a 1000W amp
Directly under the streets of bath, a geophone (spiked microphone) was rammed into a damp cellar floor, and connected to the subwoofer in the gallery.
The pavement and road directly over the cellar (seen above).
“We went right UNDER the road to explore the space …”
“Ugh…. Spooky, dark, damp, drippy”
“Is that the real sound?”
“Scarey! – I’m not going down there!”
“It showed it was the real place and not a replica of the space.”
The geophone (in the cellar) picked up vibrations caused by both the localised man made impact on the fabric of the city of Bath and the natural vibration from seismic activity coming from distances in all directions and kilometres deep down.
You could also hear the footsteps and louder buskers from directly overhead.
The geophone, designed to pick up low frequency sound through the ground, connected us to vibrations that have been brought about by impact from activity in the city to the surface of the ground, also vibration travelling long distances through the ground, from directly down towards the core, and across the continents.
The sound would have been travelling approximately
– Speed of sound in the ground (depending on ground type) = 5,000 – 13,000 meters per second
This is much faster than the sound travelling in air.
– Speed of sound in the air (depending on the air quality) = 343meters per second
I am interested in sound as a material and research into low frequency sound and vibration has led me to look at how we perceive these elemental signals in places that are familiar to us like our own cars and houses and the way these experiences works with our imagination.
The same geophone working in conjunction with a car amp and 12 inch sub – can be seen on this clip:
I am looking at how we can see up- looking up into the sky – out of our houses.
We don’t look up into the sky usually. Have you tried it? It’s quite difficult.
Exactly how far up can you see or imagine?
I have been looking for a house that could host an art installation (You Are Here) that has a skylight that looks up into the sky. It has meant I have been looking at roofs and dormer windows and Velux skylights, and imagining looking out of them. This search has lead me to look and think more about houses.
Houses and buildings along the street are mostly, for me, unmemorable – unless you are in the process of renting or buying one. It seems to me that they are hard constructions, often ugly and expensive with an air of unforgivable quiet sultriness. I don’t think about mine while living in it constantly, but go about the daily chores dealing with the inside home – the inner shell.
However looking at the outer shells of a lot of houses I have almost begun to think of the windows themselves as eyes. I can imagine each house even with its gritty unremarkable out side, having its own cosy inside life, breathing with the warmth of its heating, expanding and contracting and making it’s own tiny creaking and groaning sounds, with the wind and rain playing on the windows.
Back to the art installation though, where the process then for me is looking at the outlook houses have – how their inhabitants can look up out of them and can be connected to the out side. Artist Gordon Matta-Clark, allows the onlooker to his work to deconstruct the shape and fabric of ‘the house’, treating it like a sculpture. He prompts the onlooker to question what we assume is the inside and what we assume is the out side of the usually unnoticed house. For me he takes the idea of inside a house, that we take for granted, and shows how it’s related to the outside of the house. He shows us that we don’t often think of the outside of the house when we are inside.
Artist Mark Bain draws our attention to the private life of a building. Described in the online magazine – V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media, it says, ‘It’s the strangest thing thinking of all the buildings of being alive ……..He (Bain) looks at a building and finds the soul. By looking at the structure, the light, the architect(ure) and everything else that makes it original and alive. The movement of material, concrete, wood everything that’s there. And he builds all kinds of complicated machines to show it.’ (http://v2.nl/archive/people/mark-bain?searchterm=mark+bain).
Bain’s ‘complicated machinery’ is different to equipment I am planning to install in my house installation, but in essence the vibrations from under the house, experienced in the house, connects the house to it’s position on the surface of the rest of the planet. ‘The surface of the Earth’, as described by geologist and acoustician John Bullitt, ‘is always moving’. In an interview he describes the earth’s hum and man made sounds as,’ a tremendously rich stew of vibration. Some of it we can already hear. Some must be shifted to make it audible.’ http://www.jtbullitt.com/press/20080213-la-stampa/index.html
Looking up above the houses, as I have been doing lately, I’ve been thinking of the views up and the lumping depths under the un-noticed house. The un-noticed house has our attention as the quiet mediator of the familiar; we know what we understand by house. I went to a house that hosted a performance, Living Room Opera, accentuating the atmospheres of the house with recorded voices and live art actions for the In Between Time Festival. (http://ibt13.co.uk/) My own familiarity with being in a house (their house) allowed me to be drawn into the contrasting aspects of the piece: the usual and the unusual. The household’s ‘signature’ and the family feel of the place gave the ‘unusualness’ of the piece its authenticity.
After all the houses I have looked at and called to see, I have found a house where the very generous and friendly hosts are allowing me to dig down into their garden below the turf and rearrange their attic – where the sky light allows me to look up … and up!