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rain choir: sebastiane hegartyw_drain_closeRain

rain choir: field recording

The rain choir is a new sound installation commissioned by the arts event 10days Winchester and taking place in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral.
The piece is based on ‘field-recordings’ of rain, as it falls through the tympanic guttering system of the Cathedral. Fragments of the Limestone walls dissolving in oil of Vitriol (sulphuric acid) and vinegar add an effervescent static to the rising damp of this motet for wet and secreted voices.
Using an array of hydrophones and acoustic and contact microphones, the field recordings explore the rhythm and timbre of the metallic guttering, as it transports rain away from the buildings canopy. The drainage systems provides a unique spatial acoustic, colouring the sound of rainfall and picking up other peripheral notes from the cloistered soundscape of the Cathedral Close: the peal of Sunday bells, the enclosed footfall and conversational echo of passers-by.

w_drain_insideacid dissolve: sebastiane hegartyrain choir: graffiti

rain choir: opening (edit)

In addition to the audible downpour of such voices, the very fabric of the building is explored as a site of unpronounced voice. Just as the graffiti covering the internal walls, creates a visible silence, a palpable but unspoken history, so too the Limestone used to build the Cathedral contains its own petrified voices. Formed from the skeletal remains of pre-historic marine organisms, such as corals and Foraminifera (“hole bearers”), the stone contains the respiration of primeval life forms and landscapes. The external walls of limestone are pitted with holes and crevices, evidence of changes in atmospheric conditions and the corrosive effects of rainfall. Dissolving small fragments of these walls in acid produces an acoustic time-lapse of the process of corrosion. Just as the acid concentrates the harm caused by centuries of rainfall, so too the noise of this dissolve concentrates the attention of the ear upon the sonic details of decay and disappearance. Through this naive chemical action, the effervescent charnel noise of ancient CO2 is made audible. Voices once ‘confined’ in stone are released from permanence and solidity, taking ‘the ear strangely’ in an occasional shower of quiet geological rain.

sebastiane hegarty: rain choir (gutter 4)
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rain choir: after the fall (edit)

The Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Swithun and was once itself in danger of collapse, through the flooding of its foundations. So the building has a metrological, hagiographical and mythological relationship with rainfall.
The proverbial saint and former bishop of Winchester St. Swithun asked that his body be buried in the grounds outside the Cathedral, so that it may ‘be subject to the feet of passers-by’ and the rain dripping from the eaves of the building. Such experiences suggest an appeal to auditory sensations; St Swithun was perhaps listening for the buried percussion of footsteps and rainfall. In 1906 Walter Walker dived beneath the flooded crypt in order to reinforce the foundations of the building, which was in danger of sinking beneath the sodden earth. Even now, the eastern transept is downwardly inclined and every winter, when the groundwater rises, the crypt floods with water.
Through the choir’s internal relocation of rainfall, the installation mimics the movement of St Swithun, whose body was exhumed and reburied in a shrine in the retrochoir behind the alter of the Cathedral. The rain, which once fell above the decaying but attentive ear of St Swithun, now pours beneath his mortal remains in the shrine where he rests. The choir presents an enclosed ghost of rain, a concealed but sensuous downpour that describes and is itself described by the karst topography of the Cathedral’s architecture.

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blue vitriol: sebastiane hegarty

Pipettes of Blue Vitriol

I recently visited the chemical abode of Dr. Simon Park with the nefarious intention of immersing a hydrophone in Sulphuric acid and listening as it recorded the sound of its own dissolve into silence. I provided the hydrophone and Simon provided the acid (also known as oil of vitriol), along with the appropriate protection of gloves and goggles. We decided to conduct the experiment outside on a garden table, its surface protected from harm with a copy of the Sunday Times supplement, featuring Princess and sprout.

Unfortunately, this vitriolic and potentially expensive experiment failed, the Jez Riley French hydrophone quietly surviving all attempts at chemical destruction. However, we were able to conduct other experiments into the sonification of chemistry. Simon has recently been encasing deceased bumblebees in the blue sarcophagi of copper sulphate crystals. Knowing the anhydrous properties of the compound, Simon suggested we listen to the compound (also known as blue vitriol) quenching its thirst for water. As he dropped the white powder into a plastic container of water, we could hear the exothermic reaction, as energy was released in a short, but deep blue fug of sound. Using a pipette we dripped precisely measured droplets of water onto a hydrophone covered in the compound, producing sonic eruptions of blue, like tiny burns in the surface of audition.

oil of vitriol: sebastiane hegarty

Cathedral Rain

I am currently working on a new sound piece for Winchester Cathedral, which will take the form of a rain choir. The Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Swithun’s and was itself once in danger of collapse through the flooding of its foundations, so it has both a metrological and mythological association with rainfall.
The Cathedral Limestone walls are simultaneously pitted and smoothed by the chemical action of centuries of sulphurous precipitation. As one of the possible voices in the rain choir, I am exploring the sounds generated by this chemical dissolution. Dissolving small fragments of Cathedral Limestone in oil of vitriol, produces an acoustic time-lapse of the process of corrosion. Just as the acid concentrates centuries of rainfall into a brief moment, so too the noise of this dissolve concentrates the attention of the ear upon the sonic details of chemical decay. In an almost electronic emission, reminiscent of an un-tuned radio the sound of dissolve continues to change as the acid burns beneath the surface of the limestone revealing the karst topography of its geological and biological history: a fossil choir of coral and shell.

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southerlies: eight soundscapes from the south of england
GrDl 118/12

Delighted to announce that my collection of soundscapes from the south of england, have been released on the German based field-recording label Gruenrekorder Digital. Initially composed in two-minute and six-minute versions for a weekly series I was doing for BBC Radio Solent, the soundscapes were developed into two documentaries produced by Steve Harris at Radio Solent, both of which featured on BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Week.

The eight soundscapes were located in response to suggestions from members of the listening audience; some of the places were familiar to me; most were not.
The process of composition was consistent: I would arrive encumbered with a bag of microphones, recorders, headphones and a blimp. After dropping some change in the parking machine (one warden allowed me to record the amusement arcade clunk as he emptied the machine),  I would set off on a day of wandering and recording; listening to see what sounds were available to hear.
Once home, the recordings were christened and downloaded. I would then explore them again, listening and recomposing the soundscape in order to discover a sense of place, or rather, allow it to emerge. Each soundscape uncovers a certain disposition, a particular relationship with time and place: an expectant soundscape of ascent at Winchester Cathedral; a landscape of movement tethered at the riverside town of Hamble Le Rice.

The eight soundscapes featured on Southerlies include: Hengistbury Head; Lymington Ferry; Winchester Cathedral; WaterCress Line; HMS Victory; The Hamble; Abbotsbury Swannery and winnall moors: a short walk around a year. The Cathedral soundscape is an extended version, which formed part of a sound installation at The Theatre Royal, Winchester, for the Ten Days Across The City Festival.

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Winchester Cathedral | 02:00 | extract

Winchester Cathedral opens with the sonic arch of iron gates, the soundscape takes a journey of ascent through the acoustics, architecture and circadian rhythms of the Cathedral. A sense of anticipation permeates the soundscape: as Matins prepares the day with prayer, the organist rehearses a phrase, whilst elevated seating is installed to raise the voices of a choir yet to arrive. An orchestra arrives and prepares for an evening concert of Hayden’s Creation. A solo voice can be heard ascending, as I climb into the bell tower where the mechanism of the clock prepares to announce a quarter in anticipation of the hour.

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Hengistbury Head | 02:00 | extract

The first soundscape I recorded was at Hengistbury Head. Arriving in the car park I was greeted with a radiophonic static chorus of Starlings. Their song signaling my arrival within a spectral landscape: a place between stations, continually ebbing in and out of existence. In the sheltered quiet of the landscape behind the Head, emerges an ethereal harmonic hum, as the sea breeze brushing away at a wire fence.  A dog running through the lap of the salt marsh shore, leaves a wet stereophonic tear in the tidal two and fro as the approaching meditative hum of the land train drags a trace of human presence across the landscape. Sunk beneath the beach, a hydrophone offers an audible Geiger like calculation of each sonic particle of sand. As rain clouds approach the air pressure drops, and the electrical clairvoyance of a contact microphone, uncovers a single wing nut at the top of an empty flagpole, pealing out an unheard yet clangourous alarm.

Many thanks to Lasse-Marc Riek and Roland Etzin at Gruenrekorder, for all their help and support.

Southerlies are available here from yesterday: Gruenrekorder Digital

Plan of predicted route through theatre

On the 31st October, artists, musicians, dancers, writers and other creatively inclined individuals and groups from the Winchester district occupied the stage and architecture of the Royal Theatre, Winchester. Unlike the worldwide occupy movement, this occupation was curated by Trisha Bould at the invitation of the theatre and was part of an opening event for the Ten Days Across the City, arts festival. Beginning at six and ending at the stroke of midnight, Map, Plot, Plunder and Possession led its audience behind the scenes of the theatre, into the normally concealed backstage areas of the building.
As part of the event, I composed a cycle of three soundscapes for the auditorium and a sonic river for the public address system. The cycle included soundscapes from the winnall moors sound walk project and Winchester Cathedral, that had been specifically re-composed for the site of the auditorium. In between the two soundscapes, I inserted a percussive interval created by evoking sounds from the lighting and scenery rig of the stage; swinging the descended rigging and occasionally hitting it with a toy xylophone mallet.
The soundscapes were intended to inhabit the acoustics of the theatre and act as a consistent cycle of sound spaces that would come into contact with other acoustic events taking place during the evening. This included; a rehearsal of a song by the Winchester Community Choir from the theatre circle; and the indeterminate composition Copy Rite by Hossein Hadisi and other members of ACE (Avant-garde Composer’s Ensemble).
The choir began their rehearsal in the percussive Interval, before being acoustically repositioned into the soundscape of Winchester Cathedral, the opening of the Cathedral gates, the organist at practice. Perhaps most pleasurable was the choreographed pile up of rehearsal as the community choir’s preparations collided with the Pilgrim school rehearsing in the Cathedral.
In Copy Rite, Hossein Hadisi and the other members of ACE (Sam Cave/Guitar; Tom Green/Piano & Ignacio Agrimbau/Gyil & Hulusi) moved around the theatre between pre-arranged sites within and without the auditorium: a piano in a stairwell, a guitar on the first floor of the atrium. The sounds of the auditorium were fed back into these satellite positions, all the musicians responding to the sounds, acoustics and other visual events occurring around them. Both the choir and Copy-Rite, created some rather unrehearsed collisions with the continuous cycle of soundscapes.

The peripatetic music of ACE, mingled not only with its disparate musical parts, but also the acoustics of the theatre and the patterns and dynamics of the entire recorded and existing soundscape. The sonic river, composed entirely from the sounds of water from winnall moors, leaked, flowed and dripped into the acoustics of the architecture. In the front of house speakers the water generated small wet, but distinct pockets of sound. In the non-space of the corridors the speakers created a ventriloquial soundscape, the echoic drips evading location. In the atrium, the dripping of water echoed the pluck of guitar strings, the river seeming to rain down from the heavens, although the speakers were actually located. A fragment from this unpredicted duet appears on the winnall moors sound walk blog, along with a section of the unaccompanied sonic river.
All photographs by kind permission of David Gibbons.

close-up: three river score 1

graphic score: three landscapes and a river_2

graphic score: three landscapes and a river_3

graphic score: three landscapes and a river 4

graphic score: three landscapes and a river 6Yesterday I tested three soundscapes for an event at the Theatre Royal Winchester. The event called Map Plot Plunder Possession will form the centerpiece for the 10 Days Across the City art festival.

My three soundscapes are extended versions from the winnall moors sound walk project; Winchester Cathedral; and an abstract ‘interval’ composed from sounds evoked by ‘playing’ the hanging rods of the lighting/screen system. The interval maintains the sequence and rhythm of the original ‘live’ recording, but the sounds have been layered and manipulated slightly, to create three variations on a theme, each interval separating the moors and Cathedral soundscapes. I also composed a sonic river, which will be running through the theatre public address system. The public address system provides a strange form of acousmatics, locating the sound whilst simultaneously suggesting a space beyond the visible.  The system disperses the origin of the sound and creates different architectural pools and tributaries as the sound interacts with the acoustics of the space. The towering atrium space creates an immense reverberation chamber, which again hides the source of the sound, whilst in spite of the speakers actually being located at head height, suggests a waterfall of invisible rain pouring down upon our ears.
As with many of my other sound works I am interested in the problem of drawing from the sounds visually, in the form of a graphic score. As with my score for Yvon Bonenfant, the drawings are not intended to represent the sound as much as conjure up a method of translating sound into visual form, which allow others to reinterpret back into sound. Not being a musician and working with field-recording & phonography, I am using sounds that are not normally notated. However, I am interested in the synaesthetic dialogue between visual and aural material and the handing over of compositional control.
The graphic score for three soundscapes and a river, uses old Letraset and the process of tracing and following the mapped lines of rivers, which run through the moors and around the Cathedral.  The compositional drawing unintentionally mimics the digital waveform pattern of the sounds.
If any musicians would be interested in interpreting these graphic scores, please get in touch.

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