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.