Is it Eating you? IMT Gallery
Is it Eating you? is a performance event curated by Mark Peter Wright as part of his solo exhibition I, The Thing in the Margins at IMT: ‘A night of sound, film and performance exploring non-human worlds. The title of the event takes its cue from Larry Cohen’s 1985 b-movie horror comedy, The Stuff. The plot involves a goo-like substance that is extracted from the ground and sold as frozen yoghurt. As the story unfolds we discover the yoghurt is a parasitic, even sentient organism that gradually takes over the human brain and turns people into zombies before shedding their skin. Inspired by Cohen’s film the evening will mix humour and horror: amplifying a host of matter and affects; from animals to microbes, technology to plants, soil and screams.’
The evening will feature:
Mira Calix (screening)
Esther Planas & Jennifer Ipekel
Graham Dunning & Tom White Pond Scum Light Show (Jennifer Pengilly, Ash Reid & Jamie Sutcliffe)
I will be performing a new variation of the rain choir with dissolving coral accompaniment.Since its installation at Winchester Cathedral, variations of the choir have been recomposed, installed and performed for various situations in the UK and Europe. In this dead sea variation, the original field-recordings of rain falling the guttering system of the Cathedral are joined by ‘live’ voices respired from the sarcophagi of deceased and fossilised corals dissolving in acid: a reaction echoing ocean acidification. In this resuscitated breath of Paleozoic air, molecules of carbon dioxide, exhaled 429 million years ago can be heard (and inhaled) as they dissolve back into the atmosphere. A collective sigh of dead sea air.
rain choir: the St James Variation Live performance at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London
On the 5th May I took part in a small concert as part of the opening of Sound / Place, an exhibition curated by Tom Tlalim & Sandra Kazlauskaite, at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London. The concert, which included performances by Yiorgis Sakellario, Istishhad Hheva and John Garcia Rueda & Ella Jane New, took place in the Listening Box, also known as the Sonics Immersive Media Lab (SIML). The immersive qualities of this technological space seemed to share a concern with the manipulation of sound present in the architecture of the Cathedral. I am interested in how the performance of the choir offers an opportunity for a continual recomposition within the dynamics of another place. Each recital introduces variations of acoustics and pattern, producing a form of sonic palimpsest: a murmuration of rainfall.
rain Choir: the St James variation (edit) | mp3 | 2015
The St James variation of rain choir draws on the field-recordings of the original site-specific sound installation for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. These recordings explored the acoustic qualities and rhythms of rainfall as it fell through the gutters of the building. The choir also included sounds created by dissolving fragments of the Cathedral walls in acid. Echoing the percussive qualities of rainfall and the effect of its polluted chemistry, this naive chemical reaction releases a Palaeolithic and audible air of effervescent CO2, from the fossilised skeletal remains which form the Limestone.
In his autobiography of sight loss, John M. Hull describes how the sound of rain, ‘throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the falling rain creates ‘a continuity of acoustic experience’. For Hull, rain reveals place, presenting ‘the fullness of an entire situation all at once, […] actually and now’. He continues: ‘If only rain could fall inside a room…’
The rain then falling inside St James sounded out place. The original voices of the choir and those coloured by the acoustic of the cathedral crypt were joined by a ‘live’ dissolve of limestone fragments from the crypt and walls of the Cathedral. In an arid, invisible downpour, the choir immersed the audience in the dynamics and architecture of the Listening Box: an acoustic rain simultaneously describing and being described by the present site of audition.
Sound Place continues until 13/05/15 at St James Hatcham gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London.
I am delighted to announce that the rain choir has been released on the excellent field-recording label, Impulsive Habitat. The choir is available as a free downpour in two versions: the original choir and a recital of the work recomposed from the original field-recordings and those made during the installation of the work in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. This recitation is, as its name suggests, ‘a repetition, a ‘reading aloud from memory’: rainfall evoked and remembered, coloured by the acoustics of the space and the incidental voices of the building.
The relationship between memory and water is familiar to anyone who has watched the beautiful films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Films such as Stalker and Nostlaghia are saturated with water; pools of reflected stillness; echoic drips; rain falling outside and inside the empty rooms of remembered spaces. In a short article (after the rain) for the British Library blog, Sound and Vision, I discussed the sensuous and mnemonic qualities of water and in particular rainfall.
duet for vinyl: edit
The date of the Impulsive Habitat release has a personal memory for me, the 16th being the birthday of my mother who died in 2011. Some years ago I made a covert recording of a telephone conversation with my mother. This was re-edited in the work, duet for radio (and subsequently duet for vinyl), removing my voice and replacing it with the static of telephone silence. In this imposed solitude of our conversation, my mother discusses her day-to-day: what she is having for tea, the weather outside her window. As she listens to a rain I cannot hear, there is a pause and then speaks:
“What have you been doing today, has it been raining? Raining on and off here all day………I can hear on the windows and it just sounds like someone’s breaking in………………….. sounds as if someone’s breaking in…………it’s terrible, I’ve never known it to be like this before…”
In the silent rain of this inconsequential soliloquy, I find a frailty and vulnerability that returns my mother to me. These intimate and mnemonic qualities of rainfall were audible, when Radio 4 broadcast from the public memorial for those murdered in the recent Paris terrorist attack. As the crowd gathered to hold their silence, the radio transmitted a vacant crackle of heavy rain, falling upon umbrellas and coats. As I listen, I hear my own silence in the rain, and I become another silent drop in a collective downpour of remembering.
rain choir: the prague variation galerie dira / Školská ul. 28 / Praha 1 / Prague
26.10.14 – 07.11.14
rain choir: the prague variation (edit) / 2014 / mp3
A variation of the sound installationrain choir, originally created for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, is now in ‘exhibition’ at the Galerie Dira, Prague. The prague variation was recomposed in response to the particularity of this new situation: a headphone socket in the external wall of the gallery, where visitors are invited to bring their own headphones, ‘plug into the hole…and listen’.
In his excellent book Paraphernalia, Steven Connor discusses plugs as a situation of pause; a ‘lingering’ hesitation in a world more normally inclined to speed and continuous movement. This is why, Connor argues, sinks in airport bathrooms have no plugs and the electric sockets are hidden from the desperate prongs and low battery life of passengers. Running a tap and filling a sink or recharging your phone or laptop would suggest rest and intermission, an absence of progress, when the momentum of the airport requires you to proceed and go.
‘Plugs’ writes Connor, ‘plug you in to a particular locality and lifespan’, at one level this is cultural, the three prongs of British plugs are unique: an individuality that requires every UK citizen to keep an unused international plug adaptor in the back of some forgotten draw.’ But it is also a physical attachment. When visitors plug in at Galerie Dira, they tether themselves (and their listening) to a place, to this particular hole in place; whilst through this hole pours another place, an acoustic space spilling what was once here, now there. Just as the gutters of Winchester Cathedral, organise and disperse the rain falling upon its canopy, so too this anonymous hollow in Prague, transports a choir of rain from the drains of its source, through the wires of headphones to the plugholes of the plugged in listener.
Sound, pipes, wires and plugs share a tangled history with place, time and substance and our attempted escape from them. There is definitely something of the H.G. Wells in the piped ‘hydraulics’ of the time travel and wet clairaudience that the rain choir in Prague presents. ‘Pipes are old-new’, writes Connor, they have an alliance with the ghosts of voice and presence. We hear voices lurking in the whispering throat of pipes just as our listening organises the chaos of rainfall into patterns of rhythm. Connor identifies the drain as a vocal space, a gullet for hidden voices: ‘The drain introduces the most striking feature of the pipe, namely its clamorous crypto-vocality.’
The delicate distinctions and rhythms of rain falling through the cloistered drainpipes of Winchester Cathedral, were some of the voices that inspired and composed the rain choir. But the voices of pipes are not always so subtle. On a dank and damp Sabbath, I took my ears to the gutters of the Holy Trinity Church. Due to the conspicuous wired dawdling of my field-recording, I was accosted as a potential gutter thief. Able to prove my lack of form and malevolent intent, I was allowed to continue getting totally drenched only to discover that the collected voice of a heavy downpour through the canopy of Holy Trinity, can transform the wet epiglottal delicacy of rain into a swirling rant of potty-mouthed vernacular.
rain through a wire fence / 2014 / mp3
On my damp way home I noticed the rain falling through a wire fence. Listening to fences allows the audible to erase the fixed and limited space of vision, we can hear place dissolve and disappear. As Gaston Bachelard writes ‘The first to be dissolved is a landscape in the rain; lines and forms melt away’.
The rain colours the choir with a meteorological spatiality and time, a colour augmented by its reappearance in Prague. The choir becomes an acoustic cloud drifting across Europe and dissolving the solid borders of geography as it precipitates. In this precipitation of place, water is let in through the hole of the gallery wall and the wired plugholes of listeners.
the rain choir continues to fall in Prague until November 7th 2014. If you are near, plug in and downpour.
foraminifera: acid dissolve (sketch for wednesday) | 03:16 | 2014
23/07/14 | 19:00 | The Railway, Winchester | SO22 5AE
after the rain: a live set of dead sounds
for field-recordings, found voices, foraminifera, ammonite and dinosaur shell.
I will be performing a live set of dead sounds as part of Fluviology; an evening of experimental music, organised by Joe Evans, founder of runningonair records. The evening includes performances by Delphine Dora, Sophie Cooper and Joe himself. The word fluviology is defined as the study of watercourses or rivers and all the sounds performed at the event will have some association with water. For my own part I have used the opportunity to listen through the damp corners of my archives; not only the fields I record but also the found sounds of discarded cassettes and obscure discontinued vinyl records. Strangely a number of the found recordings feature people talking about the weather and in particular rainfall. More abstractly, my own recordings have a deluge of watery substance from the submerged yelp of a forlorn jetty, and the traction and rattle of steam trains to the effervescent dissolve of an ancient ammonite. As I discussed in my previous post, water and sound share a sort of ‘substantial nothingness’ (Bachelard) a dynamic materiality that exists on the edge of tangibility, water and sound are continually escaping form and permanence. I want to maintain the dynamics of this fluidity in the performance for Fluviology. after the rain, will include a ‘live’ recomposition of the sound installation, rain choir, based on the original field-recordings and later recordings coloured by the acoustics of its installation in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. As discussed in a previous post, the ‘live’ performance of field-recordings is always slightly problematic. The history and act of field-recording is associated with preservation and conservation; from the field-recording of folk music, to the ‘capture’ of animal noises and environments (soundscapes) threatened with extinction or destruction. In this way field recording is at odds with the dynamics of the substance it ‘preserves’. The act of recording tacitly entombs sound in the past; a moment removed from the essential fluidity of the present. For me field-recording has an innate relationship with failure and loss, the sounds I collect and keep are fossilised shells, dead sounds buried in the taxonomy of my archive. Performing them ‘live’ would seem to just augment their loss. But are there ways that these dead sounds may be reanimated? The collision and collage of juxtaposition creates ‘unique’ and vital sound fields, specific to this moment. The use of analogue recording equipment introduces its own vitality of decay, we can hear the damaged memories of harm as sounds age and corrupt; sound engages with the present by voicing disappearance: making loss apparent also animates.
In a previous post I mentioned how the sound of water and in particular rainfall evokes a strange sense of isolation and reverie. In the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the acoustic (and visual) presence of rain quietly soaks the viewer in a sensual intimacy full of memory and reminiscence. I think this mnemonic quality of rain comes from the dullness of its voice. Consistent and uneventful, we are drawn into the conversation of its vacancy, listening ever closer, to the pattern of drip and tonality of drop.
‘Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.’
Thomas Merton in, David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.