Monday, 21 November 2011

Finally...Illuminata at Caerphilly Castle

'Illuminata' is a son et lumiere created specifically for Caerphilly Castle to tell its history. It is returning for a second time to the Castle in December 2011.
I was commissioned to provide the sound piece for it and to also program the media server system for the video content.

After examining site plans and geography, I decided on a layout which is somewhat unconventional but worked well in the space. As a heritage site, there were a number of restrictions on what could and couldn't be physically achieved for a temporary system and I allowed for both variation in position and height in speakers in a way which would normally be considered slightly unbalanced but was taken into consideration with the content to create interesting textures. This resulted in six output channels plus additional bass.
The major creative decision was that the sound would contain no narrative. I incorporated a lot of soundscaping with the use of space and also music. As much of the history focusses on the medieval era, I was very happy to be working with recordings from different medieval manuscripts of music from that era. I chose all this very carefully and added in additional music of my own to provide links which were deliberately flavoured in a cinematic score style to juxtapose and add weight to the cartoon animations forming part of the medieval section of the story. This additional music to the period instrumentation was based on the medieval melodies or Welsh melodies. Once again, I explored the sounds of my lyre, as the forerunner of the harp, to create extra instrumental timbres alongside the medieval instruments.
The journey through from natural 'music' sounds to early music sounds and onwards through formal music of the 17th century, romantic harp playing of the 19th century into the radio and cinema footage of the twentieth, it has a lot of breadth and the combination of visuals and sound speak a great deal about the texture of history without a single word being spoken!
It also gave me the opportunity to express within a sound piece my knowledge of music and instrument history.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Contours at Illuminating York 2011

I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to re-exhibit 'Contours' at such a rich historic site. Many thanks to everybody who came to experience 'Contours' in the Dean's Park. I am told by worthy statisticians that Contours welcomed 50,000 people into its circle of light over the four days of the Festival and those of you who were kind enough to offer your thoughts at the onsite surveys said how much you enjoyed engaging with it.

I would like to thank everybody who came, including those who I spoke with during the artist one-on-one sessions at the Park. This Festival has always been a pleasure to be involved with and the level of organiser support to facilitate what I have needed to do has always been impressive and efficient, so thank you also to everybody who worked with me on re-shaping Contours for York. Special thanks has to go to Nev Milson, the lighting designer who worked to make the Contours circle structure a reality and to the production manager Ben Pugh for all the onsite technical arrangements and negotiations for the work.
I really enjoyed the one-on-ones with the people who came. It was really rewarding to show you images of the original texts, the reproduction lyre I played for it, show you the scripts and translations we worked with and wrote. Highlights must be letting people have a go on my flutes made of sheep and deer bone!

You can retweet all Contours posts and information from the button below, or hear it if you click here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

'Contours' - The Weekend: Illuminating York 2011

As part of the event, over the final two days, I set up a spot in the information tent where I showed some of the instruments I used for the piece, as well as my research work and the numerous scripts in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, English and Icelandic. I was also able to show images of the original texts of the Poetic Edda and Beowulf.
As part of the these conversations, certain questions came up regularly. The first one was where the idea came from for 'Contours' originally. As well as showing the original site, I was able to explain how I had decided to adapt it for the Dean's Park and why.

Night In The Dean's Park

Those of you who have read my notes before will notice that the piece originally was in a field and had a strong relationship with the rural landscape there. For the Dean's Park, I felt it was more appropriate to work within a circle of light, where people could enter the circle and essentially walk into a sound world which was filled with sounds known to the Viking and Saxon population, the shapes of music and words.
The circle made it clear where to stand and that you could enter and exit this world.

Late Evening: Friday Night

Most importantly, I wanted to embrace the idea of oral tradition. This poetry is powerful and very vivid in its imagery. It was a conscious decision to have the words be the strongest element, that translation into English was part of the piece and that visuals should contribute atmosphere but not dominate. For some people, this was a very new experience. We are now a very visual society, we expect our information to come via visual form. This was not always the case. Hearing was the sense that alerted us to what we could not see when lighting was poor or non-existent. For some people in certain parts of the world that is still the case. I was aware that the power of storytelling for earlier communities really relied on our ability to listen and to allow the words to paint pictures inside our heads. I wanted to combine this early style of storytelling and entertainment with technology to surround us with those words and music, to help those pictures form without dictating what those pictures are.

I knew this would make the piece challenging and very different. I was pleased then to see how many people contacted me who found it moving and entirely new and exciting to experience.

First Playback: Friday Night - 400 people present

I'm very grateful to the Illuminating York Festival for seeing how this piece illuminated York's history by combining modern technology with older techniques of storytelling and inviting myself to the Festival to restage the installation by the Minster.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

'Contours' First Night: Illuminating York 2011

The Illuminating York festival successfully got underway last night with reports from the public of a bending building down at the Eye of York and ethereal Viking presence at the Dean's Park by the Minster.

The atmosphere in the Park was quite wonderful - the piece invites the listener to stand within a circle of light to hear the languages and the poetry, to experience the sounds of early medieval instruments and even older instruments, such as the bullroarer and bone flute.
The idea of the circle on this site for me opens up all the ideas associated with the passing on of stories via oral tradition, the way you gather around a fire to be entertained and informed by those who have committed to memory both myths and how one should approach the gods.

The Contours site early evening, prior to opening...

For Contours in York, this knowledge, this experience, comes to you as you stand in the centre of the sound moving around you, the Viking and Anglo-Saxon ancestors come to you. There is also the unity of experience offered to everyone in the circle.
Usually we all look to a specific given point for visual stimulus. Inside the circle, there is no fixed point, you can move round the circle and hear it differently wherever you stand, the circle changes its atmosphere through the supporting lighting and 'woodsmoke'.
My experience of the site has been quite powerful when the weather actually gets going and the wind is whipping through the trees. It was originally conceived to work within and fuse with a rural environment so instead of the weather detracting from the experience, in the Dean's Park it positively enhances it. So, if it is windy, definitely come down! The sounds of the rustling trees with the kulning, the raven cries, the music and the whispered poetry is a unique and very positive experience.
If anybody out there is particularly drawn by ideas of Viking history, epic poetry and the Edda, talk of the Nordic gods in a suggestive atmosphere, one which spreads over the Park and seems to just enhance the peaceful mysticism of the space next to the Minster, then this is the place for you! (Between 6.30pm and 10pm every evening, last night Saturday.)

I must also say a word here about my companion here on lighting, Nev Milson. He has done a wonderful job of supporting this installation and working with me on creating an overall feel in the unpredictable outdoors. The lighting and effects are being manipulated live in response to the audience throughout the evening.

Here are some pictures from the circle last night. Some are a little soft due to low light conditions, but they give an interesting impression of what it going on:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Contours Installation: Illuminating York 2011

Yesterday was a beautiful day onsite at York Minster, atmospheric and evocative.

Here are some pictures of activity yesterday:

After dark, the Park was transformed:

Looking forward to seeing how it looks tonight.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

'Contours' at Illuminating York 2011

I am absolutely delighted to announce that 'Contours', my piece exploring the poetic, religious and musical culture of the Viking settlers and Anglo-Saxons, is to be part of the Illuminating York Festival this year.
I have been part of the Festival twice before, collaborating with Ross Ashton on both occasions for twin-site installation 'Accendo' in 2008 and last year with 'Rose', a son et lumiere at York Minster. This year though is a entirely fresh approach from the Festival to continue to explore new interpretations of what 'illuminating York' means, and understanding that includes an expansion of ideas and perceptions of York as a place. Already famous for its Viking heritage, to be able to take in Contours as a new expression of what that heritage means is quite meaningful. As a sound creator, this development for the Festival is very exciting and I am pleased to be part of it, and supply the "early" history portion of this year's public art to juxtapose with the more modern history of "Envisions" at the Castle Museum.

In the meantime, here is a link to the Festival brochure. i plan to be onsite throughout the Festival. As usual, I like to make myself available for anyone who wants to talk about 'Contours' or anything else!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Diespeker Wharf Project

This project offered the opportunity for me to do something a little more different. The initial concept was to create a narrative free soundtrack which would reflect the long history of the site. The commissioning company supplied some history research and we used that as our springboard to create our more detailed storyboard and develop the visual style it was to have along with the sound styles and genres that would integrate with it.
I worked in collaboration with The Projection Studio using the pattern of working and exchange which we have always found to work well in the past and I was given some freedom around timings which allowed for some variations in sound texture to really be effective. That said, the stereo soundtrack forms a continually shifting and changing series of beats, sounds and musical phrases which blend some of the elements of soundscaping with musical rhythms.
The most gratifying element of this for me was that it focussed on London history and as a Londoner, and still London-based, it was really satisfying to create a piece based around history that I know first hand. I've always felt very strong roots here, a love for the history and being in Islington, around the corner from where a good friend of mine was raised had a personal resonance.

The footage embedded here was actually filmed in 16:9 but for some reason is on Vimeo in 4:3. The piece was shown once live, and then once more by special request as an encore.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Autumn 2011 Update

It may appear that not a lot has been happening over the past few months as I haven't posted.
I find that many projects go through certain stages and at the earliest stages I prefer to focus on the work at hand rather than create posts about it.
I have been a little behind as some projects have completed in the interim so in this post I will give a brief round-up of what has been happening and speak about the individual projects in their turn.
So, here's the update:

EARLIER THIS YEAR: A son et lumiere I programmed last year has won an industry award. I programmed the historical piece for the Purana Quila in Delhi to form part of the cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games in India last year.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo took a new step forward as the new stands allowed for better positioning of technology and new inclusion of lighting technology. Very pleasing and exciting from a projecting point of view.

THIS MONTH: The Diespeker Wharf Project son et lumiere, a private commission, went live and was hugely successful. I created the soundtrack for that work, which covered 2000 years of history of the site.

COMING SOON: I have been invited back to the Illuminating York Festival this October to re-exhibit my sound work, 'Contours'. This is very exciting for me to be part of exploring a new interpretation of York's heritage and history after 'Accendo' in 2008 and 'Rose' in 2010.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Pavilion Of Dreams

This piece is another collaboration between Ross Ashton and myself. It was commissioned for Enchanted Parks 2010 in Gateshead.
The piece is a short projection and sound installation which focussed on transforming a bowling pavilion into a series of fantasy structures, palaces and locations taken from six different fairy and popular tales from different parts of the world.
I decided that the sound for each different story-world would contain hints of their origin as well as the take itself. Aladdin for example, contains a combination of Chinese and Middle Eastern instrumentation, The Snow Queen contains rhythms and instruments that hints at Northern shamanic traditions, The Little Mermaid speaks in Danish and expresses something of her longing to go beyond the waves - the central tenet of the story. (People who know my work will also spot this as a deliberate quote from an earlier piece of mine, "Contours".)
We also decided to have some irreverent fun along the way!
The biggest challenge was dealing with snow and sub-zero temperatures. The snow altered the building layout which impacted on the mapping. From a personal perspective, I spent much of my time up to my knees in snow when installing and lining up the projector and installing the sound equipment required a certain amount of exposing park structures by digging with gloved hands, but it was all worth it!

The video below of the piece was our archive footage taken onsite. The temperatures meant our standard camera failed to work so we had to use a different lower quality camera to shoot it for our reference. This is the footage we share with you now.