Archives for the month of: January, 2014

I have this idea of creating a wave of vocal resonance – of filling a spacious architectural volume with a continuous human tone. It feels like an exploration of space and containment through human sound.

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I’ve imagined it, and I’ve started playing with it. That feeling of opening up and filling your mouth and throat and chest with air, then releasing it back out with energy from the edges of my body. That first note released in privacy (that clandestine singing in the bathroom, kitchen etc) – now perpetually echoing from a vaulted space.

It would be performed live, with the performers randomly dispersed among the standing audience. Inconspicuous. Natural and unpredictable.

The idea is for one performer to begin to ‘project’ a tone – in a clear, steady voice. Continuous. Then another voice, quiet at first, joins in, supporting the first, then another as the first voice fades, and gradually reappears. Thus the performers maintain the clear tone……without a pause in the tone for breath.

Alternatively, the voice performers begin as above, then, very gradually introduce one harmonic tonal variation…. And, then, very slowly, another.  The performance is not specifically scripted, such that the performers only respond as and when they choose – to their environment and their fellow performer’s sounds.

For a building with an internal circular route – through corridor, atrium, hall, corridor etc – the performers could be dispersed along the route. The intention of the performance would now be for a locus of sound to travel along the route of stationary performers – ringing its way constantly round and round the route.

The experiments to date are promising. Especially those with the Rhubaba choir whom I’ve begun to work with. Early recordings include (listen):

Vocals in circle – ordered

Vocals in circle – random

I’m realising I instinctively approach this vocalisation with the ‘A’ note – as the primary sound. I realise the importance of the performers practicing together to build ease and control, although the performances themselves will be unscripted and utterly in the moment. While the performers need the breathing and vocal control of choral singers, the intention and desired effect is not to achieve the sound of a choir emitting a singular, unified voice.

The sound dictates the performance.

Listening is at the heart of sound-making.

Sound-making is a response to listening.

I’ve found this installation piece, Stay Tuned by sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt, for which he collected recordings of orchestras tuning up – 150 musicians in total. They create the familiar ‘A’ I’ve been singing.

It’s the ‘A’ of anticipation – the drawing together of focus before the performance.

This work is a rich, dense river of sound in which individual instruments appear and disappear.

Listen to a Stay Tuned recording.

I love the sound, but I’m not keen on the installation itself. He positioned speakers on trees and played different recordings through each. This introduces an element of interactivity as the audience’s experience of the sound installation depends on their relative position to the individual trees with their individual recordings.


How the audience encounters sound is as important as the sound itself. I think there is a pressure for sonic works to be placed in a physical setting in order for them to achieve recognition as an ‘art work’. The physical setting can, therefore, appear as an after-thought and not an integral component to have emerged from an evolving work.

Perception of the visual and auditory are mutually interdependent.




Out of the blue, I record my voice, alone. 

I scream as loud as I can. Scream

It is done and I feel good. I play it in the studio, on a busy day. It’s met with shock, surprise and humour. Not rejection, which is curious.

Out of the blue, I record my voice, alone.

This time I vocalise an ‘A’ as I remember it from school choir. Sing

I try it out in different spaces, marveling at the resonance and response of the sound. It feels great. And I am not done.

I record my voice in the corridors and atriums of other buildings.

I replicate and overlay my voice.

The sound becomes continuous. Sing + sing + sing

I add other voices – repeating and overlaying mine.

I want to create a continuous tonal wave of human voice – a perpetual wave that travels and resonates through space – a radiating journey of voices emanating from the bodies that produce them – vibrating through every miniscule volume of a space. Through resonance becoming a signature of the space – a composition between humans and architecture.

I experiment with a Women’s Choir.

They try out the vocal performance I suggest. I record their quick rehearsal. Women’s choir

Listening back, I realize what I am creating.

The absence of breath.

A continuous, vocal human sound without breath.

Sound in the anticipation of silence.

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I believe Sound is intimately bound up with our material existence. Stand perfectly still in an anechoic chamber, and you hear, not silence, but a pulsation, a sloshing, a squelching – the tiny sounds of your body working to keep you alive. Intimate and fragile, these sounds exist from moment to moment – an internal sound track whose cessation, once you hear them, is unimaginable. It is the unimaginable of you not existing.

What is silence – the absence of sound?

But, silence, like nothing or infinity is an abstract concept. We can describe the idea of a place in the vacuum of deep interstellar space, where there is nothing. Where there is no matter and no energy, nothing in which sound could exist. In this place, if it could exist, there would be silence. An unimaginable silence. But, like nothing and infinity, we could not capture it without destroying it – by adding the unit of one that is ourselves. We could not reach the silence without making a sound.

Silence is a state of mind.

‘Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around.’ John Cage.

For me, silence is that ultimate stillness, a state where not one thing moves. Not a reed of grass, a droplet of water, an electron a photon. It is a moment frozen – a motionless, suspended silence.

Silence waiting in anticipation of a sound.

I hold my breath. I have been holding it for years.