Thursday, 1 September 2016

'Chasing Stars': ESA inspired space art at Blackpool Illuminations 2016

Last night (Wed 31st August) was the press launch for a new collaborative work created between myself, Ross Ashton of The Projection Studio, and several other partners. This piece is the result of a unique international collaboration. The European Space Agency has been an invaluable partner and has provided constant support throughout the creation of the piece. British astronaut Tim Peake stars as our ‘narrator’. The music for the soundtrack is by Vangelis, from his yet-to-be-released album 'Rosetta', a generous exchange involving amazing support from Universal Music. That is a real exclusive in support of such a unique art/science project.
Another part of the team is Dr Nick Lister, astronomer and creator of the Lawrence House Astronomy and Space Science Centre who nurtured a very special aspect of the project with us – more on that later! 

To every single one of our partners above, we offer our grateful thanks for being part of this adventure. 

Here is our taster video of just a hint of what you will see if you come to Blackpool over the next two months.

‘Chasing Stars’ as a son et lumiere piece and a project has several equally important aims.

Our first aim is to combine science and art by taking the viewer on a journey through space. When we developed this idea, we knew that real life is as strange as fiction, and believe that art is just as important as science. Therefore, in this piece, we decided the journey stages would be formed from real space missions undertaken by the ESA. No fiction is stranger than fact and the truly mind-expanding concepts and details of current space exploration are comparable to the stuff of legend. 
Ross and myself absorb much of this with a great deal of wonder and respect for people who commit their lives to this work, not least those who travel and challenge the frontiers of survival in space, an environment hostile to humans. Most recently, that has included British astronaut Tim Peake. This work, right through to the scientific experiments conducted on the ISS, is undertaken on behalf of all of us.
Our piece then stands in tribute to those people and attempts to capture, through projection mapping, the sheer scale of what ESA’s work means.

The International Space Station, 2010
NASA/Crew of STS-132, Wikimedia Commons

The second aim for us was to open up space exploration to the widest possible audience. All of our collaborators were as excited about this as we are and it formed a unified intention.
We made this piece intending for it connect with everybody who sees it using the best of current 3D animation techniques and projection technology. As an historical and cultural icon, the Blackpool Illuminations form the longest running free public light show on earth and they have given us the perfect opportunity for this project to go public.  

From "100 Years of Blackpool Entertainment"
by Ross Ashton (The Projection Studio) and Karen Monid
Blackpool Illuminations 2015 and 2016

Our third aim was to open up the creative process to our future generation of scientists and astronauts. We created an engagement program, devised and co-run with another of our project partners Dr Nick Lister.
Nick runs the Lawrence House Astronomy and Space Science Centre in Blackpool, the only facility of its kind in the UK, that teaches children about astronomy and space science. He does this with a huge passion for his work and subject, regularly sending teenagers to university where they study the subject to degree level and beyond. A unique and highly valuable UK national resource that should be more widely known about and used.
The engagement program we devised involved several schools in Blackpool to generate some of the artwork for the piece and I undertook audio recordings of the children to discover their views of space and their possible futures in it. The results, as you will hear and see, were very human and moving.

Here is the latest in the Press on the piece, with more to come so watch this space! :
From ESA
From Blackpool Council

I will write more detail in a post tomorrow about more specific aspects of the above, particularly the audio side of the project.

‘Chasing Stars’ forms part of the LightPool strand of the Blackpool Illuminations for 2016, and goes live on Friday 2nd Sept.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Glasgow's War goes live November 11th - Part Two

In my last post, I talked about the research that lies behind Glasgow's War. This post I'll cover some of the topics you can expect to hear and see in George Square this evening.

As well as Glasgow's War, we are projecting the names of all the Glaswegians who died serving in the First World War onto the Cenotaph throughout the evening.

The evening begins at 7pm with the beginning of the Cenotaph projection and the first showing of Glasgow's War. Each 27 minute performance will conclude with a lone piper in the Square, playing to commemorate all those Glaswegians who were part of that history.
The performances of Glasgow's War are every 45 minutes throughout the evening. (7pm, 7.45pm, 8.30pm, 9.15pm, 10pm, 10.45pm, 11.27pm). The projection on the Cenotaph will run continuously.

At the conclusion of the final performance just before midnight, the final name will be projected onto the Cenotaph and a bugler will play the Last Post in their memory. I hope people will be able to join us at some point during this evening.

But what is in "Glasgow's War" ?
The period 1914-1918 is a complex one, full of changes, opinions, activities and actions undertaken, battles, decisions, lives lost and people injured. Glasgow's history contains events of people of differing historical resonance. The battles of the war were fought by men from the whole of Britain, and battles such as the Somme have a national resonance.

Christmas 1914

Other wartime developments are national but have particular regional impact - the Battle of Loos is one with particular importance for Scotland, the formation and service of the Scottish Women's Hospital is another. Other national events have an additional local resonance for Glasgow in particular. The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, considered a national event, has a particular resonance for Glasgow then with the men at the John Brown shipyard who would have remembered building her with their own hands.

The Rent Strikes in 'Glasgow's War'

There are people who were enormously important to the city of Glasgow itself - names such as Mary Barbour, John Maclean, James Maxton are prominent for their particular areas of social activism during the First World War.

The piece seeks to provide a chronological overview of what Glasgow and the Glaswegian people would have known and saw as a city by taking you into their world through their own words. You will hear first hand accounts from soldiers of important battles such as Mons (1914), Neuve Chapelle and Loos (1915) and the Somme (1916) we hear views and opinions from local media. The account of the Battle of Jutland (1916) is drawn from the Glasgow Herald, which also acted as a first hand witness to events such as the arrival of the Belgian refugees in autumn 1914 & the rent strike protests of 1915.
You will hear from speeches and private letters by John Maclean and James Maxton to allow them to say why they took the stance they did.

The shell crisis impacted Glasgow as the call went out for women to go to work and the Royal Technical College (now Strathclyde University) trained women munitions workers. Mary Barbour sought to aid those hit by rent rises the influx of workers into the city generated. The city, already involved in building battleships, would go on to be part of the research, development & building of military aeroplanes and tanks.
Also mentioned in the piece is founding of Erskine Hospital, funded by enormously generous donations  in order to provide some kind of support and rehabilitation of injured Scottish soldiers. It was a unique relationship between the surgeon Sir William Macewen and the designers and labourers at Yarrow's shipyard that developed the Erskine limb.

The Royal Flying Corps

Sir David Henderson was a key force within the Royal Flying Corps and directly involved with the creation of the RAF on 1st April 1918.

Of special note to me, and I hope to others, is that some of the material I have included has actually come directly from original documents and required transcription.
Adverts focussing on typical summer activities of the Glasgow Fair just before war broke out is one.
James Maxton's letters was another item I transcribed from.
One account is an extract of being wounded during the Mesopotamian campaign in 1917. I have transcribed this by hand from a fragile notebook belonging to a Private who was in the Highland Light Infantry. It was originally a puzzle (the catalogue dates and dates in the notebook didn't match) so I sat with it for many hours to decipher the very faded handwriting in order to understand what he went through, and I share what I found here in this piece. This is particularly precious highly personal material and you hear it in this piece for the first time, read by one of my volunteers (thank you to Calum Stewart). It is my intention to transcribe as much of this book as possible and give the transcription to the RHF archive.

It is my sincere hope that people will come away wanting to know more about this history, wanting to explore it through their local archives. There is much digitised material online where you can find out more detail about the events and people who speak in the piece.
I can point you to the First World War Glasgow website as a starting place.

We look forward to seeing you in George Square this evening.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Glasgow's War goes live November 11th - Part One

Memorial image from Glasgow's War

Glasgow's War is a large scale son et lumiere commission from Glasgow City Council. Ross Ashton of The Projection Studio and myself have created this 27 minute long historical based work to commemorate the city of Glasgow and her citizens involvement in the First World War.

I thought I'd take this first opportunity to talk about the research process and the support we have received in creating the sound for it.

It has been several months in the making. Research has been intense and I spent a great deal of time in a number of archives in the city: the City Life archives at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow University and Strathclyde University archives have been enormously supportive as well as the archives for the Highland Light Infantry, housed at the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum and the archives for The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) held by South Lanarkshire Council at Hamilton.

Women munition workers in Glasgow

It became clear the Glaswegians of the time left so much material that the city should tell its own story. Everything you hear has been taken from documents of the time and read by one of 12 volunteers, all of whom are Glaswegian, to form the sound. 
Each volunteer has their own personal story that has brought them to this project. From being vitally interested in the City's history, through to being blood descendants of men who served in the war itself, their enthusiasm and willingness to dive into this history with me was a moving experience.

From a sound perspective, I have used a number of different pieces of popular music, taken from gramophone transfers. Music hall culture in particular was a lively one. The music here doesn't just supply a background but forms part of the voices telling this story. Lyrics in many songs reveal attitudes of the time and a study of the most famous songs through to lesser known songs reveals a journey of changing attitudes from 1910-1919.

One inclusion I'm delighted to have included a recording of Harry Lauder raising money for injured Scottish soldiers in 1917, a rare spoken recording of probably Scotland's most famous music hall star. 

Where at all possible, I have scoured documents for any descriptions of music and sound of the time. This has heavily informed some parts of the piece, such as the recreation of the march back to the barracks in Maryhill in 1914 on the outbreak of war (I'm enormously grateful to the National Youth Pipe Band's pipe major Ross for playing the Black Bear for me). Other points of interest were descriptions of the sounds of the rent strike protests in the city centre.

Probably the most special of the reconstructions is that of the battle of the Somme. The Digital Design Studio in Glasgow, part of the Glasgow School of Art, have very generously allowed me to use part of their researched historical reconstruction of the first day of that battle as part of the piece. They have my grateful thanks for their generous contribution to this project.

I shall write more about the piece itself later.

Glasgow's War will be shown in George Square every 45 minutes from 7pm on November 11th this week.