Friday, 7 December 2012

'Glass House': Enchanted Parks 2012

This winter, The Projection Studio and myself were commissioned again by NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Magnetic Events to create ‘Glass House', a new son et lumiere focussing on the work of William Wailes, a renowned Victorian stained glass artist.

Our first inspiration came from Saltwell Towers & Park, both being entirely of his own vision and design. As a successful manufacturer and artist, he designed the Towers himself to be his own home. It seemed right and appropriate to us project his own glass work back onto his house.
We hoped the view would create the effect of a lit glass lantern on the landscape. his own home bceoming an object of illumination.

'Glass House' - Wailes opens for business

Having studied the work of Pugin and the profound influence of the Gothic Revival on the design, art and architecture of the British 19th century, I very much felt I wanted to place Wailes within the context of his time and situation, to make it clear his importance to that industry and also the place he was working in, that of the Victorian North East.

The local history of Gateshead came to the fore. 
A centre of many types of industry, it had upon its Tyneside shores warehouses that stored large quantities of chemicals, many of which formed part of the procedures for colouring glass as it was done in that era.
In 1854, Wailes was at his career peak. That same year, he began building the Towers. By coincidence, during the same year, a mill caught fire by the Tyne, the fire spread to a chemical warehouse next door. Some of the chemicals stored there were those used in glass-making as well as other industries. Sulphur was observed melting and running through the windows of the bullding, attracting many bystanders to watch the hot blue chemical glowing in the night.

Part of a moving collage of a Wailes pattern in blue

Then, the warehouse exploded.
The explosion at Hillgate decimated the industrial heart of Gateshead, throwing burning irons and timber over the town and also across the river to Newcastle, where the fire took hold and spread further.
The Great Fire of 1854 utterly destroyed the lower levels of the medieval town and streets. Its devastation though was seen both a curse & blessing, giving a starting point to build a newer centre. The Victorian ancestors of the Gateshead area became determined to regenerate the area into something better, to move residences away from dangerous industry, to make sure cholera would never return.

The processes of glassmaking follow a similar pattern, where the destructive processes of fire and chemical interaction produce something new, even beautiful. 
The Gothic Revival that Wailes’ work was part of continued apace. In the 1850s, the Victorian passion for glass had yet to be satiated. Wailes exhibited his work at the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, that world famous cast iron & plate glass structure, ironically also destroyed in fire in 1936.

Critiques and reviews of the time make it clear that those artists and designers able to draw close to the glasswork colours of their medieval counterparts were applauded. Whilst Pugin searched for the secret chemical recipe to create 'ruby' glass, the precise tint of red produced in those earlier eras, Wailes’ style was appreciated for his depth of blue and also for his particular design of patterns. Glass colours were named after jewels such as ruby, topaz and emerald green, so valued was coloured glass as a vibrant visual spectacle in both the medieval and Victorian eras.
Something similar could be said of projection today, hence our decision to use Pigi projection on this, essentially the modern equivalent of a magic lantern, projecting images from strips of film.

Wailes window showing biblical scene

The sound piece draws upon actual texts from multiple sources to run these overlapping stories in parallel. As the sulphur melts in the fire, so we see the house bathed shades and patterns of Wailes’ distinctive shade of blue. His use of red is displayed as we hear romantic descriptions of the burning of the town described in a local report. As the town shatters, an angel covers her eyes.

One lost piece of his work draws ‘Glass House’ to a close. 
Wailes was commissioned to create a memorial window for those who lost their lives in the 1854 fire for St Mary’s, the parish church of Gateshead, badly damaged by the explosion.
This window can only be pictured in the imagination, through the description of it in the piece. It was lost in 1979, in another fire, after approximately 120 years in situ.
No colour photographs of it have been discovered yet.

If you have any pictures of St Mary’s interior prior to the fire of 1979, or know someone who does, the St Mary's Heritage Centre, would dearly love any record of it, even a copy.
The Centre became the hub of Gateshead's local history once St Mary's was decommissioned after the fires.
Hopefully the story of Wailes' glass does not reach its end here.

'Glass House' is being shown as part of Enchanted Parks 2012 at Saltwell Park, Gateshead until Sunday 9th December from 4.30pm through the evening.

Many thanks to:
Shaun Thubron for his photographic work;
St. Nicholas' Cathedral, Newcastle and numerous other churches of the North East for granting us access to photograph Wailes' works in situ;
The Saltwell Park Volunteers Group for donating their time and vocal talents;
Magnetic Events and NewcastleGateshead Initiative for supporting our exploration of Gateshead's fascinating Victorian history

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

‘Four Seasons’ at The Venetian Hotel

The Red Priest himself - Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi is one of the most famous Venetians in history. As such his work has been at the forefront of some of the material created for the Lights Of Venice project at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
In choosing music for the piece “Canaletto”, a very modern visual celebration of that artist’s Venetian panoramas, I favoured parts of some of my favourite Vivaldi pieces, namely his Lute and Mandolin concertos.

The Four Seasons concerti are exceptional and innovative pieces of music, not only fulfilling expected conditions of form and structure but containing the creation of poetic scenes using music to suggest changes in weather conditions, animals, people. Today these works are often taken for granted as they are so well known but his use of melody & harmony and his contribution to chamber music is unique, his skill and imagination influenced other greats such as J. S. Bach.

The Four Seasons concerti were never far from our minds though and we had discussed presenting the natural turning of the year with his music for almost a year before this year’s 'Winter In Venice' theme gave us the opportunity to do so.

The Hotel wrote a story based on some traditional Winter legends from Italy including the figure of Befana. It was decided that a character, Amadora, as a goddess figure, was going to be depicted as being responsible for moving the year from one season to the next.
We saw this as a good marriage between their story and our theme and so our latest piece 'Four Seasons' was born.

The first part is a short introduction written based on harmonies found in the Winter concerto. After this introduction, the piece moves through each season until we get to Winter once more.
In re-arranging sections of each concerto I was keen to not remove its original soundworld of strings and harpsichord altogether but to take them and weave them closely to both Vivaldi’s seasonal inspirations and our visual ideas.

For ‘Spring’, Vivaldi created passages which mimic the sound of birdsong & I decided to explore those passages more deeply, to see just how closely those phrases match with real birdsong. This followed on from the experiment with the Nuthatch as part of the ‘Yorkshire’ section of “Rose” in 2010. Vivaldi's scoring matches birdsong construction closely. In my birdsong recordings, simple birdsong patterns found identical phrases in this passage. The result for our piece is a combination of flute & pizzicato strings weaving with bird recordings, building up a back and forth conversation against a background of April garden sounds I recorded in Naples, Pompeii and Herculaneum in 2011.

For Summer, I decided to focus on the section known as the Storm. The fast passages of the lower strings reminded me of the drone of buzzing bees and further investigation showed the register of those figures and actual bee sounds occupy the same range. I found a bee recording which buzzed on the tonic and the bee’s flight through Summer, complete with dandelion collisions came to be.

Autumn has time-honoured community based traditions of harvest, wine-making, fruit-gathering, preparing for winter. It seemed appropriate then to use ‘La Caccia” from that concerto and arrange it with a folk dance feel. The harpsichord & solo violin took position as main instruments & are driven by percussion from Renaissance drum samples and tambourine.
Vivaldi’s ability to paint the sense of bare fragility and icy cold in the opening of the Winter Concerto is a wonderful piece of musical soundscaping. I decided to take his scoring and put it in the hands of glass instruments of various origins, struck and bowed, layered to build each tone and sound very carefully.
An Ondes Martenot was used very simply, to provide a careful round toned bass line before the strings joined for the climactic moment where the theme begins. This accompanied a beautiful visual sequence of the Torre dell’Orologio gradually being frozen over, layer by layer, cold colours flashing over its new glassy surface.

‘Four Seasons’ runs at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas every night throughout the 2012/13 Winter season as part of the ‘Winter In Venice’ programme.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Have A Listen...An Autumnal Special

The need to be productive has been upon me somewhat this autumn. More projects announced in due course.
In the meantime, when I can, I have been gathering together some edits and material to share with you in this blog. Many people have requested I put my work together for a website. I enjoy writing directly in this way about the things that move me, blog style, and also to put short messages into the ether via Twitter.

For those of you who are new, there are links to works online for 'Contours' on this site, played at Odin's Glow in 2009 and at Illuminating York 2011, outside York Minster.

For more long standing people, here are some edits for you to hear. All of this material hasn't been heard since it was played at the relevant arts exhibitions and events.

I know some enquiries have come in this week. Answering those, yes indeed, details about the original piece we did for the Illuminating York Festival in 2008 are available for viewing and hearing online! Parts from our archive footage for 'Accendo' have been available for viewing for some time and can be seen online here. A short explanation on the inspiration behind it can be found in the same place. The theme of the relationship between art, science and the transmission of knowledge is a fascinating one. I seized on the opportunity to work with a combination of self-written scripts and original texts by Alcuin of York. The soundscape was complex and perhaps deserving of a post in its own right.

But moving on...


I should mention that as I put the extract here, there are also some very good images to be found on my fellow creator Ross Ashton's flickr photostream here: rehearsal shots and event pictures.
If you click on the title, you'll go to pages on this blog where I spoke about it at the time.
This edit contains extracts from the sections 'Yorkshire Rose' and 'The Rose Garden' where I worked with a number of local performers, many involved in the Mystery Plays cycle, to record poetry for the piece. Early music enthusiasts present at the time may have spotted the musical motif (which returned throughout in various disguises) of the medieval carol ' 'Ther is no rose'.


This is a son et lumiere seen/heard at St Andrews Festival 2009.
The first part of the edit is from 'The Dream of St. Regulus', the second part is 'Fish Tango'.


A little something seasonal and wintry.

I was commissioned to create a piece to accompany an interactive video snow globe created by The Projection Studio in 2008. It doesn't feature on this blog, but was destined for the award-winning Enchanted Parks 2008, along with a sound installation I created for the rose garden there, called 'All My Love'.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

UPDATE: Paralympic Projections On Houses Of Parliament returning soon!

The son et lumiere on the Houses of Parliament is on a short break right now, from Monday 3rd - Thurs day 6th September. The projections were timetabled to take a break then at the request of the Houses Of Parliament.
But we are back projecting Friday 7th, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th September.
If you want to see this celebration of the richness of the Paralympics and hear some of our greatest GB Paralympian moments of the past come on down!

Presentations run every fifteen minutes from 8.30pm with the final show beginning at 11.45pm.

Monday, 20 August 2012

It's Because I'm A Londoner: Olympic Projections on Parliament - 1908

When The Projection Studio asked me if I wanted to be involved with the Houses Of Parliament Olympic son et lumiere, I knew that I did. I have made sound pieces for many places but none for my home city before.

The piece itself has a first section in two parts. The first part is a creative visual & sound piece centred on the 1908 London Olympics.

Original audio material from 1908 is a rather limited resource. I had to rely on other types of research material to create a section which used soundscape techniques as the principle guide. 1908 then was to have great depth of layered sound, and no part of it was anything that wouldn't have been heard in 1908, from Edwardian trams to the Thames boat sirens through to music, instruments & early 20th century amplification technology!

To add human voice to the 1908 Olympics, I tracked down Patrick Stevenson, the great-grandson of the 1908 Olympics central Toastmaster, William Knightsmith. It is Knightsmith you see in probably one of the most iconic photographs of the London 1908 Olympics, with his enormous megaphone. Knightsmith is something of a toastmaster legend, adopting the red coat to wear when working to avoid being confused with waiters. A favourite of the Royal Family, he also was toastmaster for many occasions for them. With the Olympics taking place at Shepherd’s Bush and Knightsmith living nearby he was first and most obvious choice to keep the Royal Family informed as to the stadium activities.

Knightsmith’s presence highlights a critical fact – there were no public address systems as we understand them now. White City Stadium was still a full sized stadium though, so the presence of men with megaphones were essential to convey messages and crowd announcements.
The importance of this is highlighted in a section from Conan Doyle’s report from the Marathon, another text used in this section, where he describes the audience around him only being able to identify the winning swimmers by the hoisting of the relevant national flag!

Text announcements accompanying the photographs seen in the piece came from research I carried out from the official reports of the 1908 Olympics. Patrick Stevenson recorded the announcements, playing the role of his great-grandfather for the London 2012 Olympics. This had a certain ring of appropriateness around it for all involved and I was glad that I was able to find him and learn so much more from him, so my thanks go out to him.

This article shows Knightsmith and his megaphone with Patrick.

Onto megaphones.
This is the most unique aspect of the 1908 piece and is the biggest indicator of just how different a time it was. We are used to electrical technology of every kind. Acoustic amplification is surprisingly efficient but has a sound all of its own. The sound of a large aluminium megaphone was replicated by listening, in situ, to Patrick speaking through a real, 2ft long one he owned.
I analysed those recordings carefully and found that amplification took place so efficiently that he needed to be recorded a small distance away. From there I could hear how the metal affected his voice and found the best way to create that was after recording, where I could control any resonant frequencies of the metal cone to my advantage. It took a while to get that absolutely right. When heard on the embankment, it sounded precisely as if he was announcing to the crowd there.

I mentioned Conan Doyle earlier and indeed, he has a longer standing connection to British Athletics and the Olympics than many may realise, as Peter Lovesey has made clear in this article from the Journal Of Olympic History. For the 1908 Olympics, Conan Doyle wrote an enduring piece reporting the 1908 Marathon, the most iconic event of that Olympics. 
We approached Neil Oliver to ask if he would be willing to play the part of Conan Doyle and read out the key excerpts from this piece. Conan Doyle's report is a wonderful document which describes the feeling and atmosphere of what it felt like to be there, on that day, amongst that crowd and to watch Dorando Pietri stagger across the line only to subsequently be disqualified. The British love of the underdog was very much in evidence from Conan Doyle’s report as the British loved Dorando more for trying and then losing his medal than it ever thought again of the actual winner of that race!
Neil Oliver, as an historian, archaeologist and TV presenter was excellent to work with on this piece, which is both history and written artefact. We recorded Neil speaking Conan Doyle's words and he gave it a knowledgable sincerity that gave the soundscape even more weight.
In addition, the Conan Doyle report describes more than just the race, but also other events that day. This was one of most colourful texts to read through for the detail of his descriptions but also the feeling of being in the stadium, moment by moment.

Music choice was equally fascinating and included popular music of 1908 along with pieces played at the Olympics. Again, even in the absence of any 21st century amplification, the crowd still needed to be entertained. The Victorians and Edwardians were rather musically sophisticated and the brass and military band live music phenomenon of the 19th century was also present at the 1908 Olympics too. I found a program listing the music to be performed by a military band at the occasion of the gymnastics final. One of those pieces was chosen for inclusion along with the only original related recorded material I could find, a recording of "Take Me On The Flip-Flap" sung by the music hall star Ella Retford. 
The 1908 Olympics took place within the Franco-British Exhibition. The White City Stadium was built for that purpose. The main public interest initially was in the Exhibition, not the Olympics! The song commemorates the most popular part of the exhibition, the Flip Flap, a ride not dissimilar to the London Eye in principle. 
It makes verbal reference to the Olympic athletes too in one of the written verses as well as describing the multiple ways you could get to Shepherd's Bush by public transport.
The kind permission of Windyridge Records to allow us to include their transferred Retford recording was much appreciated and very generous indeed. The preservation of very early recordings is something I am enthusiastic about and it is companies such as Windyridge that help to keep such music alive and accessible to us.

That then was 1908. 
Other parts to follow!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Olympics Projection on the Houses Of Parliament, London

I am happy to announce that this project has been up and running throughout the Olympics and will still do so until its conclusion, every 15 minutes from 9.30pm on every night of the Olympics, finishing each evening as Big Ben rings in midnight.

Before I talk about the creation of it, I'll use this post to provide a brief overview for those who are interested. Fantastic photographs of the projected images of great athletes such as Usain Bolt, Jonathan Edwards and Cathy Freeman can be seen in various places on the internet right now but some people who haven't got down to the Thames Embankment yet to see it have been asking me what the bigger picture is about the show as a piece.

This projection show is actually 14 minutes long so there is a lot more to see down onsite!
To hear it you need to watch from the other side of the river, on the embankment next St Thomas' Hospital. There's not long left to see it so get there now!

The piece looks at London's history and connection with the Olympics during our previous hostings in 1908 and 1948. It moves onto some of the great Olympic moments and the athletes involved, names that are now part of Olympic history. Finally, the focus moves to Team GB, looking at and hearing some of our greatest British moments and again, so many athletes whom we have been proud of and moved to tears by.

This project is probably one of the most in depth research paths I have ever undertaken for any project. It has at its core a focus on motivation borne out of human endeavour and that is the point I wanted the sound to express, and each part expresses this in different ways.
I was brought onto the project by The Projection Studio, who were working on this through the Iconic Spectaculars program commissioned by the GLA and Mayor of London.

My next post will start to look at what is behind it all and why.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Venetian Hotel Gets A New Look

It has been some months since I have posted.
Whilst I have been busy behind the scenes, it's not always possible to give advance warning of some public projects.

The "Light Of Venice" project at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas has been in progress for some time and as of June, it is now live, up and running so I thought I would share a little information with you about it.

As a collaborative project with the Projection Studio, I was invited to create sound pieces to accompany a series of 4D/3D projection mapped son et lumieres for the forecourt of the Venetian Hotel for a permanent installation. These pieces are free to the public and visitors to Las Vegas.

The Venetian Hotel is a very interesting design. Detailed studies have been made of numerous buildings, structures and artworks that have made Venice an historical, architectural and artistic wonder and these have been replicated in an incredible amount of careful detail at this particular resort.

The project focusses on the Torre dell'Orologio as the centrepiece. I plan to update my blog with some images to show you in due course!