Audio Piece: The List

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!

Audio piece: Porn Whales

From porn wails to porn whales

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 piece was featured and played as part of the In the Dark ‘One Night Stand’ listening event at the Clachan Pub, London 14/05/12.

An added bonus – I thought I’d also share with you one of Isabella Rosseliini’s great Green Porno films – ‘Whale Sex’ :

Audio piece: The Dustbin Man Cometh

A processed and layered piece constructed from a single recording of a dustbin truck captured outside of the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Headphones recommended.

The piece was produced for exhibition at an In The Dark live listening event on Cityscapes and presented within the Glasshouse Bookshop at the Wapping Project on Wednesday 22nd March 2012.

If you have ever been woken up in the early hours by this sort of noise, I’m sure you’re aware of the complex mechanical racket that they make. It’s a great collection of sounds – clangs, squeaks and crashes – I really wanted to capture and then pull out elements of this noise, turning them into an evolving, glitchy cascade of sound that would fill the listening space it was to be presented in. Anyway, have a listen below.

Birdsong: An Escape From The Noise

Image:_John Brown (Flickr)

I was interested to read today about a new research project being undertaken, to investigate the psychological impacts of exposure to birdsong. In particular the project will look at how birdsong affects our psychological state, including its effect on mood, attention and sense of creativity.

The research is being conducted as a joint collaboration between the University of Surrey, National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust. Researcher Eleanor Ratcliffe, highlighted that there was a real a lack of evidence on the effects of birdsong, stating:

“A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong. However, currently there is a lack of scientific research on the psychological effects of listening to birds.”

You can find out more about the project here.

For me the sound of birdsong offers predominantly positive associations. Living in London, I’m now surrounded by a largely synthetic soundscape, which is strongly connected to the stresses and frustrations of city life (the daily commute, working long hours and a persistent sense of fatigue).

Living amongst this hubbub has unsurprisingly increased the value I attribute to natural soundscapes. Standing in binary opposition to the din of urban living, natural soundscapes offer potential for escape, not just from noise, but from all the negative associations paired with it.

It may be that natural sounds can help us escape from a chaotic lifestyle or at least provide a restorative effect from stress. Understanding the psychological impacts of birdsong will allow us to better understand how we respond to such sounds and perhaps learn more about this relationship. If birdsong really does improve our state of mind and / or sense of wellbeing then it could have real potential in it’s application as a therapeutic tool.

Birdsong as a therapeutic tool?

Back in April / May – I produced a radio piece which looked at the use of Birdsong in the healthcare environment. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool has been experimenting with the use of birdsong to improve the experiences of it’s young patients.

Installed in the central corridor is a sound installation playing the beautiful birdsong recordings made by Chris Watson and Alder Hey patients. These recordings are also used with patients during traumatic and painful procedures, often as a way of calming them down or taking their minds off the situation.

Speaking to the hospital’s Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock, I found out that there was already tremendous anecdotal evidence in support of birdsong as a therapeutic tool. They were also interested in setting up some form of trial in which to test the potential therapeutic benefits of birdsong.

You can listen to and download the piece here: