Saturday, 30 October 2010

"Rose" - The Flower of Flowers: Illuminating York 2010

"Ut Rosa Flos Florum, sic est Domus Ista Domorum"
(As the rose is the flower of flowers, so is this the house of houses)

Inscription at the entrance of the Chapter House, York Minster.

Currently live at York Minster, “Rose” is a son et lumière installation for the Illuminating York Festival. A collaborative work by myself and Ross Ashton, we had such a positive experience creating “Accendo” for the Festival in 2008 that we decided to put forward “Rose” as a project idea for the Minster this year.

The piece is an exploration of the rose, within the central focus of the whole piece being the Rose Window in the Minster. The window gave us our initial inspiration and we found the rose itself to be a very deep and powerful symbol, not least because it is the symbol of Yorkshire and the city of York.

The piece follows a journey from earth to sky, and I wanted to make it one seamless growing flow of sound. It begins with a section which moves through Yorkshire. From a sound perspective, this includes sounds of birds native to Yorkshire and includes recordings of woodland birds and samples of others, including birds of prey, and one of my favourites, the red kite, with recordings by Helen Olive of (Many thanks Helen).
This part is also quite sensual, blending wild nature with other human and more industrial sounds.
This section transforms into the Rose Garden, where spoken poetry speaks of love, emotion, and the rose as a symbol of love. I very much wanted to fuse the sounds of a living thriving natural world with the emotional capacity we have for deep feeling and response.
The voices in this section give way to a recording of the Magnificat by the York Minster choir (permission kindly granted by Regent Records) which takes us to another Rose, that of the Virgin Mary, that ideal of selfless womanhood. This connects strongly to the Minster itself. I wanted to use a Renaissance piece for this section as that contains the polyphony that I could hear in my head, a natural progression from the Rose Garden, from spoken poetry to layers of song.
The final section builds out of the Magnificat chanting. Perfection is symbolised by tones played on glasses with additional sounds of glass as visually we see images of the mathematical significance of the five petalled flower change to vibrant colours and the architectural shape of the building is reimagined in lifesize stained glass.

All my volunteer speakers for “Rose” are local to York and they are:

Sue Casson
Rob Jeffs
Lindsay Ibbotson
Nick Ibbotson
Jill Pratt
Graham Sanderson
Sue Skirrow
Gweno Williams
Tony Wright
Paul Yardley

The recording sessions were a joy and their enthusiasm for the project tremendous, so many thanks indeed to them.

Those of a medieval bent may be interested to know that the medieval carol "There Is no Rose" also appears as musical quotes within each section with a variety of additional harmonies.

If anyone has found themselves intrigued by the compositions of Lassus from listening to "Rose", the Magnificat I chose can be found on this disc along with other compositions of his. Lassus was one of the first Renaissance composers I studied and so I have always had a special resonance for me personally.

Lassus - Great Choral Works

I’ve found the response to be enormously positive, the people of York have been incredibly supportive of the piece and it has been yet another great experience for me working in this city. The culture of York and Yorkshire is incredibly rich and vibrant and it has been a privilege to have been invited back to be part of that once again.
Attendance figures are currently around 40,000 and the Festival still has one more night to go, so do come down for the last night tonight.

"Rose" - A review

I have decided to include a post with a link through to this blog as the writer, as well as being a good writer, has really captured many of the things that, for me, "Rose" is about, from ideas to realisation. I will follow this link up with a different view of "Rose", with a little more about its structure and content as I have received some tweets asking questions.

In the meantime, do please read this post.

Grow Happy Rose

Sunday, 3 October 2010

New Work at York: "Rose"

This year, Ross Ashton and I have been commissioned as a collaborative team again to create a son et lumiere work for York Minster for the Illuminating York Festival. Following our very positive experience with "Accendo" in 2008, I was very happy to be invited back to create a piece again for the Festival.

This time, the piece is called "Rose" and will be installed on the South Transept, focussed around the rose window in the Minster.
There is a great deal of richness and depth in the symbology we have chosen to explore with this and so far, once again, it is proving a very positive and fertile project so I'm certain I will enjoy my immersion in it!

Click here for more direct details from the website itself.

A Wet Autumn?

Things have moved on apace!

I'm in Pittsburgh, at the Pittsburgh Festival Of Lights.
There are three works here I have had involvement with, one of which, "Cascade" is an open form installation at the Heinz Hall where the side of the hall has become a waterfall (albeit a projected one) and I have created a quadrophonic soundscape based on the forest areas of America, with the sound of water tumbling down by the hall.

The piece was created in the UK collaboratively with Ross Ashton and then installed here.

Whilst standing in the space, experiencing the atmosphere two nights ago, I was approached by an avid birdwatcher, keen to know what was going on - why were the sounds of birds reverberating through downtown Pittsburgh?
My experience on "Contours" around the far distant travel achieved by certain tonal expressions of high frequencies was something I was indeed aware of and wanted to play with here as well, to draw in people and get them questioning what strange thing was happening in their urban environment!

I plan to try and upload some pictures I have gathered during my visit.

Look here for more info on the Festival Of Lights, running until October 17th.

In the meantime, expect some more info back on "Illuminata" at Caerphilly Castle, Wales, running twice nightly currently until mid-October with a surround sound work I have created to accompany it.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Time To Catch Up

Since my last post, things have been moving at substantial speed and change. So much so, in fact, that I felt I would let everything fall into a formal structure before I began to note down what's going on!
Firstly, I had a sound installation proposal accepted for an arts festival this summer. Due to clashing commitments however, that proposal has now been temporarily shelved but remains on the cards for the near future so watch this space for that! That proposal is one I'm rather excited about so I look forward to bringing that to fruition in the future.

Last month I was in India, as programmer and advisor for a project there which is still working through the creation stage - again, more on that probably in a month or two.

Right now though, I am in bonny Scotland as the programmer and projectionist for the Edinburgh Tattoo and creating a sound piece for a son et lumiere in Wales next month. More on that later too!

My website is also well underway as well though it may well be out of date before it even goes live if the next three months have anything to do with it so keep your eye open on this space as there will be more posting before the end of the month.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"Contours" is now online

Photograph by Robin Morley

My sound piece "Contours" can now be heard online.
Commissioned for Odin's Glow, this piece was designed as a large outdoor surround sound installation. It was designed to be situated in a field bordering the village of Newton-Under-Roseberry in Cleveland.
Every evening, for three nights, it ran as an open form work that people could come into the field and experience as they wished. I fully intended for it to be heard in complete darkness, with the voices, music, effects, forming a shifting invisible framework around those who came, sounds that moved around you, or enclosed you, or seemed to come welling up from the earth itself.
The aim was to capture something of essence of heritage and ancestry through sound, to bring the landscape around to life in the darkness.
For more detail on this project, click here.

Special thanks goes to the Danish Consulate and the Danish Cultural Institute, both in Edinburgh. They gave me valuable contacts and advice which opened many useful doors.

To hear "Contours", click below or follow the links:

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

And the nominees are....

During this month of Oscars and all other things competitively statuesque, news has just reached me that two arts events I have contributed works to have been shortlisted for awards.

The 'Lumiere' event in Durham, where I programmed the artwork "Crown Of Light" which we projected onto Durham Cathedral has been shortlisted for one award, and 'Odin's Glow' has been shortlisted for another.

By coincidence, my work for an online stereo version of "Contours", the surround sound work I created for Odin's Glow, is almost complete, bar the addition of one video clip and the final rendering so watch this space, its online appearance is imminent.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Straight From The Source - "Germania Meets Europa"

I thought today I would look at a recent piece I created for October 2009: "Germania Meets Europa".This public artwork was a video, light and sound installation for "Rheinpartie" in Germany last year.
Ross Ashton and myself were both commissioned to create the work. For this piece, I focussed on the sound element and Ross created the projection.
The work itself became deeply layered. We had a variety of themes to work with, some of which were identical but there were others that were not. As a result, we came up with different storyboards for each element and gave the storyboards enough breathing space to allow for a sympathetic entwining of ideas and leading themes. For us, this gave the piece a greater depth for the viewer/listener to experience.

What kind of themes did we look at? The basic idea was that Germania, as a myth figure, would transform into another mythical figure, that of Europa and so the piece would be a symbolic representation of European union. It would be a site specific work capturing something of the dream of peace and change.

For us both, this was a site specific work and so we drew on the Rhine and water as another key theme. Ross implemented these themes into the animation on the statue.
I reflected the themes from a different angle. I decided to work with the full water cycle. For me, the simplicity of all sources of water gradually joining together to finally form a single oceanic body was what I wanted to aurally explore. I liked the idea of active union automatically inherent within this idea. I also wanted to follow nature's example because I was very aware that borders are manmade constructions. Rivers don't acknowledge borders, or different countries, they go where gravity pulls them and then they meet. Into this mix, came Beethoven!

The European Union anthem is taken from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and specifically from the very famous Ode To Joy. It is a very strident piece indeed, and I spent some time listening to the 4th movement and studying the score thinking about how water and Beethoven would mix. I have a great respect for the musical greats and geniuses that have gone before. I decided to "go English" in my reserach and see what the response was amongst my fellow countrymen.

I read through a commentary by Ralph Vaughan Williams in which he looked at the "Ode To Joy". He had nothing but praise for the melody itself but questioned at times its arrangement and handling, the very things I wished to reconcile for this artwork. I decided to follow my initial ideas of re-arrangement and allowed the water cycle itself to dictate pace, overall tone and density of arrangement. Water drips, fast flowing streams and enormous majestic oceans, all intertwined with the re-arranged theme and the additional scoring at times I put in as "watercolour", if you will pardon the pun. It would be Beethoven still, but framed anew.

The video below (by Oliver Blum) was taken onsite when the piece was playing. The sound quality is live, so it is a little indistinct at times.
The section of audio you hear is from the part I called "Stream Tumble". In this clip, that section is repeated a few times, though in reality it is followed by the section "The Rhine" as the whole piece is about 7 and a half minutes. "Stream Tumble" went elsewhere into the score, playing with the harmonies and arrangements underpinning the Ode itself.
I hope to put the whole thing online in the future.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Cambridge 800 - Thoughts on Programming

For those who have been checking my status on LinkedIn, I have spent most of this month working on two of the three projection art installations by Ross Ashton that made up "Transforming Tomorrow" - the closing event of the University of Cambridge's 800 year anniversary celebration.
You are all aware I was in New York in December overseeing the staging of a specially created version of the opening work for the Gotham Ballroom, and also in Beijing in June for a cultural festival that featured the same thing.

"Transforming Tomorrow" featured 3 new works: "Blurring the Boundaries" a video installation on Senate House and the Old Library was the smallest and was the original site for the first piece done in January 2009. This time there was a new site, which I had the enormous privilege of creating the programming for. The other two pieces, "Nano" and "Planets to Proteins" were projected onto Kings College Chapel and the Gibbs Building across the large open green that forms the magnificent open panorama of buildings next to the River Cam, between Kings Bridge and Clare Bridge.
Programming for these particular large format projections can have a series of varied requirements - some pieces are with sound and some without. It can be something of my creation or something of somebody else's creation. In this case, there were some fascinating juxtapositions for me that I thought I would like to talk about.

Firstly, there was a close physical proximity between these two pieces. The face of the Chapel that contained the work "Nano" was next door to the Gibbs Building and "Proteins to Planets".
Secondly, the music was intended to work as an atmosphere, a mood that grasped the central concept of both works. It was not to be synchronised to!

As a person with a creative burn towards sound and vision, I took some time to think about these two things before beginning programming. I decided my aim was to bring all three elements together but without actual formal synchronisation. I approached each piece as a separate entity in its own right, and brought together moments, looks, colours and movements to allow the two pieces to occasionally join into a single panorama before breaking free once more. Their movements were complementary, they wove in and out of each other without compromising their integrity as individual pieces.
I listened many many times to the music, a piece called "The Angels" composed by Jonathan Harvey. This choral work captured the ebb and flow of angelic voice, layered in a way that suggested the sound of something universal rather than purely religious. What would an angel sound like if you could hear it?
I let the tempo of the music dictate the image movement, the ebb and flow of the voice was mirrored in the way the images faded in and out. Nothing was synchronised and yet I hoped that such an approach would create continual fusion between image and sound. I believe I succeeded in what I set out to do. Over those three days, nobody would have experienced the pieces the same way twice.

Why mention this here? Because programming is not a simple task - it requires thought, sensitivity, an instinct for timing and the ability to respond with physical tools to something as seemingly transient as a flow of sound through to the demands of hard rhythm.
One of the things that attracted me to sound is that to me, I hear rhythm everywhere, and have for as long as I can remember. I discovered that when I first saw a projected image, and began to work with that, I could see the rhythm in that. When I began in stage management in theatre, I could feel the rhythms of lighting changes, scene changes, the pace of drama, and I got the opportunities to follow that. Everything has its own life and flow and the thrill for programming for me is being the person to flex the creative muscle in bringing all these disparate forces together under one's steady control to achieve a whole new desired effect.

I believe art lies in there somewhere too, in that drive, concept, control and final realised vision.