BEDLAM (ˈbɛdləm)
-n 1. a noisy confused place or situation.
From Memory: A Performative Exploration of Sonifying Solar Wind Data

From Memory was the final performance of Journey to the Sun, a 5 segment theatrical event exploring theater as a method of presenting scientific information created by Grin City Collective’s Culture Lab. From Memory was the final performance of the evening and was intended to encapsulate the other 4 pieces while also exploring the relationship between time, space and memory. Throughout the show’s performances, audio samples where collected in realtime to be integrated into the final audio piece. The realtime samples were then combined with samples recorded during rehearsal (using different actors to introduce the idea of misremembering) and sounds generated and manipulated by solar wind data being transmitted back to Earth from the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (or STEREO) satellites that are currently orbiting and monitoring the sun.

Compositional destruction & different awareness of objects

Archery target noise testing.

Recently I’ve become very aware of how working on a new piece changes the way that I view the objects around me. I’ve been working for the last few weeks with scientist, archer and artist Kenji Yoshino on a new performance that utilizes archery in a sound art piece. We met at the Grin City Collective in Grinnell, Iowa while we were both artists in residence there. Kenji supplied the farm with, among other things, an array of bows and arrows for us to shoot in our free time. He also provided the instruction for those needing it. Being an Eagle Scout and growing up in a shooting family, I knew my way around the bow even if it had been over 15 years since I shot last.

As we were shooting with a bunch of the other artists on the farm, I recorded a good amount of audio from the arrows hitting the target and hay bail which later, I worked into the performance at Relish during my stay in Grinnell. But that got me thinking, what if we shot arrows into other things to hear what it sounds like? Kenji was interested in the idea. Near the end of my time in residence, we set up a bunch of random materials in a barn and shot arrows at them to record the sound and video. This became the archery chimes prototype video. Being curious about making this more of a spectacle lead to sketching out ideas for instrumentation and control. I wanted to be able to catch the sounds in real time, quickly affect them and then develop soundscapes from the force and impact of the arrows on the different materials as well as the reaction of the materials after they are struck.

The impact. The force. The chaotic motion that eventually settles back into place when the targets are hanging. Visually the reaction of the materials was stunning. The sounds tend to be harsh and jarring. The goal of the performance is to make them less so. We also want to demonstrate the accuracy of Kenji’s arrow and explore how that can become a structure for instrumentation. The live recording and modification becomes a way to hold it all together and create something new to experience in a different time scale than the audio exists in the archery unaffected.

Then comes the question of what to shoot. We’ve played with various materials and while many sound amazing, many are also very destructive to the arrows and so they won’t work. I’ve started scouring around for things that we can put on display and then destroy and have found some pretty interesting things. I won’t get into too many details before the final performance is set but one thing that has happened is that as I am at home, school, the store, driving down the street, everything around me now begs the question “what would that sounds like if it were shot with an arrow?” It makes me wonder how things will break when hit and how different strike locations on the object might have different results altogether. It really changes how I situate things in my mind as I start categorizing the things I see. The groups become characteristics like: will resonate, will make a single thud, will be one shot only because it will break, might get more interesting as gets more destroyed, we shouldn’t shoot that, etc. It’s a completely different set of criteria by which I am viewing these objects. One of force, destruction and creative sonic potential of that force.

Compositionally, it makes me think of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique for composing. Except in this case it becomes even more strict. After each note is used, that key of the piano is obliterated.

Performance Excerpt – Live @ Relish in Grinnell, IA

This is an excerpt from a longer performance that I gave at Relish in Grinnell, IA on May 29th, 2013. This performance was created as part of my artist residency at the Grin City Collective.

All sounds are created from field recordings that I’ve made in various locations, including several from the Grin City Collective farm.

Several pairs of modified headphones were provided for the audience to have a different listening experience of the performed compositions.

This excerpt features Kenji Yoshino, Gideon Chase, Ezra Masch & Noah Breur on archery w/ special guest Carolyn Grace Scherf on lard for soap making.

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Sounding at Relish – Grinnell, IA

Yesterday I worked in the csa garden crew in the morning, raced around prepping the farm for a major storm which included helping to put a new wall on the turkey coop, and gave a sound performance at one the best restaurants in town. This may have been my best single day of the farm residency.

During my time as an artist in residence at the Grin City Collective, I was invited to perform at Relish in town. It’s a small restaurant inside of what used to be a large house with several rooms and an outdoor patio in front. On Wednesday nights they have musicians come in and perform. Mostly singer/songwriters from what I could find online. So I wasn’t sure what the response would be to what I was doing or what the turn out would even be for a night billed as a sound art presentation and performance. The audience was amazing and the turnout was really good. The two adjacent rooms of the house/restaurant were pretty well full and a couple folks were milling around in the bar area too.

As part of the evening, I brought along four pairs of headphones that I have with me on the farm and at the beginning, I simply left them on different tables in the hopes that people would pick them up without too much prodding. I never know if people will be willing to put them on. It’s something that comes from the workshops. Some people are hesitant but usually it’s just that they don’t want to be the first ones to maybe look silly or awkward. No issues with that here. Many people were interested in them and excited to put them on to experience a portion of the performance. I really appreciate the confidence and security that this represents. It’s also about a willingness to take risks and have new adventures which probably aligns with the fact that they went to a “sound art show” at a restaurant in town. With the headphones on, people began investigating the pieces that I was presenting but they also started to explore the space and each other in different ways. I love it when this happens. Moving beer classes to listen to the resonance on the wood, jingling pocket change near the pipes, and even playing wine glasses as harps all broke out later in the set once they knew it was ok to move around and make noise. I forgot to do my “please turn your cell phones on” bit at the beginning. I like it best when I can just start and then answer questions and provide more context later. I feel this sets up the best relationship between the listener and the sound. It’s more important that the audience listen and develop their own relationship with what I am making as apposed to me first telling them what they should be listening for. It also makes for better conversations afterward because they are going into the piece with their ears more open if I haven’t framed it before starting.

I played a set of 3 pieces that are part of a new series of works that I’ve been making. The material used is a combination of things that I’ve been playing with before coming to Grin City and things that I have been collecting and working with since being on the farm. As people started filling into the rooms to find seats (at 9 promptly… this is the Midwest after all) I just started making noise with the headphones being already laid out on some of the tables. I was pretty immersed in getting everything going but I’m pretty Joe Lacina was the first one to put them on. Then I quickly saw from my periphery that they were circulating around the room. I also noticed that everyone was working really hard to sit still and be quite so I knew that I needed to talk a little between sets. I wanted to break the tension and remove this reverence for the performer. It’s not about the guy sitting there turning knobs and moving sliders (my friend Anna joke-seriously told me it looks really boring and she is totally right). It’s about the development and projection of the sound and how it is sculpted within the space. In between sets the audience had really good questions and I had a chance to say my piece about noise, listening, design and audio ecology. They also asked if I wanted them to be quite so I tried to let them know that I just wanted them to be comfortable, whatever that means. I don’t have any expectation that the performance is treated as some sort of sacred thing that everyone must sit still and face forward. Although I was very pleased that the event was set up so that it could be a seated performance, it seemed like the audience really dug getting up and moving around to explore the features of the room.

Listening to the passing train at Relish in Grinnell, IA

Listening to the passing train at Relish in Grinnell, IA

During the break, people were wearing the headphones around Relish and made their way outside. I finished just in time for a train to go by the nearby tracks. Immediately the headphones were scooped up as everyone headed outside to hear. The train line is about 1 block from the patio and from their the train sounded amazing. Listening to it with the headphones on in real space, not a recording, reaffirmed my fascination with trains. I’ve discovered that “foamer” is a term for someone who sits and waits for trains to come by so that they can, usually, photograph them. Turns out, I’m a listening foamer. Maybe I need a better term for that. Even though my friend Anna had heard all these tracks before, I still was able to use a few different chickens throughout the evening.

I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to perform as a way of turning my time here as an artist in residence into something that people could experience. The performance at Relish was a combination of things that I’ve used in the past and new things that come straight from Grin City. It was a piece of phonographic fiction created from a series of experiences that many cities, a few road trips and a couple weeks as an artist in residence on a farm in Iowa. It was a fun way for me to synthesize the things that I’ve been working on here at Grin City. All that mixed in with a great audience, new friends, one of the best restaurants in town and my wife secretly showing up for the entire show without me even knowing it until the break made for a pretty amazing night. For this I am really grateful.

Kansas City SoundWalk Research & Performance Documentation







All content ©2014 Alex Braidwood unless otherwise stated.


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