site-specific composition

site-specific composition

Inside and outside soundscapes

actionPosted by Apr 25, 2016 21:27
Auditory field is a term that can be used by analogy with visual field. It refers to the area around a listener in which sound sources are audible. I guess that in an open area the auditory field has a range of a few tens of meters (of course, this also depends on how loud the sound sources are). But in a city acoustic obstacles such as walls and houses are omnipresent and limit the sound propagation. The insulation of these walls and windows has improved and a specific 'inside' and 'outside' sound experience has come into existence. For example, when you open a window at home, you suddenly hear another sound world, even though you are still standing in your room. What you experience as inside or outside not only depends on the kind of sounds and the familiarity with these sounds, but also on the distance and direction from which they reach you and the effects (reverb, filter, etc.) produced by the architecture of the indoor and outdoor spaces.

At this moment I am working on Kier (working title), opening and closing the doors of the concert hall is an integral part of this composition. The audience can hear the sounds from outside the hall through the doors. Three performers, including two percussionists, play in this work. One percussionist also performs outside the concert hall and becomes audible through these doors.

An additional setup with multichannel amplifications transports sounds in real time from outside the hall to inside. There are microphones outside the building that pick up environmental sounds (including the percussionist playing outside) and these are mixed (by the third performer) and played back on the speakers in the hall. This third performer can partly zoom in on the acoustic sounds that are heard through the doors.

In some parts I also give the performed music, on the stage, the characteristics of outside sounds. This is achieved by a polyphonic, simultaneous writing style (fragments performed in different locations of the hall) and a specific amplification of the inside percussion. A dynamic directional microphone is attached to a foot of the percussion player to ensure that the performed music sounds 'from a distance' and with background noises (foot steps). By the mobility of the performers, the live amplification system and the manipulation of the doors between the hall and the outside world, the auditory field in the hall can be enlarged and new overarching and intermediate (auditory) spaces – between inside and outside – can be created.

A hall with at least one opening (door or window) through which the outside can be heard, is required for the performance of this composition. In December 2015 I tried out a first version on a concert in the School of Arts Ghent with Ruben Martinez Orio, Michiel De Naegel and myself as performers. This was a very 'premature', short version: Kier was still conceived as a solo percussion work with two assistants and the percussionist only played inside the hall.

is a recording of a fragment of a rehearsal in December 2015, the environmental sounds consist of working and talking building laborers, machines, rehearsing music students and the carillon of the belfry. This is a quick recording, take into account that it is extremely difficult to present the difference between acoustic and amplified-recorded sound through a recording! The recorded fragment starts around number 14 in this sketch.

About this research project on site-specific composition

about this projectPosted by Feb 02, 2016 14:36
At the end of the sixties artistic developments to leave the concert hall and value any sound as art objects, coincided with rising environmental concerns in society. Acoustic ecology (and the World Soundscape Project) came into existence and its influence spread over a wide range of artistic and research domains. Sound walks (Christina Kubisch), soundscapes based on field recordings (Hildegard Westerkamp) and compositions mapping data of natural phenomena (John Luther Adams) are just a few of the new sounds arts that appeared in the aftermath of acoustic ecology.

But a concert practice in dialogue with the direct environment is less present, i.e. performers shaping a composition and its performance with the sounds, acoustic features, visual images, architecture and human activities of the performance location. In my current artistic research the focus is on site-specific composition (in Dutch 'compositie op locatie'). I mainly built upon the insights and practices of composers such as Murray Schafer, David Dunn, Albert Mayr and Chester Schultz but audio art, sound installations and community music also play an important role.

Theoretically I will revitalize the concept 'simultaneity' from the first half of the twentieth century and let it interact with writers and researchers from audio art and ecological sciences (such as Steven Feld, David Rothenberg or Tim Ingold). In our society electric, electronic and digital devices are not the only force to disconnect and dislocate sensorial experiences. We see the other side of the planet on a phone screen while local enviromental sounds surround us. Widespread mechanic and architectural developments also enable this disconnection and dislocation. Large and insulated windows are omnipresent in buildings and vehicles. Through these windows we can see a landscape and hear another. The re-interpretation of simultaneity stresses the overall experience, produced by fusing, ignoring or conflicting simultaneous experiences. In this way contemporary, local space is interpreted as raising complex experiences without a strict border between fysical and virtual reality. This concept opens perspectives to exploit the artistic and musical potential of locations in gardens, parks, roofs, elevators, public and working spaces, more than possible in concert halls which are (acoustically and architecturally) often isolated from the surroundings.

The goal of this research project is the development of site-specific composition, by giving the concept simultaneity a new and local meaning on the one hand, and making artistic productions and designing experiments with interactions between musicians and the environment on the other.

I am working on this research project 'site-specific composition' (2016-2017) at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp (Artesis Plantijn University College).

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