Providing direction to time’s arrow
A short film I made for the Royal Institution that explores the relationship between entropy and time. The piece formed part of the larger Ri Advent Calendar project which explored the four laws of thermodynamics.
Here’s my first venture into music videos – made for a friend’s band – Dear Leaders.
It was actually shot last year, but a busy work schedule delayed the edit until the beginning of this year – they released the track as a single in April alongside the video – check it out below!
It was real guerrilla film making, we had no budget, very little plan or script – just a very rough narrative. We shot this across London, near Green Lanes in Haringey and also in Hackney Marshes, with a lot of improvisation at the locations. I also shot this solo, with only two days to get everything done (the band live in separate cities) – which added extra pressure to the production!
The edit was quite challenging as a result, but eventually I picked a route through the footage, not that the narrative makes total sense… but when were music videos ever the bastion of linear narratives?
I was lucky enough to work with actor Julian Spooner (who put up with two days of masking tape being ripped off his face) – who was great to work with, mainly because he was very patient and took my direction without protest. The band members also make small cameos – see if you can spot them!
It was shot mostly on my Sony A7s and it’s low light capabilities allowed opened up a lot of creative possibilities for shooting at dusk on the marshes.
Over the last year at the Royal Institution we’ve published two series of a video project called ExpeRimental which aims to promote the practice of science based activities in the home with children.
Where these videos differ from many ‘try this at home’ series is that they place an emphasis on pedagogy, providing support to parents to help them encourage their children to behave like young scientists, in essence to get them hypothesising, changing variables and testing! Each activity featured also makes use of cheap and ordinary household items to make sure that they were accessible to everyone.
I worked closely with director and film maker Alom Shaha on this series who oversaw the development of the content and scripting. There were a lot of challenges we faced in the production of these films, most notably working with non-professional presenters (often parents) and of course featuring young children on camera!
We learnt that the most important element in keeping the young participants enthused was to keep the energy up but also to limit the time they had to spend on camera. As such we’d usually ask the adults to take the youngsters out for a walk whilst we set-up and it was also important that the kids knew nothing of the activities we were filming, so as to achieve as much a genuine reaction on camera as possible.
Naturally many of young children were quite camera shy to begin with, so I found a good way to reduce this was to allow the kids to take control of the equipment, allowing them behind the camera or to listen to the feedback of the microphones. I think this helped to normalise the pretty alien experience of having cameras and lights set-up and pointed at them in their home environment.
In order to edit these pieces successfully and to maintain a sense of ‘actuality’ we tended to shoot with a three camera set-up, including a ‘master-wide’ and two roaming handheld shots, one which would preference the adult and the other the children.
Where first series explored concepts and phenomena in Physics, the second explored chemistry and chemical reactions. A few of my favourite videos can be seen below:
Rufus and the racers
Fizzy Bottle Rockets
Singing Wine Glasses
The space between silence and noise
Last year, as part of an AHRC funded project, I was commissioned to make a short experimental audio documentary on the subject of silence. I was given freedom as to how I explored this subject and so I set out to capture the thoughts of those who worked with sound and in silent spaces.
Click here to download it.
The result, unsurprisingly, was that silence meant lots of different things to different people and so thematically it was very noisy! This relationship between noise and silence was one I was keen to explore through the production and so the piece is filled with hiss, distortion and feedback in an attempt to echo the noisy subject matter. This was explored further through the use of interviews but also with extracts of the poem ‘Describing Silence’ which are intercut throughout. This piece written by James Wilkes was a response to his time spent in total silence and explores some of the self generated noise born out of silence.
The audio work was an artistic output for an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project exploring the role of silence in academia and other professional fields. The project was run by the Science Communication Centre at Imperial College London and the piece was featured at one of their events.
- The piece features interviews with Sophie Scott (cognitive neuroscientist), James Wilkes (poet and writer), Sara Mohr-Pietsch (BBC Radio 3 presenter), Cheryl Tipp (Natural Sounds Curator, British Library) and Vidyadaka (London Buddhist Centre).
- The idea of distortion and noise influenced the production from the early stages and as work continued I really wanted to create an intense build up of noise that would level off and really help mark the silence experienced later on in the anechoic chamber.
- The piece written by James Wilkes ‘Describing Silence‘ – can be heard in full below:
- The interview and reading from James was recorded in an anechoic chamber based at UCL. The space itself is very strange to stand in, the best comparison I can think of is what happens to your hearing when you travel in a pressurised aeroplane. In terms of recording audio in there, it was actually a pretty boring space to record in!
- Although it did crop up in several interviews I was keen to avoid referencing John Cage’s 4:33 – there are some great pieces on this already (particularly here: http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/library/1258-john-cage-and-the-question-of-genre) and it justifies a much longer discussion than I could have accommodated for it.
- The piece was recorded on a Zoom H4n and a Marantz PMD661 with AKG D230 dynamic microphone. It was edited and composed in Ableton Live.
Earlier in the year I received a commission to produce some experimental audio work on the theme of ‘dreams’ for the ‘Dark Matters’ event at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. For this commission I collaborated with poet James Wilkes who has previously been a poet in residence at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and run the ‘Vox Lab’ project.
The resulting pieces we produced present a list detailing a week’s worth of dreams – pulling an odd array of incoherent imagery, places and situations into the formalised structure of a list. The list was compiled and narrated by James and then worked into three soundscape movements, each of which were responsive to elements of the list content.
Dreams naturally offer a rich source of imagery to work from, they’re patchy, incoherent and often overflowing with symbolism, so I really like the idea of pulling all this messy imagery into a structured, arbitrary list. In a sense, The List is an attempt to bring order to some of the madness that breaks loose within our nocturnal imaginations. The conscious brain seeking for order from the chaotic ramblings of the unconscious mind.
The pieces were presented in the form of an In The Dark listening event held at the museum and which pulled together a collection of audio works exploring the human mind, dreams and brain disorders. After curating an In The Dark event for ‘The Voice’ (an event produced by James at the Wellcome Collection) it was great to work with James directly on the production of this commission. It was also fantastic to be given the opportunity to bring creative audio work within the confines of a Science Museum and introduce In The Dark to an audience outside of London!