4 Island Reels at Sound+Environment, University of Hull, July 1st 2017

I was delighted to have a piece of work selected through peer review for the international Sound+Environment 2017 Conference at the University of Hull as part of Hull’s tenure as UK City of Culture.  These are my reflections on the overall experience.

Location: 4 Island Reels was installed in Ensemble Room 2. It was a good room, a decent size and good acoustic properties.  It took an hour to install it with two assistants and 30 minutes to take down.

Technicalities: The set up was a centrally placed table with the laptop and soundcard and four outward facing speakers set off from the tables’ corners.  Outward facing speakers, denying a listener a single spot to listen was an unusual set up, and one that seemed to confuse some listeners.

The work lasted 20 minutes and ran three times each hour on a continuous loop.  In general, it ran OK but there is a problem with something in the setup causing momentary drop out of the sound producing an intrusive ‘click’ (I am looking into what causes this; possibly buffering).

Aesthetics: The piece worked, and looked and sounded, as I wished it to.

On reflection, the place of walking in the method and the walk (and thus sense of movement) is not sufficiently apparent and I will seek to change this in any subsequent works using the same method.  However, some of the decisions about the balance of the various parts was driven by the organisers requirement of a shorter (15-20 minute) piece.  My ideal installation of this piece would be quite a bit longer.

Attendance and audience engagement with the piece: Twenty five members of the conference came through the room, plus five of the student helpers who were keen to hear the work.  This was a disappointingly low number given that there were about 120 people registered at the conference.  A major reason was that the work was scheduled for Saturday and in the morning there were parallel paper sessions and the afternoon was given over to works in Hull city centre and so, once the papers finished, most people left the venue without coming to the installations.

Of those who came to listen most stayed for about half the piece.  Four people stayed for the whole work. I don’t know how many people ‘got’ the underlying idea of the piece; most people took a copy of the concertina-fold booklet; a few people read the poems.  Everyone who offered a view was positive about the work.

I didn’t get a sense that lots of people were moving from speaker to speaker listening for differences or similarities.  However, people did have to walk around the room which was the idea behind the setup.

A couple of conversations with people about the piece prompted some new ideas for things I could do.

Overall it was a good experience.

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Sound+Environment 2017, University of Hull

A four-day conference of sound incorporating the overlap between art and science.  The format was three parallel paper sessions in the morning and afternoon, lunchtime and evening concerts and installations running from 11.00 to 19.00.  Keynote sessions were given by Chris Watson and Leah Barclay.

Over four days and multiple sessions and works attended, the memorable works for me were:

Dave Burraston’s Rainwire (processed) – recorded from contact microphones on long cables and installed as a series of seven different loops the sound was unpredictable and absorbing.

Jez Riley-French’s Teleferica work – contact microphone recordings from long teleferica cables in Italy was a tour de force for durational recording and selective presentation.  It was surprising to be told that the recordings had not been processed in any way.

Annie Mahtani’s performance of Aeolian, an evocative wind based piece recorded in the College Valley in Northumberland.

Rob Mackay’s Equanimity, mixing environmental sounds and clarinet was one of the successful mergings of sounds and music.

Overall, an enjoyable and stimulating conference.