There was a lovely edition of BBC R4’s “Four Thought” broadcast last week called “Capturing Moonlight”. In this short programme, poet Astrid Alben discusses her experiences of using art and science together to better understand the nature of moonlight. What is particularly interesting to me is hearing about Astrid’s endeavour to navigate the complexities of science in order to deepen her own artistic practice.
Back in 2015 I collaborated with Astrid and Hester Aardse of the PARS Foundation to produce a listening experience for a Wellcome Collection event called ‘Some Like Dark‘, which formed part of her investigation into moonlight.
Together we crafted an audio work which centred around an interview recorded with physicist Sir John Pendry. The piece explores how our modern understanding of light developed through investigations by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th Century and concludes with a playful discussion about trying to capture moonlight in a box (excerpt 4).
The 30 minute piece also included readings and audio works from theatre maker Jan van den Berg, lighting designer; Jennifer Tipton and sound poet; Jaap Blonk.
We shot this in Victoria Park in October to take full advantage of the vibrant autumnal colours. These yellows and orange tones were used as a starting point to form psychedelic kaleidoscopes that pulsate and evolve from the movement within the shot. I’ve been really interested in experimenting with different types of framing, particularly presenting multiple frames side by side and playing with symmetry – this also presents opportunity for mischief when the symmetry between frames is pulled out of sync, reversed and distorted.
The track is taken from their latest album “Bamboo Diner in the Rain” – which is out on Moshi, Moshi – I’m really enjoying it – so check it out!
I’ve got another Wave Pictures video coming in the new year – so stay tuned!
Rest matters to everyone. Its presence, absence and quality affects mind, body, culture and society. Rest & its discontents explores the dynamics of rest, stress, relaxation, sound, noise, work and mindwandering in an evolving laboratory of moving image, performance, drawing, poetry, data, sound, music and debate.
The short film is the final piece I’ve produced as part of my 2-year residency within the Wellcome Collection’s Hubbub Group.
The film uses material gathered from individuals participating in Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) to generate short vignettes which explore and re-interpret their inner experiences. DES is a method pioneered by US psychologist Russell Hurlburt which aims to document the nature and quality of an individual’s inner experiences.
Participants are given a beeper that sounds randomly throughout the day and when it does, individuals are asked to make a note of the contents of their experience. Follow up interviews tease out the detail of each experience to produce a short “beep summary”, a short vignette or snapshot of an isolated experience in time.
Experience Composite, uses the the contents of the beep summaries and experiments with framing, looping and over-dubbing to explore the nature of our inner experiences. The film also re-interprets the summaries in playful ways to highlight the unavoidable distortion and artifice introduced when attempting to document or conceptualise our inner experiences.
The final video piece produced during a week long artist residency in Margate.
Building on the ideas explored in the previous piece, I decided to evolve the square framing and slide-like presentation to include simple shots of shapes and colours I found around Margate. However this time worked with a centre division in the frame, juxtapositioning two different shots.
When I was out shooting I did have this in mind, so I concentrated mainly on rectangle and square shapes, lining shots up in a way that would work with this format. The edit was more a proof on concept, it’ll be interesting to see how I can expand on it and use it within something more substantial.
Continuing with the residency in Margate, here’s the third installment:
Thursday was spent largely working inside, so for this piece I decided to detail some of the rich textures within the house we’ve been staying in. The property is a large 4 story townhouse, which is currently mid-renovation, with exposed wooden floorboards and cracked walls with exposed plaster.
Detailing the tapestry of patterns, colours and uneven surfaces I wanted to pull out the aged aesthetic of the house in the presentation of the film – so I played with aspect ratio to present images in a format closer to 4:3 rather than a modern widescreen format. I also enhanced the square images with 35mm film grain and rounded off the corners to mimic the look of old slides, adding in projector sounds to support this look.
Finally the music loop was recorded in the afternoon on an old electric keyboard found in the living room, which we were experimenting with on a separate audio work. I processed the recording by slowing it down and detuning it, to further enhance the ‘aged’ aesthetic of the film.
I’m currently in Margate on a week long artist residency (PRAH Foundation) producing work that is responsive to the local area.
I’ll be focusing on both video and audio outputs and as part of the project I’ve tasked myself with the grand challenge of producing (and publishing!) something each day…
Here’s Tuesday’s effort:
On my first day, I spent a couple of hours walking around the waterfront with my camera and was particularly drawn to the dull tones of the Arlington House tower block. This drab, monolithic structure looms, rather oppressively, over the recently refurbished Dreamland fun park below (hoping to pay that a visit later in the week).
The colours from this scene influenced the overall grading of the piece, producing a rather muted colour profile throughout. I really liked the contrast of the blue sheds that emerge half way through, with the glimpse of the ferris wheel in the distance – neither of which can quite break free from the muted, sombre tones of their surroundings.
I shot this on my Sony A7s, which I haven’t really had much chance to experiment this year. I also wanted to test out a couple M42 lenses that I’d recently picked up on ebay:
Over the summer I worked with the talented artist and illustrator Andrew Khosravani on what will be the first of a series of animated shorts for the Royal Institution’s digital video channels.
For sometime I’d wanted to re-purpose content from our long-form lecture videos by excerpting audio clips and using these as the basis for animations. Other organisations have had great success doing this in the past, particularly the RSA (check out their RSA animate videos) and so it struck me as a no-brainer when Andrew recently joined our team.
In choosing the right clip, it was important to find an excerpt that was fairly self-contained and that would stand-alone outside of the context of the longer event video. For this first project we decided upon an excerpt from a Q&A event with the Pulitzer prize winning scientist and author Jared Diamond, filmed back in 2013. In the excerpt, Jared discusses how insights from the lifestyles of far-removed cultures can impact the way we think about our own lives, particularly in the context of our approach to risk – an anecdote that has always stuck with me since filming the event.
After trimming and pruning the audio clip to get the flow as tight as possible Andrew set about story boarding the piece and after we were agreed on the direction he set about creating the artwork assets and animation. As you’ll see from watching the piece, the attention to detail is pretty breathtaking, Andrew writes on the Ri Blog,
“Because of the density of the vegetation in the animation, some of these scenes were created with upwards of 1000 layers of illustration.”
All this serves to creates an incredible visual feast, one that really pulls the audio into a rich and colourful visual medium.
Once the animation was finished I worked on the sound design to tidy up the audio clip and add a little more depth and weight to the piece. As you’ll hear it’s all fairly subtle, which was necessary because the visuals are definitely leading here and there’s a lot going on in the frame already.
The aim of this project was always to blend scientific content with an artistic aesthetic in an attempted to reach audiences that don’t traditionally engage with our more science heavy content. The piece was subsequently awarded a ‘staff pick’ on Vimeo and was picked up by several art and design sites around the web, so we were obviously pretty chuffed about that!
We’re now working on our second piece, which sets visuals to an audio piece I made, featuring British astronaut Helen Sharman discussing her dreams about space. We will be releasing this piece in the lead up to the Christmas Lectures – so stay tuned!
Over the last month I’ve been collaborating with Astrid Alben and Hester Aardse of PARS to produce a listening experience for their ‘Some Like Dark‘ event that runs over the May bank holiday weekend at the Wellcome Collection in London.
The listening feature is made up from a collection of interwoven readings, poems, sound pieces and interviews that explore light from different perspectives.
Let your imagination loose on an in-the-dark journey with the work of theatre maker Jan van den Berg, lighting designer; Jennifer Tipton, physicist; John Pendry, sound poet; Jaap Blonk; and many more.
The event promises to be a magical and immersive experience featuring science demonstrations and an animation produced by Eleni Kalorkoti entitled ‘Moonlight in a box’ (top image).
Tickets are free and can be booked online or in person over the weekend! The event runs all weekend as part of the larger ‘On Light‘ event taking place at the Wellcome collection – check it out!
A short, meditative film I directed and produced with Professor Nicholas Humphrey exploring the scientific significance of consciousness and the problems we face in understanding its existence.
After working with each other last year Nick and I were keen to explore consciousness in a short form piece – quite the challenge considering the complexity of the subject matter.
Our intention was not to be too heavy handed with the facts and figures, but instead to present the viewer with some of the key questions and problems that scientists face in understanding consciousness from the perspectives of evolution and neuroscience.
One of the greatest challenges with this piece was always going to be in constructing compelling images to go alongside the narration and pieces to camera. It was with this in mind that we chose the Botanic Gardens as the lush and colourful backdrop in which to explore these ideas against.
The film was shot primarily on a Canon 6D over a couple of days, on location at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens and at the Royal Institution. I was really impressed with the footage coming out of the 6D (aside from a few moire problem) and it received very little grading. I also paid a little extra attention to the audio, mastering it outside of FCPX and in Ableton Live – just to give it a bit more polish!
The event explored British landscapes, both urban and rural, through a collection of sounds, words and film and included a panel discussion chaired by the Guardian’s Madeline Bunting. On the panel were writer Rachel Lichtenstein, T.S. Eliot prizewinning poet Alice Oswald and Professor of Literature at the University of Essex, Marina Warner. The event set out to explore how writers, filmmakers and artists explore and capture the essence of British landscapes within their work – and the different approaches they take to achieve their art. You can read a lovely write up of the event by Cherly Tipp here.
To begin the event, I composed several sound pieces, which were to accompany and compliment live readings from both Alice Oswald and Rachel Lichtenstein. These pieces were designed to augment the imagery evoked within the readings and provide a powerful listening experience through the combination of spoken word and abstract sound. The pieces were mixed live under the readings, which brought an element of performance to the soundwork – something which I’d not really explored before in the context of listening events. This also introduced some lovely moments of serendipity, as abstract sounds from the compositions aligned themselves with the words of the readers.
Listening to the landscape
In darkness, Alice opened the event with a powerful reading of her piece ‘Sea Poem’, which was followed by a piece composed from an old recording of Ted Hughes, reading his piece ‘Wild Rock’ (listen below):
After this came ‘A Whitechapel Walk’ from Rachel Lichtenstein, which introduced the sounds of moden Whitechapel into the auditorium. This was then followed by the second and final reading by Alice, who finished off with a her piece ‘Epileptic’ a piece which brought with it the sounds of night, fluttering wings and the distant tide.
You can hear the live recording from the event here:
The tracklist is as follows:
Alice Oswald – ‘Sea Poem’
Ted Hughes – ‘Wild Rock’
Rachel Lichtenstein – ‘A Whitechapel Walk’
Alice Oswald – ‘Epileptic’
To close the event I’d composed a final soundscape which blended elements of both the rural and urban landscape, moving from the noise of the country into that of the city. With this piece I wanted to demonstrate noise as a feature of both the rural and urban soundscapes and so pulled out elements of both. This piece features a modified version of a previous work, ‘The Dustbin Man Cometh’ – which was produced for an In The Dark listening event back in March.
In addition to the event are a series of podcasts over at the Guardian which continue the themes of landscape literature, dedicating an episode each to the works of Alice and Rachel. You can also view the short film ‘Notes on Orford Ness’ which was screened at the event here, an aurally rich portrait of this unusual location, featuring extracts from writer Robert Macfarlane’s newly commissioned work, Untrue Island.