BA Fine Art Y1T3 WK 1-2: SONIC ENVIRONMENT

A lot of time last term was spent working on a sound event with my entire pathway group (46 people), that took place between 14:00 and 16:00 on Wednesday the 26th of April in the K Project Space at Central St Martins, Kings Cross. Alongside spearheading the choreography team – planning where people’s work would be based in the space, how to structure the actual sound so that everyone’s work would be heard in the best way, timetabling performances – I performed in a live sound piece using contact microphones with 5 other people.

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Our plan for our performance had changed so much from our original idea – a virtual reality yoga session – and we had decided on using contact microphones attached to a steel sheet, with the sound fed through a mixer into a laptop and out through stereo speakers. One member of the team mixed and distorted the sounds the rest of us made using vibrating/sound creating objects, and we performed with the room lights off, wearing hats, for 10 minutes. We initially wanted to suspend the sheet with wires from the ceiling, however this would have been a pretty high risk hazard, so we built a frame to hold it. This would have become a table which we knelt around, however we ran out of time before the event to be able to make it strong enough to hold the steel sheet and frame, so instead we laid the frame on top of 2 wooded palettes.

The objects we used included: a fan, an electric toothbrush, an electric nail file, a motor belt, an old Nokia with ring tone demos, an iPhone set to vibrate when called, a bag of fish tank stones, a bag of dried chickpeas, an empty Carlsberg can, an alarm clock, a load of bulldog clips, cardboard rolls, and duct tape.

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During the performance, I sat at the end of the frame, and mainly used the bag of chickpeas to slam onto the metal and create a percussionist, rhythmic thud, and used my hands to press on the metal sheet, creating vibrations that were picked up by the contact microphones. I also used the Nokia to put out some ring tones, until it ran out of battery halfway through. I honestly didn’t charge it because, as a 10 year old Nokia, I had assumed it would last forever, but I stand proven wrong. We practised before the event playing around with the sounds and effects, to see how loud/interesting each tool was, and during the actual performance it was all improvisation; building up properly like a jam session, not just everyone clamouring to be heard at once.

We ended when Myles, who was mixing, motioned to Sam that it was approaching 10 minutes, who then brought out a Tibetan singing bowl from underneath the sheet, which was the cue to the rest of us to tone down again, and used the mic against the bowl to resonate a high pitched ringing, signalling the end of the performance. We all took our hats off and walked out, which ended up working really well as straight after the two people who had been recording the performance for us began conducting an “interview”.

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In the group crit for the event next day we learnt that the Vice President of the university had been showing a VIP guest around, and brought him to our performance, which was really encouraging. I felt piece had been very intuitive, and as a team we were very responsive to each other as we made the sounds, especially down to Myles’ mixing. One of our tutors said that it was great that we had kind of accepted the role of the “band” for the event, which I appreciated because the event itself was so diverse. Their major criticism was on the use of palettes, as we could have spent more effort making the actual table. We did struggle due to the workshop running out of wood, but I don’t like to make excuses for not achieving things, and focusing on making finished pieces that look done is definitely an area I have been improving on.

The entire event itself was such a great collaboration from all of us – our tutors noted that it had been a long time since they had seen a group this large work so well together – and although I would have personally preferred the event to have been a single sound performance/piece involving all of us, there was a great balance and variety of work shown – paintings, installation, photography, and mainly performance and video work. We had the event start with us all stood outside the room; inside, the continuous video, performance, and sound pieces were set up and the lights were on. We all then entered the room collectively, and the event began. People from inside the uni came to watch, and after the first half an hour the lights were turned off and everyone’s work was stopped, as one group did a performance under their own lighting (there was a small issue with trying to get the bloody lights off as the light switch had a complete mind of it’s own, but we got there, with about 5 minutes to get everyone to cease their work for the performance). There was then another 5 minute interval, before my group did our performance. The event then continued with the lights off, and the others set up their work again. Things went quicker than expected and it seemed like people were losing interest, so half an hour before the event was due to end, we began to wind down. The cue to end was Dizzie Rascal’s Bassline Junkie played through a bass amp hidden inside a wall (one person’s piece), and everyone wound down their work, or ended their performances. We finished by playing Bonkers, also by Dizzee Rascal, as one of my classmates finished his performance prancing around the room, and then he played S&M by Rihanna as he continued to the end in a corner of the room with us all gathered around. The lights were switched on, signalling the end of the event.

If I were to do it again, I would have left more intervals or periods of silence in which to listen to some pieces individually, or to experience the bleeding of external sounds into our space; the saws in the workshops, people working in studios, the piano in the street outside being played. I also think it’s really important to continue this energy, and create more timed events as a group, rather than trying to spend money on expensive gallery spaces for one day exhibitions.

Ready to spend rest of this term slaying away.

GABRIELLE.

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