Thursday, August 04, 2005

Notes Towards A Sound Art Performance

For me an improvisation begins a long time before I ever hit a "stage". The original themes and goals of a performance are also open to chance elements and interactions of the unexpected. As these take shape, the process of developing the piece is next to come under scrutiny. As the process evolves, elements once in the periphery have a strange way of gaining focus.

Sometimes, all it takes is a plane crash.

When I first started work on Control Tower Sound I knew that I wanted to demonstrate to friends and local artists what exactly it is that I do. But at the same time I had no interest in being too exact because what "I do" is always evolving and is hard to define at the best of times. People in Limerick see me as a poet but that is certainly far too restrictive a term. So one of my goals was to integrate spoken word elements -- so that there would be something the audience would recognise -- but to do so in a way that was not grounded in the world of poetry. I want words that open up fields of meaning and interpretation instead of fencing them off.

With that in mind, I turned towards graphics. My first version of a poster utilised a photo of a construction crane, this being a common sight in the city at this time, a symbol of a changing Ireland. But later I realised that this performance was not specifically about Ireland, and not about construction, maybe not even about deconstruction! Cranes seemed wrong.

On my flight home from Scotland last week I snapped the Shannon control tower and when I looked at it later I thought "yeah, this works". I like airports and have even written poems to them. The idea of fluid transport is important in these years; here is an idea that seemed relevent. So the next version of the poster integrated that image and I soon had a name: Control Tower Sound.

I went looking for air traffic controller recordings and soon found some, not from Shannon airport unfortunately, but instead Dublin. That would do. There is something very banal about these transactions; ATC recordings are the last things to be exciting. I was happy with this choice since I wanted something more evocative than ear-shatteringly thrilling.

And then came the crash at Pearson airport in Toronto, an airport I know well, an airport I have written about. I have seen planes come in for landing so many times from Highway 401. So I scouted out the ATC recordings from the time in question. Now I have something both thematic and topical. Something I have a connection with.

What to do with all of this? Well, the theme of control is a rich one. So I worked up some texts to evoke the right mood. Then I started going through my grab-bag of audio tricks to see how I could make some fairly simple texts trigger responses in an audience. I have come up with some patches in Reaktor with Samplitude as a sometime host. We will see how they work out.

The event is a performance but it is also explicitly experimental. And by that I don't mean "weird sounds", I mean literally an experiment. Some things may work; some things may not. Those that do will end up on my next album and those that don't will at least be a unique audio experience for the lucky few!

P.S. Thanks to Ruth and Celene for the help so far.

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