Rehearsal No. 2

This was the second time we had all met together to work on the collaborative piece of performance we would shape. The last meeting was the end of May and it had been 4 weeks since our first tentative steps were taken. I had mused on the ideas and concept I’d initially brought in, themes of renewal, repair, of seascapes and heartbeats. I had wondered what elements of sound would bring these themes together to form a coherent whole. Whether the elements of sound, movement and performative actions would convey the right level of contemplation, intimacy and depth that I felt the themes had.

Leading up to our 2nd rehearsal in Leeds Beckett’s studio space I’d begun to think about the circle itself. Was it big enough for two people to perform in, did it show the interplay of relationships, the weaving in and out, was it a constraint? I added another circle into the sketches and thought perhaps that would add a further space to come in and out of. I envisaged Maria and Steph to perform in both those spaces yet what I’d not expected was that they would invite me in to use the space with them. We met outside the space today and talked outside in the park before trying to work it out in the space. It helped. We were all exhausted for differing life/work reasons and so sitting talking through ideas really helped take some pressure off over taxed minds in which to let ideas develop in time. So we talked of other circular spaces and when they suggested I draw one of the circles and fill it with salt with them it seemed natural to add a third circle into the final performing space.

Through our talking we got to map out the stages of the performance which had a structure as follows;

  1. The room is bare except for lines of tape on the floor. Audience will enter the space and find a seat. The first soundtrack will play while this is happening.
  2. We enter the space and begin to mark out our circles (3 in total) and to then fill in each circle. This may or may not have a mic input to external speaker.
  3. I leave the space and set up sound for later.
  4. Maria & Steph perform (on floor and walking along path) and meet at the edge.
  5. I trigger soundtrack for Maria & Steph to move in the final section.
  6. We all then take our section of tape and pull it off the floor to reveal marks underneath.
  7. We all leave the space.

We spent 4 hours today walking this through, shifting ideas back and forth – trying things out. Discarding some, retaining others. It’s an interesting dynamic to work in collaboration. I found it a process of both inputting then stepping back, testing ideas brought in, seeing if they worked. Trying to find the subtle sensitive balance between fulfilling their needs for the project, my needs for the project and what we were conveying, what the audience received.

It is however a slightly improvised piece and may shift on the day. We also decided that the space we performed in was also to be a working space and therefore we would have feet marks outside the circular forms, a laptop and string we used may be left lying around, marks of our process would be visible, there would be transparency.

 

 

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Quest

In a quest to find the sound of our heart, in an electromagnetic frequency sense I got in contact with two cardiologists through a friend working in the NHS.  Although for some time I’d been recording my own heartbeat through the use of a contact mic, the signal was low and the sounds are a reverberation through muscle, skin, tissues, bone. I was aware also of the use of the Doppler for recording foetal heartbeats. An echocardiogram uses a doppler to hear the whole heart cycle and to listen to each heart valve, the right rhythm indicative of a healthy heart. It is one of the most common tests for electrical activity. What I was trying to ascertain though was could a printed ecg heart wave rhythm be translated into different frequencies. When the sinus wave peaked did that correlate to a particular pitch? Could we hear the sound of our hearts in a different way?

I started to look into the shape of an ECG waveform:

ecg

positive deflection – when the electrical activity of the heart travels towards a lead.  negative deflection – when activity travels away from a lead.

The electrical activity of the heart flows in many directions at once – the wave on a ECG represents the average direction.

Height of a wave – amount of electricity flowing in that direction. A regular sinus rhythm 60 -100 beats per min (82bpm). Ultrasound – above 20Khz (20,000Hz).

Reflecting on ECG waveforms and recording my heartbeat gave me the rhythm translated as a sound wave. On further conversation with both cardiologists I discovered that the Doppler is velocity based and the signal will be different from the ECG, ie the doppler is listening to the speed of blood circulating around the heart, the ECG is recording the electrical signal. It’s the electrical signal I want to map the sound of. They suggested I need a physics expert and that’s where I’ve reached a stopping point. It may be that this can be translated into a bigger project, to begin mapping the body and it’s sonic capacity in different ways. To work in collaboration with a team. It may also be a non starter.

heartbeat wave

This mini research however and the notion of measuring velocity and thinking of volumes of liquid set me thinking of the capacity of the heart, it’s holding capacity, it’s significance as a vessel, or set of chambers, not only in a physical sense but in a metaphorical one.

A holding of expectation, a carrier of emotions, a signifier of feeling.

Early Micro Beginings

It’s Practice 2 – the final journey through the MA Creative Practice. It’s the only project for which there has been no external exhibition to work towards (outside the University degree show). It started not as an outward facing project but of an interior one. One which would culminate over time. I intended to let the project unfold organically and see what it would be like to not over research. There were elements from previous projects to envelope in. The minimalist manifesto I’d written last year would form the backbone of the way in which I worked, pairing elements down, using less.

In the earlier stages of the project I found myself not only listening more, but watching too. Watching people move in public places, along the coast, seeing what I could see when I slowed down enough to watch. This led to a series of short very mini clips of film which I found sound for. There seemed to be a good serendipitous relationship between finding sounds in my piano whilst watching these moments. short film series.

On the back of the research for the dissertation and an intense period of writing and reflection on the use of sound within an arts practice I moved my practice forward by entering into the darkroom for a period of time. It felt like the most succinct environment for an incubation of a new project. Time in there stood still. Lingering in the wet rooms of Vernon Street made play possible again after the long writing and research. I chose to work with both cyanotype and photogram methods. I find both of these methods of contact printing experimental, tactile, fluid, unknown. The material I’d chosen to work with primarily was salt, metaphorically for it’s cleansing and preserving properties and sonically I thought I’d find some interesting sounds from working with it in a sound recording capacity. It also is a constituent of the body and therefore felt resonant with exploring an embodied sensory phenomenological essence of this project.

 

Salt scan copy
Detail of Salt Photogram

It lets the light through well and gives structure and form. I let myself play around with these crystal forms for some time, exploring how much light to let through and which light sources I would be using. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the material was and therefore the references were ambiguous and they had an visual element of how it may appear when looking through a microscopic lens.

 

Having worked with a very small radius of space and time since the early days of the MA through parenting and work constraints and hence learning to work with the micro elements of life, small things, small moments, captured time in minutes, it felt resonant to produce more work at this level. There were no grand gestures, but smaller incremental changes, acute visions in the mundanity of life. This really has been a constant in the realms of MA work I’ve produced.  In previous sound installations completed this last two years I have used found environmental sound, breath, microphones in small places in the natural world, a sort of a quieter walk through the world yet with an active ear.

salt lines photogram
salt lines photogram
salt line photogram
salt line photogram

I began to record some qualities of the salt falling on salt, salt falling on different surfaces, salt being moved around on wood and then the idea came to explore the possibilities of working with dancers. I began to wonder what this material would sound like under moving limbs and what shapes maybe left by the human interaction. This was the next chapter to explore and I got in touch with Beth, leader of the MA Choreography at Leeds Beckett University.  She was very supportive of my initial ideas and said she’d speak with her dance group to see if there was initial interest. This is explored in the next post…

Heart Matters

heart

 

It is only really at this point in the final project Practice 2 module that I am beginning to pull together the floating fragments of my aims. To clarify what I am trying to achieve. I realise on reflection that doing the creative work brings together the why more organically. However, I have been stuck in my mind as usual trying to think it out instead of feel the way through.

Over the last couple of months time in the darkroom has gestated prints using sea salt both in cyanotype form and as photograms. It’s structure and luminosity have brought this mineral to light. It works well using light as a medium and will at some point be worked into the final program in the shape of some visual media.

I’ve turned to film also as an exploratory medium in trying to express some of the ideas I’m working with. In these exploratory months I’ve filmed the sea, the movement of waves in and out, a walk along the tideline and I’ve filmed people, people moving in an arts space, responding or not to the space and each other and where they find myself. For each of these mini films I’ve made some short soundscapes to accompany the way the visuals move. Most of these have been piano based and using few notes as per my minimalist practice of working.

There have been recurrent themes: sea, movement, salt, minerals, relationships between human and land/sea, relationships to each other.

More recently I have returned to an earlier recording method I had employed, that of recording body sounds to include that of the heart beat. There is a theme of heart, rhythm, electrical fields, bodily substances which are underlying this project. The embodied sound, the physicality/materiality of sound. I began to wonder how would an ecg reading translate to an audible signal.

Luckily I was put in contact with two cardiologists and was able to ask them some technical questions. They suggested using a doppler, yet this measures velocity not electrical activity. The process I am trying to get to may well be harder than first imagined. I perhaps need to speak with a physicist? Perhaps I can score the heart rhythms to create musical notes?

And now I have a harp in tow. My aim over the next few weeks is then to combine the heart beat sounds, with those of perhaps harp strings and add them to the recordings of the dancers moving across salt? (this should be in prep for the next two weeks all being well)…

 

Approaching Nocturne Film

Clare has released this final cut of the Approaching Nocturne event back in June at Studio 24. It is a good use of both soundtracks (mine and Ben’s) and shows both the dancers and the choir in performance. Also a good overview of the visual art. Although already critically reflected upon in Practice 1 I wanted to include a link to it here as I hadn’t previously got adequate footage of the event as on the day I was so concerned with sound EQ (note to self, remember to always have a filmmaker in with you!).

 

 

6 Music Live Radio

Today I witnessed a live BBC Radio production outside of a traditional radio studio. Based in Ferens Art Gallery, Hull and as part of the Art is Everywhere weekend in conjunction with the Turner Prize 2017 Maryanne Hobbs of 6 music broadcast inside the gallery space.

It was fascinating watching the set up. From a tech point of view she broadcast via a laptop and a mic which was so portable and which moved with her according to when she was interviewing guests or speaking to the audience. On a table next to her was an artist Sam Winston who was drawing in relation to the music she played…relevant in a how do we visualise sound/music way. There seems to be more of this theme around in contemporary music and art platforms currently. Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival ran a drawing in response to sound workshop during November.

On the opposing side to her desk was the sound/mixing desk and a small area for the string quartet playing plus two keyboards for Philip Selway.

The audience were allowed to roam in and out and producers and BBC staff moved around taking photographs.

I include it in research methods for the reason of analysing radio as performance. I loved the informal nature of the production. It combined watching performance, dialogue, live art with a broadcast. It made me think of using this format in a production and most certainly added to my interest in creating content for radio shows, perhaps in a sonic art way as the shows produced by Resonance FM. More recently I’ve listened to many Radio 3 and Radio 6 shows combining elements of word and sound in their shows, thematically linked to a specific set of ideas, genres, or concepts.

Radio also for me is one of the formats/mediums in which the ‘intimacy of sound’ can be harnessed. I find there is a particular resonance when the theme of the radio broadcast, the voice of the presenter and the particular time of day synergistically mould together to create a sonic world in which one can find oneself ‘in tune’ and spoken to directly. Almost on a one to one.  Or perhaps one can feel a part of something greater, when there’s an awareness of many listeners tuned in at the same time. This naturally is enhanced by social media’s role in being able to communicate directly with the DJ and therefore a community is created.

Radio as performance. One to consider. I was musing on the journey back home how to conduct a radio show as a soundwalk as a live event, not pre-recorded (aside from some of the music to be played)…is this possible?

 

Loop Reflections

Ableton Loop Music Makers Summit 10-12 November 2017, Funkhaus Berlin.

I have returned from a weekend in Berlin at a summit/conference which was both inspiring and engaging. Primarily although I haven’t been using Ableton specifically for sound editing purposes I liked the look of the speakers in the programme and it became the perfect reasoning to opt for a weekend in one of the most creative European cities on research purposes!

It’s been over 20 years since I last visited this city and I have very fond memories of being well looked after by friendly democratic East Berliners in a large squatters block. I recall the starkness of the architecture and the particularly bleak weather. In essence not a lot had changed. The industrial urban-ness of the city remained and much of it seemed to have become a large canvas for the painting of graffiti.

The Bauhaus designed Funkhaus was something else altogether. The former DDR home of German Radio broadcasting and production was both austere externally yet rich and acoustically warm internally. Totalling 50,000sq metres it’s size is impressive alone.

Ableton’s programme was diverse and impressive covering areas of music production, creative methodologies, new sound technologies, music in eduction and providing workshops, sound installations and performances there was a lot to absorb. I highlighted 3 primary sound people I wanted to listen to: Kate Gately, Catarina Barbieri and Jenny Hval.

Kate Gately. Talked in a Q&A format and showed a film of her recording sounds around the city she lived (LA). The primary interests for me in the context of my own practice was listening to how she records and then how she translates those sounds to her sound/music production.  She spoke of her internal processes and the struggle in trying to find her ‘voice’ sonically but that she built up her studio over time in way which works well for her. (i.e.: she processes sounds standing and edits sitting down in two different workstation areas within the same room). I really find this level of unravelling anthers practice useful. I can find when in the sound booth working on my own sound projects that it’s an isolating experience where I am constantly questioning what I’m doing, or researching how to achieve a particular sound effect etc. So in some sense knowing other’s who are at a professional level further on than I still ask similar questions of themselves is a form of relief…

Catarina Barbieri. Was a joy to listen to and to hear. Her words really resonated when she talked about minimalism in her intention with the modular synth music she makes. She spoke of using only single note(s) and creating patterns of permutations from that one note. She spoke of minimalism in Eastern music structures (particularly Indian classical) which struck a chord with me. She talked of how often Eastern traditions would begin by trying to tune into the sound which was already in existence as opposed to ‘creating/plucking/playing’ a sound/note from silence. It reminded me a lot of having sat in many traditional Ragas musical performances whilst travelling in India years ago and how the sound did seem to drift in and drift out without there being a particular start or end. I think I have been trying, albeit in a more basic way, by my overuse of fade in’s and fade out’s on my own pieces…!

Hearing her music played live was really special and enhanced by the huge speaker stacks of the auditorium and general high level of audio kit. The sound was very polyphonic, rich and hypnotic. From a performative perspective, they had cleverly set up a camera to access how she was using the synth and this gave an added performative dimension to a production which otherwise would have been quite still.

Jenny Hval. I listened to her in conversation with Frances Morgan (The Wire) where she spoke at length of some of her inspiration for writing and of what her creative process looks like. It was refreshing to hear her eclectic recording ideas, for instance she spoke of having ideas whilst driving, recording them into her phone and putting those spoken words straight into her music, unedited. Other aspects to note which were of interest were her performance ideas, her use of an iPhone onstage as both recording and performative tool.