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.
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!
Back in June I worked on ‘The Listening Post’ – an ambitious sound installation, co-commissioned by LIFT and 14-18 NOW that formed part of the ‘After a War‘ exhibition at the Battersea Arts Centre.
Writers James Wilkes and Tom Chivers led the project researching the history and lives of Battersea residents during the First World War. Their research into local archives and town records unearthed a wealth of material to work with, featuring stories from conscientious objectors, the struggles of munitionettes and the local paranoia surrounding activities of German bakers (below).
The pieces were produced and presented across more than 14 speakers spread throughout the installation, supported by work from graphic designer Lina Hakim and installation designer Gary Campbell.
Each section of the installation evoked a different feeling and theme, ranging from orchid growing to leisure activities (roller skating and hot air ballooning) before moving onto the darker tones of wartime industry and tribunals for conscientious objectors.
You can listen to James below as he gives a guided overview of the installation:
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!
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.