"no sound that the Earth owes"
Drawn from the essence of drama in the play; the struggle of humans between the power of nature and the power of art. Caught between the rolling of the ocean and the creaking of a boat close to breaking point; the power of nature playing with the helpless crew; the unearthly sounds of the sea enraged.
The piece is designed for an immersive multi-speaker installation that embeds listeners in the midst of the soundscape. It encompasses very low frequencies for which 12” or greater sub-woofers are recommended.
In addition, a 4-speaker, full-range setup, arranged with the listening position in the middle, and ideally 2 high-frequency drivers suspended above the listening position on the ceiling.
Even with a stereo source, reproduction in this way will achieve the acoustic effects intended.
Tempest was composed during my Master of Music degree at Glasgow University in 1993. Andy Newsam, with whom I had worked in Astrophysics, and was directing a production of the play (The Tempest) asked if I would write the soundtrack to his production. The resultant output was around 2 hours of music, played continuously throughout the play. “Tempest” was written for the opening scene.
During my degree I was fortunate to have some great interactions with visiting Fulbright Fellow, composer Prof. Richard Karpen. Richard had also written some interesting time-stretching algorithms for CSound which he used in some of his own works. Andy and I worked on modifying and adapting these in the music department’s NeXT laboratory.
To create the piece, I produced and used a very wide variety of recorded source material, with multiple layers of sequential processing to create the “instruments” (the sound textures themselves), including custom-written CSound unit generators for time-stretching, physical modelling and 3D-stereo processing.
A wide variety of source material, manipulated with these processing algorithms were digitally edited then mixed using 'conventional' analog technology. These were then layered into a narrative structure, using 10 NeXT machines in parallel to play each instrument, which I mixed, manually, in real-time onto DAT with some additional Yamaha outboard effects. One of my students later scored the piece as part of their final year work, and I was fortunate to test the piece out on the BEAST.
The output of this piece laid the foundations for the aesthetic direction of most of my future work. Having spent a vast amount of time exploring electronic music, synths, sequencers and samplers from 1985 (going way back to the Mirage, SH-101, TR-808, Pro24 days) the output of this new approach was startling and immediate - it was the first point that I felt I had genuine control over the micro-structure of the sound itself rather than just the macro-structure of the narrative.
I knew within seconds of hearing the initial outputs of the processing that I’d created the basis for my future work - so much so that I immediately went down the road to a phone box (yes, in those days, phone boxes were needed) to call Andy with the news... although I’m sure it made no sense to him until he came to the studio to hear it!
My thesis on Virtual Reality Audio, focussed on what forms of control mechanisms (the analog to the physical instrument) could be created that would give meaningful human control, and feedback to a human performer, and build some of the same aesthetic into the composition-performance-feedback dynamic that was lacking in so much “computer-music”.
At a time when acousmatic computer-music was exploring new and abstract territory, I was keen to connect these new dimensions back into narrative and natural form, and this continues to be a substantial driver to a lot of my work.
This was also reflected in my project work in building a 3D stereo system for the NeXT, which involved measuring head-related transfer functions, and effectively digitises, the somewhat poignantly human component - the head itself. The direction that would emerge over the next decade, and continues to emerge has been very unexpected (to me at least), as I made a very early decision to keep music and the act of composition completely distinct from my astrophysics training.
- ICMC94: Concert Hall, Aarhus, Denmark, August 1994
- ICMC95: Listening Suite, Banff, Canada, August 1995
- Digital Waves: Institute of Modern Art, Queensland, Australia. October 1995
- Discoveries - electro-acoustic concert series: Concert Hall, Glasgow University, Scotland. January 1997
- A small community center, Xiandu township, China. April 1999
- “La France”, on the river Thames, London. February 2005
- Sprawl, London. Nov 2005