Monday, 15 September 2014

Sound Art and Non-compliant Seagulls

Just had an amazing day at the Fort Process sound and art festival at Newhaven Fort!

It's the first festival I've seen run at the fort, but with its labrynths of tunnels, staircases, passages and caverns it turned out to be the perfect venue. It was rather like being at a mad scientist convention in the dungeons of some Bavarian castle, all resonating with otherworldly chimes, lush drones and earsplitting bursts of static, never being sure what you'll find around the next corner. Often sublime, occasionally ridiculous, sometimes frankly terrifying.

My involvement was with Sara Jane Glendinning's project; The Landing. The concept was that the local seagulls would get involved by landing on a surface made up of sixteen large switch pads on the roof on one of the old gun emplacement towers, enticed by food of course. The pads were set up to trigger arrays of spoken word samples, field recordings and musical sounds when stepped on. These sounds were mixed with the live sound from a microphone on the roof and played to the audience at the base of the tower. A camera on the roof also relayed live images of the pads.

We used a Teensy (Arduino clone) to read all the switches and send MIDI over USB to a Mac running Propellerheads Reason. And it all seems to be working beautifully... except the gulls didn't want to play ball. We tried chips, fish heads, fish guts, our best gull impressions, but they resolutely stayed hovering high above and didn't come anywhere near our tower. Usually in these parts (or at least on Brighton beach) the gulls will gather round to terrorise any al fresco diner like something out of Hitchcock's Birds, or will swoop out of nowhere and make off with the top half of your ice cream. Not the Newhaven gulls though.. they were a bit crap. Or maybe they were just deeply suspicious of a handout. Or maybe they are so used to doughnuts and burgers they have forgotten what a fish looks like...

It was not all lost though.. it was a windy day and occasionally the pads would trigger by themselves. There was a Dali-esque treat in store for those who wandered over to our monitor screen to see fish heads, arranged over what looked like a big chessboard, apparently chatting to each other ("No No No!", "Over Here!")!

The tower

The crap gulls

No no no no!