Arrival in Brno

After 8 months on my largest project yet, Written in Water: Portrait of a Town (91 audio tracks linked via GPS across an English coastal landscape), I brought last loose ends together last week, including a 30 minute radio version of what you might hear on a hypothetical soundwalk (to be broadcast shortly, more details to follow…) [additional blog post here
So I thought a change of scene was in order, to cleanse the brain, stretch the ears, pace some new streets. A prolonged online faff about destinations and cheap getaways led me to the conclusion that package ‘deals’ are not what they’re cracked up to be and I got 50% off the cheapest city break I could find by booking the hotel and flight independently. 
A memorably insane return from Innsbruck with Nastyjet in October last year (after a wonderful trip to the 1st ESSA conference in Berlin, meeting my newborn niece in Austria and a chance meeting with the finest post-New Orleans jazz band I’ve ever heard, on a train, followed by an equally memorable and insane evening with them at Treibhaus, Innsbruck), had me forswearing budget airlines forever, even if it meant doubling the cost and multiplying the journey duration by an unknown factor.
 I succumbed again though to the budget airline ticket, this time with their Irish counterparts

(although deeply wary of their colourful CEO, a feeling increased by the erudite description of O’Leary’s entrepreneurial persona by my friend Dr Lorraine Warren.

Being an infrequent flyer, my estimate of driving in 2 hrs to Stansted for a 2 hr flight to central Europe for less than the Eurostar to Brussels
overlooked the confusion of airport parking (add an hour)
and the purgatory of labyrinthine queues at security to half undress into a tub, have your deodorant sent back for a 2nd scan then put in a sandwich bag to prevent it being used as a bomb. 

Image: Roger Taylor. Daily Telegraph: "Airport queues longer than flights"

(Really, guys? Have you made aircraft hijacking history with that one?)  (add an hour) 

And the queue by passengers for two different countries at a single gate, (add 30 minutes)…  leading to the memorable announcement on the plane that we were flying not to Billund, Denmark, the home of Lego, but to Brno, Czech Republic.

One rather short man with a round yellow head and cup-like hands confusedly got his luggage and disembarked before we taxied onto the runway.
A wonderful sleep, coiled like a slinky spring into a space for an eight-year old, then staring down through thinning clouds at star-like clusters of red-roofed villages, between irregular polygonal fields and immense woodlands strafed with thick interior lines of bare earth; an apparently thoughtful and selective use of such natural abundance.
The eight huge cooling towers of the Soviet era nuclear power station at Dokovany rise in an impassive stare above the flat greens and browns, the invitingly meandering Jihlava river, the promontories of its steep bends surmounted with angular steep roofed

Image: Luboš Motl


I learnt this from comparing the view from my seat to a scan of Google Maps, which led to the discovery (not seen from the sky) of another wonder of energy sourcing, the hydroelectric dam at Dalešice.
It is these combinations of conservation and guardianship with high technology that are one of my strongest foreign impressions of the new Czech republic.
 Brno, Czech RepublicI was here (Czechoslovakia as was) aged 18 in a youth orchestra on tour, in summer 1989, about 3 months before the dour misery of endgame Soviet Europe imploded, supplanted with a decade of wildly optimistic, often gallumphing political and economic reforms that changed the country and perhaps most of all Prague forever.
From a place of poverty and intimidation, secrecy, surveillance and suspicion, the new Czech Republic is a place of fantastic artistic, theatrical and musical innovation where tradition and cultural heritage are continually renegotiated, not simply supplanted with transatlantic commercialism. (You saw raincoated men behind newspapers in every hotel lobby – those cliches and the less funny, grotesquely corrupt and abusive police, an all-powerful state machine of censorship and control were everyday realities for a frightened and bullied people.)

My last trip here (well, to Prague) was as a removals man, six years ago, in deep snow. Today it is sunny and hot and the colourful ancient city of Brno awaits.
Although it seems a shame to put my boots back on and leave the air-conditioned cool of my home for the next few days… 
Probably an afternoon in the pool and sauna, a sausage supper and early to bed, although plans may change.
After all, I have come here also to work and some wonderful unexpected ideas arose for a one-woman web-based opera cinecast amid my crazed in-flight dreams.

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

Acoustemologies of Space

No more time
Considering timelines in musical construction and the role of recall, remembrance or the search through ‘sound art’, ‘musical composition’, for full form of partially reconstituted former experience,  we might imagine the possibility that a musical object does not necessarily evolve over time,  or only over linear time.

Monophonic lines
The monodic phrase may be an extension or exploration of a finite set of pitches. It is an investigation of the relations, by sequentially altered permutations between those pitches and what may be conveyed or perceived, metaphorically, within those pairings or groups and they range covered by them.

In denser sonic structures however the interplay between distinct elements is important also. 

Texture happens over time?
Is it possible entirely to remove time from the musical work, for all pitches, timbral characters and separation throughout a physical space to be simultaneously heard?

Soundwords and Story-telling
The monodic line, the developmental polyphonic texture and the orchestral climax belong to species of sonic narrative where our conditioned associations presuppose a quasi-linguistic exposition of ideas whose correlative is founded in the same ancient urges whence mythic, religious and metaphorical representations of existence and experience emerge. 

Other forms

In the visual and plastic arts, in film, literature and dance, the design of buildings and their interiors, of objects functional and decorative, it has become accepted that form may in many instances equate to, be the sum of, the work’s content.

Stories and just Things Themselves
If, with the removal of temporal development or change, we are able to extract from the work its shackled association with ‘expression’, forms are inevitable to emerge that will permit the listener possibilities for transcending communication altogether.
In this way, the musical artifice speaks, if it speaks at all (for why should it, having no words?) solely of what it is, rather than a pale mirror to other forms.
But since all events must have duration of some perceptible value for there to be agreement that they occurred at all and arguably a somewhat greater durational value  than merely the perceptible, for the senses to take the opportunity to receive, process, respond, remember the occurrence, is the negotiation of change over time unavoidable?
Yes and no.
The slightest sonic pinprick may in fact be represented by fluctuating horizontal lines, describing continuous variations in the frequency and amplitude from opening attack through its decay, sustain, release or disappearance. 

Universe in a bead
Even the note produced by a plucked string or struck bottle, singular and momentary as this may appear, has a duration, albeit so small as for the duration not to be considered to constitute a primary characteristic.
However briefly though, each note or sound perceived of course still has a duration.
With the changes that occur during that time it may be said that rhythm, with all its generative, evolving, progressing patterns, originates or is at least suggested.

Time standing still, machine rumbles on

It is equally possible that the passage of time be used as a tool for the depiction, evocation or replication of stasis, in sorts of counter-developmental resistance. 
Examples of change within repeating patterns, or unaltered wholes whose constituent parts continually change, are to be found in the mechanical, electrical and digital as much as the natural.

Music in a cemetery toilet
Working many years ago at a cemetery office, my most pleasing diversion from the macabre mundanities of my working duty was to sit shivering in the vast, catacomb-like porcelain-lined lavatory, listening to the endless shifting and yet never changing balance between two echoing water drips, never ceasing, never simultaneous, flowing like parallel microcosmic waterways reduced to sequent enumerations of  their minutest parts, like a coastline falling through a miniature hourglass.

The music of roundabout systems
Eight years earlier, a comparable experience occurred from the chance discovery of an entrancing sound kaleidoscope both random and the result of collective, simultaneous mass action and response.
The inside floor plan of the Arc de Triomphe is a church-sized cross with similar acoustical properties but for the missing four end walls, arched ears to the acoustical convulsions of the city.
At its centre, the listener is as though inside an enormous resonant stone head, drawing from all around passing snapshots in sound.
They are so fleeting and frequent as to form a continuous flow of impressions.
They are so dense as to be opaque, so infinitely numerous, small and diverse are its elemental constituents as to constitute the river itself, where only the fluctuations of the whole can be quantified.
The Arc is at the centre of L’étoile, the star-shaped intersection at a monumental centre point of six of the city’s largest thoroughfares.
Six lanes of rotating, competing traffic of all sizes continuously swimming around, across, alongside; wheels on tarmac, revving engines, coughing exhausts, squealing brakes and above all, a mechanical mayhem of klaxons, despairing, warning, cajoling, threatening, pleading, celebrating, echoing.

Tuning of French klaxons
By the way, these horns were for the most part, diatonically attuned. My only explanation was the French preference for cars by one of their two principal firms and the possibility therefore that the klaxons’ slight variation from diatonic unity was based on (almost) any given vehicle being one of two makes, pitch-limited to the white notes of the piano, depth depending on size of the vehicle. 

River <- Soundscape -> Machine
At other times, while the auditory river’s flow remained unabated, effectively unaltered, it was possible to tune focus to given pitches or rhythmic imitations and again, through the unending alteration and rotation of atomic detail within, there was above all a character of constancy, of unification, whose effect was to stay the very passage of time.

All perception of time passing or changing was removed during these peaceful meditations which in memory appear to repeat like time-phase photography or an acoustical strobe.

Therefore, given the fascination of these and other phenomena, what appeared like the sudden realisation of a new concept (new to me at any rate) emerged, like all others, from a combination of reflection over an extended period and the search for alternative solutions to questions of time found in much music of the past few decades.  

Centuries-long music

Perhaps one of the best known of these is John Cage’s conceptual composition for organ “As slow as possible”, performance of which began in 2001 and is scheduled to run for 639 years.

Arguably the performance did not begin until February of 2003 due to the seventeen month rest with which the current rendition began but perhaps this is a question for a separate enquiry.

Questions of how time is represented, ridden, distorted have always occupied composers.
It has been understood that music exists more in time than space, in waiting or remembering than in an extended present sensual interaction such as may be had with an image or sculpture.

To return therefore to a notion for music from which the passage of time – used to generate along its line, arrayed patterns and relations with a correspondence or analogue in verbal expression, the emotions, in narrative or figurative representation – is removed, carrying off these external, unachievable distractions, to permit the construction of pure sound, unencumbered by the minute semiotic histories of our finite range of sonic gestures:

Sound like colour and smell

Through the separation of sound from putative intentions to be of or fundamentally connected to other forms of communication or activity, perhaps we can permit, by infinite multiplications, the expansion of our ‘sonabulary’, our ‘sonicon’, a new ‘acoustemology’ beginning to grow from the threads remaining, which do not carry the weighty burden of impossible ambition to relate an art with no inherent meaning to systems of signification.

Unknown writing on ribbons of sound
3DBARE is coming. Time will no doubt have a role but this is about pausing clocks, holding one time river up against another and watching the combinations of signals blow out sound bubbles from their auditory embrace, across the wide open arena of a space filled with undulating voices, tones, beams of sound, infinitely variable in combination, unending, borderless like the ocean’s horizon when the world was flat, like inner space and the dreams that float there.