Sound; Space; Play was a real success, bringing together 40-50 people with a shared interest in practice that deals with issues of sound and space. The day started a conversation which will continue in further events. In the future we aim to extend the conversation to a wider range of discipline areas, including acoustics, urban planning, and architecture. Thanks again to everyone who came, and everyone who contributed.
The day included a workshop from composer Stephen Chase (video 00:38-14:58), talks from Ben Nigel-Potts, Linda O’Keeffe and Rob Mackay, installations by Alvin Lucier (video 19:30-23:27) and Alex De Little (video 15:44-18:54, and video of the full piece here), and a keynote by Peter Ablinger as well as a performance of his piece, the specially composed Three Spaces Leeds: video of Space 1 here. Recordings of both installation and the Ablinger performance are available on the Listen page.
Stephen Chase’s workshop (see video above) involved the audience in performing a number of short text scores from his out-of-doors suite. These simple but effective pieces, concerned with ways of listening and perceiving sound in space, served to attune participants’ ears to the main themes of the day. Humming and Walking demanded that participants reflect their position in a walking group through pitch by ensuring their own hummed pitch was higher than the person behind them but lower than those in front. Fred & Ginger Piece also explored movement as participants were asked to highlight — with an instrument, a clap, or the sound of their own voice — each step or every other step that they took . The resultant sound was a sea of unique regular rhythms articulated by different timbres. Cross purposes and tuning call 1 explored the perception of pitch and rhythm in relation to space, sight and sound. The former challenged two volunteers to maintain the same regular woodblock pulse initially approaching each other from c.100m apart, as well as after they had crossed paths and their backs were turned. The later explored the effect of distance on perceived pitch using two volunteers equipped with tin-whistles.
Papers were structures as three 10-minute talking sessions, each followed by 20 minutes of open discussion, allowing the different approaches to sound and space to be explored, critiqued, and compared. Ben Potts discussed techniques used by artists such as Richard Serra and Dan Flavin to frame space, and how the expression of space may be seen as an artistic language. Ben’s talk then linked this survey to his own work in sound.
Rob Mackay discussed ‘composing place’ with reference to his work Resounding Mulgrave, which incorporates found sounds, musical readings of land contours, and improvisation as well as recordings of the natural soundscape.
Linda O’Keefe’s discussion focused on a social and societal approach to sound and space, investigating the sonic memories of a group of five older people who grew up within the Smithfield area of Dublin city. For O’Keefe, sound is a key gateway to memory, and therefore to unlocking the shift in sociocultural practises in this part of Dublin.
These three papers were followed by a rich and extended discussion across the full range of attendees.
After lunch, two installations were run across the School of Music. The first of these, Modes of Resonance, was a realisation of Alex De Little’s room resonance project; which aims to encourage listeners to physically connect with the audible properties or dimensions of a space. Realised in the Clothworkers Centenary Concert hall, a pair of loudspeakers and a pair of subwoofers excited the specific resonant frequencies of the hall with sine waves causing a range of acoustic and somatic effects.
The second installation was Alvin Lucier’s Quasimodo the Great Lover, which broadcast the sound of a tenor saxophone sequentially through a chain of spaces around the department. The original signal was played in the concert hall, picked up by a microphone and played into the next space. This process was repeated across five spaces. With each new space, the signal is coloured by the sum of the acoustic characteristics through which it had travelled, and therefore moves further and further away from the original saxophone sound. The resulting sound was a kind of bizarre sustained harpsichord.
In his keynote, ‘Electricty, Space and a Romanesque Austrian Chapel’, Peter Ablinger reflected on his Places project, a set of pieces composed for sets of three places in cities around world. Spaces are analysed acoustically and the their resonant partials are notated for an instrumental ensemble. Unlike my [Alex’s] room resonance project, Ablinger’s Three Places has an edge of humanism and unpredictability in its less-precise intonation, and range of timbres and sound-emission patterns across the instrumental ensemble. This, as Ablinger put it, is, ‘the point of enlightenment’. Ablinger’s ‘Theory on a Romanesque Chapel explored the notion that buildings may have been designed with sonic resonance in mind, especially by emphasising a specific pitch. His theory matched the fundamental resonant frequency of an Austrian chapel to its physical proportions. Ablinger also explored the phenomena of electronic noise.
The performance of Three Spaces Leeds took place in three nearby spaces on the University of Leeds campus: Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, an access-tunnel near the School of Music, and a stairwell underneath the Roger Stevens Building. Initially, the performers and audience found themselves in a traditional concert scenario, with chairs set out. Each section lasted twenty minutes, with performers playing sustained tones from a range of partials composed for each space: acoustic analysis of the spaces, rendered into notation by the composer. Tones were quiet, with gentle crescendo/decrescendo, starting and ending in silence: Peter advised the players not to push the notes too hard, allow the room to do the amplification, and to keep instrumental tone focussed on the fundamental. Across the entire ensemble, this created an ethereal harmonic texture that occasionally ruptured for a short while before restarting. The score indicated which tones would likely issue a strong response from the space and which would be more in the background. The first space (CCCH) did not seem to respond in an overt way to the performance — perhaps due to its cavernous size more energy was required to excite it. The latter two spaces however seemed to respond readily to the tones being played. Moments of tension and release were not only created in the chance patterns of consonance and dissonance but also in the response from the various spaces, sometimes radically amplifying the otherwise fragile sounds. Between the spaces, musicians and audience walked, a part of the piece, and a ritual connection of places.