Monday, 21 December 2009

The Adventure of Christmas

This year I received a commission to produce sounds for the "Christmas Adventure" light sculpture trail at Stockeld Park in Yorkshire. This work included a site specific soundscape "Lake Of Angels" made to be played around the lake, which is part of the sculpture trail. (see picture left)
I visited soon after opening in October to check up on the work in situ.
It is a beautiful thing to see, especially with children, whom it is designed for. It is a mix of magical figures from fairy tale and well known fantasy stories as well as more Christmas oriented themes such as the angels.

If you live near Stockeld Park, do try to get there before Christmas for both the trail, the skating rink and the hot chocolate! The sculptures are skilfully made and the sound both brings the forest to life and creates a lakeside environment which I feel connects with the sense of place there without distracting from its natural beauty.

Friday, 11 December 2009

"Peace Garden" Now Open To The Public

This evening Enchanted Parks 2009 opened to welcome the public in to experience the trail of outdoor artworks on the theme of the Twelve Days Of Christmas.
As already mentioned, "Peace Garden" primarily resonates with the First Day in a very real sense (see the previous post), though it also contains a bird selection from other days and five rings from a church bell.

The picture above was taken earlier today as the finishing touches were being put in place. Here you can see some speaker shelters in position. The Garden entrance is by the furthest one on the picture where the blue cherry picker is.
People walk round the tarmac path and return to the entrance via the additional pathway laid out on the grass. The "bell tower" which utilises a tower structure which forms part of the park's architecture, can be seen in the area above the security guards head.

Here is another view of the installation, showing three of the seven speaker shelters.
Of course, the installation is experienced at night.

A reference picture for my purposes taken in the dark. There is little direct light in the area but it is not as dark as this picture may suggest. Tealights line the paths and combine with the atmosphere generated by the piece as they flicker in the darkness. They also have an additional practical element as they guide people along the path's circular walk.
It has been a real privilege to create this haven of sound for the visitors to Enchanted Parks for the four days it will be running.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Chants for "Peace Garden"

Some people have expressed interest in what the chants mean that are being used so here are the texts for them.

"Dominus dixit ad me: “Filius meus es tu , ego hodie genui te.” Quare fremuerunt gentes, et populi meditati sunt inania."

The Lord said unto me: “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee. – Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?

"De libro Isaiae prophetae.

Haec dicit Dominus Deus : Egredietur virga de stripe lesse, et flos de radice eius ascendet; et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini; spiritus sapientiae et intellectus, spiritus consilii et fortitudinis, spiritus scientiae et timoris Domini et deliciae eius in timore Domini."

A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.

"Christe redemptor omnium, ex Patre Patris unice, solus ante principium natus ineffabiliter.

Sic praesens testatur dies, currens per anni circulum, quod solus a sede Patris mundi salus adveneris.

Hunc caelum, terra, hunc mare, hunc omne quod in eis est, auctorem adventus tui laudans exsultat cantico.

Gloria tibi Domine, qui natus es de Virgine, cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu in sempiterna saecula. Amen."

Christ, redeemer of the world, Only Begotten Son of the Father, born ineffably of Him before time began.

The present day, brought back by the yearly cycle, attests to this; from the throne of the Father thou alone didst come down to save the world.

The heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is contained therein join together in a joyous canticle of praise for this day which marks thy coming.

Glory to thee, O Lord, who wast born of a Virgin, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

As the theme is the Twelve Days of Christmas and I am recreating aspects of a monastic cloister, I have chosen texts which speak specifically about the day itself, the First Day of Christmas, as well as other facets of the piece. I decided to start with the introit Dominus Dixit as the image of nations plotting in vain feel appropriate for a Peace Garden. Then, to follow that with the well known prophetic section of the text from Isaiah, a single voice reading in the darkness. The final chant, Christe Redemptor Omnium, is a timeless hymn sung by all that has a clear focus on the First Day itself. This is then followed by a church bell, ringing five times (five gold rings) which signifies the end of the cycle before it returns to the start and begins all over again, as it does every year.

All chant recordings for this piece are by the Abbaye de Solesmes, who have given their permission for them to be used for this piece in this context and I am truly grateful to them for their generosity in helping this piece come to life for the people of Gateshead.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Time For More Enchantment - "Peace Garden"

Last year the "Enchanted Parks" art trail won a Culture Award for the Best Event in the Tyneside region. I did a sound piece for that particular event entitled "All My Love", which was a site specific piece in the Rose Garden of Saltwell Park, where the event was held. (More on that later as I may have something of that to upload.)

This year I have been commissioned to produce another piece for the event. The theme this year is the Twelve Days of Christmas. With that in mind, I decided to create a piece that reflects the central facet of the First Day of Christmas, encorporating traditional Christmas themes and elements.

The piece I am currently creating is called "Peace Garden".
I deliberately wanted to create an environment in sound which is both architecturally sound and captures important themes.
In my mind were thoughts that sprung from numerous travels past the Imperial War Museum in London on the bus. In the grounds of the museum is a Buddhist Peace Garden and I would always look out over it in its corner near the road and want to visit it. The idea of a garden reflecting Peace as more than a state of being but as a concept and a place to contemplate and get in touch with that concept is one that interested me.
At this time of year, peace has a particularly strong resonance - peace and goodwill to all men, the power of Christmas day to stop wars albeit temporarily (the true stories from World War One of soldiers creating informal truces on the front line for Christmas Day and men of both sides came out to play football together). A peace garden is not only appropriate at this time of year but perhaps an essential expression of human need, distilled as a response to child's birth.

These loose thoughts developed further and solidified when I looked at the rectangular lawn space next to Saltwell Towers (see picture right).
The architectural aspect fell into place within a few seconds of being in the space this August and I could see a monastic cloister garden laid out before me, bisected on the diagonal. I decided that I would create the cloister garden using sound.

I won't say anymore in case I give too much away but suffice to say, incorporated into the piece are two different playback systems, a simple use of surround sound techniques, plainchant taken from the Night Vigil and main Mass for Christmas Day.
Within the piece, you may also find certain days from the Twelve Days of Christmas represented, at present the third, fourth and fifth. I am still toying with the idea of representing the second and sixth also, along with some simple lighting in keeping with a monastic lifestyle.
Rather than narrowing the Peace Garden to a single concept, I am wanting it to balance the peace we find we need as humans to be rejuvenated with the peace of being able to be free to live. In this man and unselfconscious nature co-exist, side by side.

I shall be there on the first night (Thursday) and I hope to engage with the visitors during their time there as well.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Cambridge 800 Now Visits New York

I am currently in New York working on the presentation of an ongoing projection project. "Cambridge 800", a commissioned work by Ross Ashton was first shown in January 2009 at Cambridge University to start their 800th anniversary celebrations. Containing source content from various sources, including specially commissioned drawings by Quentin Blake, it has been travelling the world. As the original was created as a site specific piece of architectural projection, a special "touring" version has been created which is also projected but contains within its content the original buildings so the viewer gets to experience what the original work looks like.
In summer, it was taken to Beijing and right now I am in New York, preparing for its presentation with Ross, where it will be seen again projected as a large scale projection on the curving oval walls of the Gotham Hall by University supporters and a variety of high profile Cambridge alumni, including Sir David Frost, Stephen Fry, Eric Idle and many others.

Gotham Hall is an architecturally elaborate building that began life as a bank during the boom years of the 1920's prior to the Wall Street Crash and the following Depression. The heavy metal doors, the detailed bronze reliefs and curving cream stone walls provide the space with opulence and a feeling of airiness. The counters still remain, a second oval partially enclosing the centre area. The Art Deco era surrounds you.
It will be a wonderful experience to have dinner there tomorrow, watching the piece projected on the walls around us.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

St Andrews Festival - The First Night

The St Andrews Festival begins tonight featuring three art installations which I have been one of the artists on.
Last year, myself and Ross Ashton were invited to create a piece for the Festival within the the University grounds. The St. Mary's Quad site was chosen and we created "Origin", a 13 minute son et lumiere which looked at the creation of Scotland, from its physical landscape and animal inhabitants through to the human contribution of a more modern day. The sound reflected this, starting with an effects based atmospheric soundscape which contained music archaelogy samples and animal sounds from animals once wild here but are now here no longer. It moved into a more contemporary feel via the songs of Robert Burns into modern bagpipe playing.

This year we have added to this with two companion works at St Andrews Cathedral:

"Via Caeli" which is a projection piece, created for the still standing wall behind the altar. It looks at the way to the heavens and includes both religious works and observational views of the heavens and starscapes moving over the altar wall.

"Via Maris" is a son et lumiere which touches on "the way of the sea" and the relationship between that and St. Andrews. It touches on legends including the dream of the Greek monk St Regulus and his journey to Scotland with St Andrew's bones to prevent the Roman emporer Constantine removing them from Greece. It draws parallels between Andrew's origin as a fisherman and the history of fishing of this area, as well as the arrival of Christianity and the importance of the Cathedral.

All these threads move together into one. The sound piece allowed me to draw on Ancient Greek music as a direct influence, including the use of a fragment dating from Greece in 1st Century A.D. This melody is a recurring theme, opening the piece and becoming associated with St Andrew (he was martyred in Patras, Greece) featuring in The Dream Of St Regulus and resurfacing once more in a folk arrangement with guitar, treble recorder and cello at the end.
Other highlights for me include the use of verses from the Carmina Gadelica to underscore the nature of Celtic Christianity in its early days as well as providing a context for the 19th century fishermen later on.

Click here for Via Caeli pictures on Flickr

Working outdoors comes with its own glamour. Click here!

More links to follow.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

"Contours" - an online update

"Contours" is a soundscape piece which I created to work with surround sound. It was commissioned for the Odin's Glow event in October this year in Redcar and Cleveland.
The arts event focussed on exploring the heritage of that local area and the commissions awarded reflected this in different forms, with the installations being placed in the village of Newton-Under-Roseberry.
It was a very ambitious event, not least because rather than be city focussed, it deliberately took art into a rural area. As well as that, the large peak that forms Roseberry Topping (a modern day corruption of its original name of Odin's Burg) was dramatically lit with large moving lights of various shapes, sizes and positions.

"Contours" was placed well off the main road in a field, where people could stand within the surround sound field in almost complete darkness with the only visual stimulus being the sweeping lights on the hill before them. Out of that darkness, voices, music, poetry could be heard in flashes, opening out the landscape and bringing life to the mystical end of the sound of a culture now hard to grasp.
The music was mostly music from that period and included improvisations on the lyre by myself as well as a rendition of a medieval piece of Danish music on the bone flute. Indeed, I enjoyed this project very much as I played all the instruments that were used.

My performers were all of Scandinavian, Icelandic or English background. They provided their own response to the translations of the Poetic Edda and Beowulf that we used. Moreover, much of Edda was heard in Old Norse and Beowulf was heard in Old English. Flavours of English, Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish ran throughout as the languages of those descendants.
It was fascinating to work on and a privilege to work with so many enthusiastic people who really wanted to give voice to that landscape and fuse it with the present day. We all acknowledged the shared heritage that exists on both sides of the North Sea.

To thank these people I need to mention them by name so I will be posting a full credits list for "Contours" in the very near future as well as a link to a stereo version online so that those of you that missed it can hear a little of it.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Back from Durham "Lumiere" Festival

Yesterday I returned from the Durham "Lumiere" Festival. I was there for a week as the creative programmer for the son et lumiere piece "Crown Of Light", which was a commissioned artwork for the Festival. I was brought onto the project by the projection artist Ross Ashton, with whom I have worked on many pieces as both creative programmer and also collaborative artist.
The piece also included the work of Robert Ziegler, John Del Nero and Sebastian Frost in creating the non-narrative soundtrack.
Durham gave the Festival an exceptionally warm welcome and the scale of response to the piece was certainly in keeping to the scale of "Crown Of Light" itself.
Particular highlights for me was the opportunity to work with the extraordinary artwork contained within the Lindisfarne Gospels. From a sound point of view, amongst the music chosen for the soundtrack was a short extract from "Viderunt Omnes" a Christmas chant by the medieval church composer Perotin. I have been an enthusiast of early music for a long time and always welcome the opportunity to explore it for projects so it was a delight to hear Perotin feature briefly on the sound side of this artwork.

Review in the Observer

Report in Live Design Online