Over the Autumn I have been working on the research and development phase of a new project – Vocal Migrations… I keep a more detailed blog about the work here. Vocal Migrations was commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts, with further support in kind from the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and an Arts Council England Grant.
This project has connections to my interest in synaesthesia, combining sound and visuals, and how I’m drawn to looking at nature, animal behaviour, ecosytems and evolution for inspiration. I have a fascination with how bats can use sound to see, and I had been trying to imagine what this could possibly be like… So I was inspired to create a mobile audio device that people could use, with their own voice, to ‘echo-locate’ like bats – to navigate using their own voice. This idea expanded to the possibilities of this device being used like a live vocal sampling instrument for group improvisation.
I worked on the device with two technologists, Matthew Olden and Tarim at the Pervasive Media Studio, and concurrently developed methods of using it for group vocal improvisation with members of Bedford Creative Arts choir.
On Saturday December 8th, 2012, the choir performed a short work in progress to show the culmination of our experimental workshops. Here is a video made up from extracts of that… I was also using infrared video tracking so everywhere a singer walks they draw magenta lines on the floor… which was an additional idea that grew from thinking about echoing traces of navigation pathways… I will have more video footage that will show the projection tracking soon and will update this post!
The main behaviour we worked with was to sample a vocal sound, then to move into closer and further proximities to other choir members in order to modulate this sampled sound. On close proximity, the sample starts to chop up and repeat more rapidly. There are other manual controls too, and we devised a framework for this improvisation. We also invited Ben Salmons to improvise with certain sections on electric guitar using bows, coins and other extended techniques – adding some nice ambient textures – which sounded great, especially in the reverberant hall.
The choir members were brilliant, and even though we’d only really fixed the structure for this performance a few days before, we had spent many sessions experimenting, which meant ideas from the process came out in the performance. I particularly enjoyed the last section which was ‘free improv’ because somehow it naturally felt like animal calls, but not too explicitly. The singers started to interact much more with the audience, so it became more ‘readable’ in terms of what the Bat-box was actually doing to the singers voices.
After the work in progress performance with the choir, vocalist Kerry Andrew improvised with the device, with accompaniment from Ben on guitar. This made a wonderful opportunity for Kerry to interact with audience members creating a quiet, subtle, and more intimate piece. She then took to the stage and performed a captivating solo set as You Are Wolf, – songs inspired by bird folklore which was the perfect compliment to the vocal migrations.
To round off the evening we had a cafe scientifique – hosted by Quentin Cooper – presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Material World. I felt it was important to have a discussion about the science behind the piece, and Quentin was the perfect host, connecting our thoughts and chat with appropriate and interesting questions and prompts. Joining myself and Quentin was Bob Cornes from Bedfordshire Bat Group, Dawn Giles from Bedford Creative Arts, Matthew Olden (programmer) and Ali Goodyear who was one of the singers in the choir. We discussed the ideas behind the piece being inspired by Bats echo locating, and there were a good amount of questions from the audience too which created a really stimulating and lively dicussion.
All photos by Graham, Video filmed by Tom Wild, edited by Kathy Hinde.