Geo-located soundscape at an Iron Age Hill Fort


#Satsymph: Hermes
GPS-based soundscape on Google Play

HERMES:
A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld.  

He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests. Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. 

Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. 

On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre. http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/hermes.html 

After months of work in studio headphones, walking in urban Hampshire landscapes to test geo-located audio circles for “Written in Water”, I’m spending a couple of days in the luminous, green and stony Brecon Beacons. 

Today I had a wonderful walk from Mynedd Illtud (St Illtud’s Common land)
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/search/Mynydd+Illtud/@52.405331,-4.1599484,8z/data=!3m1!4b1

to the top of Twyn-y-Gaer and the still visible earthwork fortifications of an ancient hill fort.
http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?x=329400&y=221900

It was the most peaceful time I have known in months, entirely solitary but for sheep and a military jet that filled the sky for a single minute like the apocalypse.

Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud
Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud

The thousands-year old grass path rose and fell gently over undulating pasture and gorse until the last, panting steep stretch demonstrated to this breathless walker a brilliantly defensible site.

At the top, I wanted to investigate a colleague’s geo-located music app – how  would it work at this random spot. 

I set the app’s area centre as the triangulation point – the highest point on the hill and, no accident, clever Iron Age builders, the dead central point of the fort. 

The radius was defined by the perimeter of the earthworks, below which, on the north side, was a steep drop of several hundred metres.

#Satsymph app for iPhone, their new project: Hermes. 
Surreal two voice, spoken welcomes to the Greek god’s temple begin to overlap with music by Marc Yeats. 

Yeats’ style is endlessly surprising, adaptive, resourceful.  The musical language is complex and multi-layered, filled with strategic, mimetic reference but free of the ‘memes’ that guide listening to a specific narrative or state.

on Twyn-y-Gaer

Above the windy peak, no human movement visible in the vast primeval landscape, clouds sweep and curl above, in streaks and swathes of lightness.

The crisp air bristles at this high spot, a cone almost, with higher peaks to the north and a near sheer south drop.

Sense of the place was mediated by the music and words imported there on a digital handset. 

#Hermes is often beautiful, sometimes absurd, lush and wistful and coupled with the location made for a remarkable, unrepeatable performance that I will cherish.

While thinking about what happened to me on the hill, listening to Hermes, I discovered a new word: Engram, a “lasting trace left by psychic experience”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engram_(neuropsychology)

My experience both of hill forts and of geo-located media has been shifted: the ‘Engram’ has been etched and will feed my musical piranhas.

(I love hill forts, trying to really see the huge labour that went into establishing them, the organisation of people and resources to build these ring mounds of earth at the highest viable point for a self-sufficient settlement…. who the community within were, their beliefs, fears, daily struggles…  sudden violent, terrified, furious defence against attacks from without, what they did in the evenings, what made them argue, laugh, fall in love….) 


‘Hermes’ project is portable.  One can take it and listen anywhere. 

My work so far has been very specifically geo-located. The reason: re-engaging people with place – to *feel* a place they thought familiar.

How can we use these tools to transform environment? I had a strange and delightful experience of #Satsymph’s Hermes. 

Partly because it was where it shouldn’t be. But then all virtual art is somewhere and its locus was almost never imagined for that purpose.  I enjoy the superimposition of the virtual upon the physical: presently called ‘augmented reality’ it will hopefully find better names in time. 

Having listened on Twyn-y-Gaer to #Hermes, I am surprised by the shift in my sense of this necessity of a specific location: it comes as a kind of relief, in fact. 

Specific geo-location of specific media is useful, interesting and revelatory.

But it is not essential either to enjoyment of a space or of the work experienced within it.

The questions I will now be asking, as I walk around landscapes, will include
– is this a suitable locus for something I can imagine bringing here virtually
– why would it be suitable or not
– are there not in fact infinite ways to combine virtual and physical experience 
[that spawn additional objects, ‘heterodyning’ in acoustics (where two tones generate through combination their sum and difference, new incidental artifices)]

Does my piece based at St Paul’s Cathedral, re-processing and evoking its environs, historic and present, have to be solely there?

I thought that it was good to bring people to a place to resocialise the experience of the digital, but on a hilltop today I understood that it was not artistic but social practice that requires the shift – and artists need to be as flexible as possible to continue capturing the spirit of our time and turning it into lasting art.

Download #Satsymph today. Follow them on twitter for updates about their work. 

And go somewhere amazing to listen to Hermes. You Will enjoy it!

Painting the landscape itself. No, I mean really, actually painting it. Oh, and in sound.

If ever you decide to demonstrate your crazy, arcane research, the ideas you dream about and discuss with yourself, sometimes inadvertently aloud – then find you’ve accidentally instigated the biggest, most exciting and terrifying project of your life, don’t call me to complain. I will only laugh.
I was working on how to motion-track listeners so they can walk inside a piece of music – we’re getting there, with amazing work from composer-programmer Iyad Assaf, it’s called 3D-BARE.
I called music tech guru and composer Julio d’Escrivan for advice.
He put me in touch with Enrique Tomas, whose noTours software uses GPS and does a similar – well, different – thing to what I was working on but with such interesting results and rich possibilities that I was hooked.
noTours lets you edit a place with sounds: overlapped, interlocking, spliced, hovering in the landscape.
When a composition is complete, I now do something additional with it – splitting it into horizontal and vertical fragments, spreading it across a garden or along the Thames, then inviting people to come and listen.
I recorded singers a few months ago, one at a time, then combined them into a ‘virtual’ choir, in a setting of a poem called “Take Me By The Hand” for Southampton’s Musical Alphabet weekend.
There’s now a version spread between the paths and trees, buildings and water of the university campus. Singers and the place, sonically and physically bound together. Blurring and augmenting the heard reality of a place allows us to do strange and interesting things…
So I’ve been constructing musical compositions embedded in landscape and decided to make more systematic my approach to recording the landscape itself and, more importantly, the people in it.
Six months on, I’m coordinating the Audio Portrait of Southampton – to capture the place, the year, its noises, sounds and music. An immersive sonic montage spread across the green spaces of the city for listeners to walk inside and investigate, like a virtual city built only of sound.
Southampton Music Hub and Art Asia have recently come on board, bringing fantastic, diverse musical talent to the Portrait and I was recently interviewed by Xan Philips on Voice FM.
We’ll be demonstrating on 11th October at the University’s next Creative DigiFest, SXSC2. Come and hear for yourself!