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!

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.

Story-telling
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.




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!