Thursday, 28 July 2016

Souding Boards

Scott and I [Shelley] had spent hours on the phone and by email together, dreaming about all the things we would do with this grant. With the wonderful news that we had been selected, we started planning in earnest – how could we make the very most of this unique chance to explore our common fascination with coded structure or grain without compromising our very different creative practices, - and do all that within a limited time and budget?  And would the process of analysing and describing this creative friendship quench the spontaneity, the spark that has fuelled our work so far?

As I swam up and down my local pool pondering these questions, I remembered an inspiring conversation with a leading authority on pianolas, Rex Lawson, who had, by chance, visited my studio during the Open Studio event at Cockpit Art in June with his wife. Perhaps the coded materiality of the pianola roll might be a useful common ground. And perhaps the rich and distinctive symmetry of a Bach Fugue would provide a framework for the creation and arrangement of the glass pieces.

I was also worried about how we might analyse and interpret the projections themselves- to move beyond a simple metaphor (‘bright = loud’) to offer a more sophisticated link between the optical and acoustic phenomena. Another connection, this time from my Bristol psychology network bubbled into view. The physicist Sir Michael Berry is an old friend of my PhD supervisor, Priscilla Heard and we had met with his wife for tea two years ago. He seemed as fascinated as I with the caustics created by the glass objects and several hours flew by as we toured his rambling house with torches peeping into darkened rooms filled with experiments. Perhaps he would be willing to help.

Scott seemed excited by the idea and we agreed to make a start. I contacted Rex who was traveling and unable to help with the Bach piece in time for our first workshop. Scott found a section of a roll of a Beethoven piece and sent over a series of scans- we both instantly liked the patterns in ‘page 4’ so I imported this segment to a 3d modelling programme to recreate the original grid, borrowed a desktop plotter / cutter from a friend to create the stencils and sandblasted a series of tests on different types of glass – a borosilicate drawn tube, a mold-pressed kilner jar, panels of window glass and mirror.
Beethoven 'Moonlight Sonata' pianola roll fragment

Kilner Jar (Photo: Michael Coldwell)

I loaded a backpack and set off to meet Scott in the sunlit plaza in front of Huddersfield station. A wonderful warm evening with Scott’s wife and daughter set the scene for an incredibly productive day in Leeds.

We started with the ‘Principles of Collaboration’ exercise over strong coffee and slabs of cake, delighted and relieved to find that, rather than dulling our enthusiasm, the exercises reinforced our confidence and got us thinking about new ideas.

Back to the music department to set up the lights and the glass and to meet Mick, a hugely talented Leeds-based PhD student in Moving Image that Scott had invited to work with us to document the project, particularly taking still shots of the glass objects themselves. He was instantly engaged, pulling out his camera to begin work and making excellent suggestions – the results are wonderful. We’ve asked him to help us with filming performances too. It’s great to have him on the team.

We finished the day with a review of the work so far and animated plans for the months ahead strolling through the afternoon sunshine– exciting times  

Borosilicate tube end (Photo: Michael Coldwell)

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