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.
Occurring without warning, the panic attack is a crippling and cruel symptom of many anxiety disorders. These debilitating episodes thrust individuals into intense bouts of terror, leaving them fighting to regain control of their own body.
The piece combines interview material recorded with a friend and abrasive sound design to pull the listener into the experience of a panic attack. It was produced as part of the Hubbub Relaxation / Cacophony tape, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and featured during the Lates Spectacular event in September 2015.
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:
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.
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.
The idea for this piece fell out of a session playing around with audio samples taken from various pornography films, in a bid to produce something for an In the Dark listening event. After a while of manipulating and stretching out these smutty samples I was struck by how much the moans and groans came to resemble the calls of whales.
After a bit of whale sound research I worked to manipulate these sounds until they modelled the range of sounds associated with whales. From the high-pitched clicks, squeaks and squeals to the lower frequency rumbles. The sounds become slightly more unsettling when processed in this way (although out of context they didn’t originally sound that nice to begin with), removing the visual element with which these sounds were originally presented with, definitely made them more sinister. The high-pitched screams are particularly unsettling on their own, baring very little resemblance to the original sample.
However for the event this piece was to be presented at we were keen to finish with something fairly light hearted and I thought it would be much more fun to experiment and explore the concept of ‘porn whales’ than turn this into something dark and foreboding – there was plenty of that featured at the event anyway.
The sounds of the sea were added to provide a little context (recorded in Brighton on a zoom H4n) and the gentle, soothing music came from Kevin Macleod.
The latest In The Dark listening event: ‘One Night Stand’ took an unusual step into the murky world of erotica, featuring pieces exploring sex across the animal kingdom; from humans, to snails, to fish and finally to whales. The night proved to be so popular that we had to put on a second sitting, suggesting that sex really does sell, even when it comes to curated listening events.
Sofia Saldanha and I mixed and compiled the audio for the night, including the production of new material to interweave and transition between pieces. Audio featured included a beautiful and emotionally charged interview from the Dialogue Project, a rather unsettling but humorous piece from Canadian radio show Audio Smut (about masterbating in public places) and and a personal favourite from Danish producer Pejk Malinovski whose piece made reference to the artist Matisse by exploring the reproductive behaviours of snails (can be heard here).
We were really keen to move past a linear playlist which simply presented the pieces rigidly, separated by silence. Instead we experimented in blending all the pieces together into a seamless mix. In many cases we produced short interludes and transitions to help take the listener smoothly from one piece to the next and to keep them immersed within the general narrative of the night.
Finishing off the event was ‘Porn Whales’ – an audio short I’d produced, manipulating the sounds of pornography to resemble the calls of whales (below).
After a bit of whale sound research I worked to manipulate these sounds until they modelled the range of sounds associated with whales. From the high-pitched clicks, squeaks and squeals to the lower frequency rumbles. The sounds of the sea were added to provide a little context (recorded in Brighton on a zoom H4n) and the gentle, soothing music came from Kevin Macleod.
Following the recent In The Dark: Cityscapes event I was interviewed for the Monocle 24 radio show ‘The Urbanist‘ – we talked about some of the pieces played, discuss the power of audio and explore the nature of urban soundscapes. You can have a listen below, although I admit, I much prefer being on the other side of the microphone.
I am delighted to have a selection of my audio works featured on basic.fm, a new broadcast project being undertaken by the Pixel Palace at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. Throughout the next couple of weeks the station will be playing a special eight hour show, composed from a collection of audioworks produced by international artists.
Have a listen – there’s a great variety works being featured and the programme is continually cycling so you’re always going to tap into something weird, wonderful and interesting.
You can browse the full schedule of participating artists and works here and tune in anytime here.
You can also listen to the pieces I have featured below:
This is a short audio piece which was originally created for the In The Dark Christmas party – however it didn’t quite fit the bill in the end, being as it is, devoid of any Christmas cheer. Anyway, I thought I’d better not let it go to waste and instead make it available on here – I suppose this is the obligatory Christmas themed post.
It’s another short piece (see Adam as machine) which has fallen out of The D-Word, a documentary I produced over the summer which will be appearing on Transom.org early in the new year. This piece features pathologist, Dr Stuart Hamilton and was recorded in the mortuary at the Sunderland Royal Infirmary back in July. The material I recorded with Stuart at the mortuary only forms a small part of the overall documentary, yet I think it’s interesting enough to justify an entire piece on it’s own, maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
Dr Hamilton explained to me how winter was a particularly busy period for the mortuary staff, with mortality rates increasing in the elderly over the colder months of the year. Another interesting point was that they tended to receive an increase in the number of decomposed bodies at Christmas, but I’ll let you listen to the piece to find out why…
I’m not going to go into a massive rant on how important it is to make an effort to spend time with family, because I’m particularly guilty of not doing so. It just seems that the mortuary staff gain a depressing insight into the mistakes we make and how we choose to lead our lives.