Following an 8 year career writing and designing sound for contemporary dance, the Choreography of Sound is my first attempt at taking away the dancers and exploring just the movement of sound. After all, sound is a wave; and exists only within movement. So what happens when I start to shape how that sound moves in a space?
A big inspiration for this project was Janet Cardiff‘s Forty Part Motet, which I saw at Fabrica Gallery during Brighton Festival 2011. In Cardiff’s exhibition, forty separate voices are played back through forty speakers; allowing the listener to move around a space and discover a new way of hearing the music. I found this a truly inspiring and immersive listening experience, and one which made me continue to consider how my music is presented to an audience. After seeing the exhibition I couldn’t help but wonder what could be achieved if the music was actually composed with multiple outputs in mind.
The first time I experimented with this idea was for my soundtrack for Lîla Dance’s immersive dance show The Deluge. The main action happens within a ‘safe-house’ where the audience are seated in a horseshoe shape with four speakers around them (quadraphonic sound). This enabled me to assign instruments to places in the space, the piano was upstage left and the rain always traveled from upstage to downstage. Throughout the show various sound effects travel around the space, and musical elements creep in from different corners. In the final scene a huge, deep cracking sound signals an earthquake at sea, and the sound washes over the audience like the tidal wave of the show.
There are two strands to my research, one is working with dancers to record sounds which can can bring the space alive with movement. I want to discover what it feels like to hear invisible dancers all around the space, or feel twenty people rushing through you. This strand is in collaboration with Lîla Dance, a dance company I am co-artistic director of, and Hampshire Youth Dance Company (HYDC).
The second strand of research is about discovering a new way of hearing music. What does it feel like to stand in the middle of a String Quartet? Can a solo instrument, like a piano or guitar, become an immersive experience? If I place the listener in a macro listening environment, can it feel like they are inside the instrument?
Surround Sound Equipment
My current audio set up for the Choreography of Sound uses 8 speakers; 6 monitors and two subwoofers. The speakers are positioned in a combination of ear height and floor level which enables sound to move not only forwards backwards left and right, but also up and down- like a dancer.
Choreography of Sound is supported by Arts Council England.
Main image by Odes of Ink.