Brookfield Soundscape


As composer in residence this year at Brookfield Community School, I worked with a fantastic group of Year 9 music pupils. My job was to give them their first glimpse of how to create a musical composition that changes every time a listener interacts with it – which is yet a fantastic, well-designed experience for all who enter it.           

One of the great challenges was that the music would be jointly composed by several dozen pupils.             
Our job was to open new possibilities in music composition – taking the pupils into areas of experimentation they hadn’t previously considered – then helping turn these ideas into a landscape-based game using audio played by a GPS-tracked handset.             
Contributions ranged from manipulated found sounds, beats and sound effects to poetry and free form spoken word that encapsulated their imaginary engagement with the open spaces and built environment of the school’s lovely campus.
Some deliciously weird and incongruous sonic fantasies were superimposed upon the sounds of the place’s everyday life.
Our first workshop was a broad introduction to strange musical innovations using technology over the past century and a half. We moved rapidly through early such one-offs as Herr Schalkenbach’s 1860s “Piano-Orchestre Électro-Moteur” and Russolo’s “Intonarumori” to Hugh Le Caine’s 1948 “Electronic Sackbutt”.

 
This use of GPS as a way of attaching sounds to landscapes has been a journey of discovery for me over three years of producing these landscape-situated pieces, from St Paul’s Churchyard and London’s South Bank to Southampton Common and the historic maritime town of Gosport.
It has forced me to reconsider the nature of musical composition where, in the hands of listeners their own interaction is the last act in creating the heard music. We explored what tools for designing interactivity can do and ways to rethink the processes of making a piece of music, asking what – under these new conditions – a musical composition is.
This was a small, really inventive and thoughtful group of young musicians, chosen by their teachers to lead the student project. They worked in pairs to investigate the strange new musical and experiential offerings of the ‘noTours’ software platform.
Questions included what would be the behaviour of virtual circles filled with sound; how the circles would overlap/ surround/ interfere with or complement each other and to what extent we are leading the listener experience or allowing it to unfold for itself.
Subsequent sessions centred on using the simple online interface to build virtual circles in the landscape (try it for yourself, free, at http://editor.notours.org !)
Brookfield Community School – satellite view

There are some simple tricks to making a geo-located soundwalk a fantastic experience and I was thrilled to see how these inventive young thinkers quickly made the soundscape very much their own piece of work.

The Brookfield Soundscape Project involved a wonderful mixture of live music performance, with the inspiring ‘Tomorrow’s Warriors’, creative writing (which contributed elements to the soundscape), learning about acoustics – sound waves, reverberation, frequency vs pitch, how sound travels, how a space sounds and can be acoustically redesigned – with Steve Dorney from the University of Southampton’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research and real-world maths problems and solutions.

Our interactive soundscape was just one element of it but, by the magic of digital technology, this surreal multi-author auditory spectacle of imaginary worlds remains suspended in perpetuity above the landscape of the school.

Visitors will be able to walk back inside the moment where pupils secretly recorded a music lesson one spring early in the 21st century and placed their teacher’s voice, looped and accompanied, in the amphitheatre outside.

How machine and human sonically interweave to express the strange sensory combinations of dreamy interpretation with the efficient buildings and their clock-based routines. Where song, speech and wordless subjectivities meet in a poetic sound kaleidoscope.
At the highly successful launch earlier this month, pupils were delighted by the fascinated engagement of so many surprised, happy visitors, for whom this was a first taste of emerging forms of musical art. 

Over a few hours, parents, governors, teachers and friends arrived for timed slots to experience the students’ artistic work.

So many thanks to Brookfield’s Head, Ria Allan, to Shaun Riches and Ben Cull, Head and Deputy Head of Music and the students who helped also make the launch such a wonderful success, not least by manning the stand and keeping all the kit running perfectly over the evening. 

I hope these creative explorers will continue to make wonderful music for many years to come!    

Brookfield Soundscape is now available, free, at the Google Play Store:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=brookfield.notours.org&hl=en

Written in Water: Portrait of a Town

This is a long story and I’m not going to tell it all now: here’s the main thing –

it’s the story of a town founded 800 years ago that supplied the British Navy, surrounded by water, on the end of the land.

a story in sound about the town of Gosport, once  principal supplier of the British Empire’s naval fleet, 
a main departure point for the D-Day landings, 
the origin of deep sea diving, 
home to both a historic and beautiful organ played by G.F. Handel and 
a rare electric Compton cinema organ, delicious and multifarious beasts, both. 

Marge, 92 worked making bombs when she was 17, in the munitions factory.
Tony voyaged under the North Pole in the first nuclear sub, during the late 1950s.

Sometimes planned, often randomly encountered individuals and places of this incredible location have been a source of eviscerating joy and sadness. 

I’m attempting to paint a thickly coloured sound portrait of a town whose history, present and future embody the flux of the late 20th, early 21st century Britain.

It isn’t just a bunch of stories and vox pops: the project assimilates the sounds of the place, now and historically, with music captured in the street and in concert. The incredible sound of some fine local music makers: amateur bands, professional performers and historic recordings.

It is a musical composition built from thousands of audio fragments: captured, generated and borrowed. 

The only way you can hear it is by walking in the landscape with an Android handset with the app on it.  
The GPS signal locates you and lets you hear the part of the sound in the space you are walking through or sitting in to listen deeply to.

As you walk, you reconstruct the whole from all of the stems I have lovingly compiled over months of walking, recording, interviewing, listening and dreaming about this wonderful town’s strange and uniquely resonant past. And what it’s future might be.

What you will hear is nothing like any recording, broadcast or electronic composition you have ever encountered.

Fifty plus circles in the landscape containing unique miniature broadcasts are interlocked, overlapped, sequentially linked.

You need a GPS-connected handset with noTours software and our project “Written in Water: Portrait of a Town”. We will provide.

Come to the launch… or any time (Gosport Discovery Centre)

You’ll walk inside a sound portrait of the town and its long history – 

moving through the landscape 

with its own living auditory personality 

always changing and shifting around you,  

as you navigate the virtual composition.

Contact us for more details or visit
http://www.newdimensions.org.uk/current-projects

Annotating Landscape with Audio: 6 December, Soton.ac.uk

You are invited to join us this Friday 6th December for a practical training session on geo-located soundscapes tool noTours.  
Please email lw4 [at] soton [dot] ac [dot] uk to book a free place.
Lunch will be provided and parking is available on site.

ANNOTATING LANDSCAPE WITH AUDIO

Introductory seminar on
notours software for Android
presented by Benjamin Mawson
6 December 2013, 10 am – 4 pm
Avenue Campus (Building 65, Room 2149)
University of Southampton
Outline of Day – approximate timings:
A mix of short introductory talks and hands-on development.
10.00 Welcome and Introduction:
– Concepts and background to situated soundscapes
– Technical and editorial issues
– The editor interface
– New software developments
– Starting to work with the editor Interface
11.00 Break
11.15 First practical session:
– getting used to the interface
– creating project zones and editing sound behaviours
12.15 Site visit and discussion
– assessing the situational setting for your soundwalk
– topography, function and routes
– ambient noises & acoustic responses
12.30 Lunch
13.00 Second practical session:
– building your first geo-located soundscape
– GPS and open spaces
– managing files and folders
14.00 Field test 1 (Test your design in situ using gps-enabled Android):
– what was most and least effective
– feedback and discussion
14.30 Break
14.45 Third practical session and field test 2:
– Editing and developing your soundscape
15.45 Summary

16.00 Close