Other/Other/Other (for Art that is Difficult to Describe)
‘A weekend of art that is difficult to describe’ is the title on the flyer publicising an exhibition of work by seven local artists in Norwich and I’ve come down to their studios at ‘Unit 5’…to find out why their art (as advertised) is “difficult to describe”…
So, I’m in ‘Unit 5’ now and I’m going to talk to Holly Rumble and Dot Howard, erm, just give us a bit of an overview and help the listeners of “Platform” with what’s been going on this weekend, Holly.
So these studios, ‘Unit 5’, are where you do your day-to-day work – this is where you test out ideas, is that right? So this is a kind of weekend showcasing what your up to?
So this is a two-day event…maybe you could say what happened yesterday and what is happening today and maybe we can perhaps go around some of the installations, whatever. Coz there seems to be all sorts going on.
And will this documentation become a piece of work in its own right then? Is that the idea, Dot?
I just love all the little drawings and er, no it’s very interesting. I wonder Holly, if you could just take us round the things that have been going on here this weekend?
Everything you do on the surface has a sound
We’re now standing in front of a wall with an electric light bulb, some thread circling it and some paint. Maybe you can describe what this is about?
Is that an easy process? Coz I can imagine, y’know, creative minds coming together, y’know, lots of ideas maybe even disagreements?
OK, So, what’s this piece of work here?
So, OK. So, each piece of work is kind of feeding into another, making another kind of “hole”, if that makes sense.
And, erm, have you had many people down this weekend?
I’m gonna have a go on that later. Definitely!
And on the way in I did notice a traffic bollard. I’m assuming you haven’t just stolen it from the middle of the ring road. There are sounds coming from it. What’s that all about?
And that’s what we can hear in the background is it?
So it’s not producing sound, it’s producing marks, is that it?
Yes! OK and er, she’s recording the sound of those being blown up. There seems to be a lot of sound art going on. This seems to be, er, I dunno, there seems to be more and more of this going on, would you agree?
And just, no, no, oh. There’s something going on now, er, OK, we’ll go over here, we’ll go over to…Michael Ridge. Hi. Erm, we’re just doing an interview for “Platform” and er, recording. I saw and heard a piece of your work going off there. Erm, maybe you could describe what’s going on here…?
OK. Hours of fun, I can imagine. OK. Thank you for showing us.
OK. And, erm, Bev! Nice to speak to you again. Perhaps you can explain what you’ve been doing here this weekend; something with mobile phones, I’ve read.
“Love that goes sour”? explain
We’ve all been there, Bev!
And so, as Holly was saying, at the end you’ve all collaborated with each other. The “whole” is more important than the individual pieces, is that right?
So, really interactive and, er, well it seems fascinating and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to come down and talk to you all. Thank you very much – Holly and Bev – for talking to me.
Well, good luck with the rest of the day and I look forward to seeing what it will all look like at the end!
Interview with Kate Roma of Future Radio
Transcribed by Dot Howard
This is a summary of some of the group’s work at Unit 5. I may have missed some things out, so please email me if I have.
other/other/other at Unit 5
30th and 31st August 2008
We arrived at the warehouse space at 9am on Saturday morning, all lugging heavy bags of equipment (as far as I can tell only one of the members has a car…). We had a discussion about individual plans for work and space and any ideas for group projects throughout the weekend, and then set about installing and arranging. The work during this early period seemed to set the tone for the rest of the weekend: testing and experimenting were integral to the work, and was visible to the audience. The space was open to the public from 12pm, and they gradually drifted in, all fully engaging with the activities, and interacting where possible. We spoke to visitors to make sure that the process was transparent, and throughout the day we all added notes and drawings to the Documentation Wall, charting moments in other people’s activity and in the space as a whole.
John Boursnell made two or three reel-to-reel tape loops running through bars in the window, using computer generated sounds and live recordings of the ambient space. It provided a constant sound to which other artists (and public) could respond to. One loop was the starting point for a group improvisation in the middle of the afternoon.
Bev Broadhead set up her laptop, bluetooth, projector and assistant (Kevin Hunn) in a corner, and then ventured into local streets asking members of the public to read a line of poetry into her mobile phone camera. We received the first transmission at about 2pm, which added a nice human sound to the very digital and industrial ones dominating the space. Apparently the proportion of public asked was far greater than the proportion brave enough to be recorded!
Rachael Fisher installed a delicate nail and thread drawing across the whole of the back wall, using a circle and spoke arrangement which echoed the bicycle wheel we found in the space. Having work commitments, she left before the public opening, but in the spirit of group interaction left the work open to modification.
Kate Hodges took up the challenge, and carefully hung a single bulb in the centre of Rachel’s work, projecting a shadow drawing over the original. She moved around the space, arranging bulbs around installations and artists, and dramatically changing the dynamics of the room. Some of the bulbs were on a timer, and at one point beautifully coincided with a line from Bev’s recording: “sometimes things appear”, lighting up the whole space.
Dot Howard installed the Floor Survey piece we made in May. She set up a television for her video, while I set up an amplifier with corresponding sound. It provided a chance for us to reflect on the method of working in advance of our new local version. She taped bubblewrap across the entrance floor as a basic sound source, which was very popular with children. She then set about creating a carpeted workspace and filling it with modelling balloons for video filtering experiments.
Michael Ridge got straight to work on a Big Mouth Billy Bass he had found in a charity shop. It was skinned and suspended from a bracket near John’s loop, with its wires hanging down to the floor. During the day he wired the sensor to a point near the entrance, and modified its sound so that whenever anyone entered the space the fish would twitch and squeal. He also began what looked like a constructivist assemblage, but which was actually pieces of charity shop cassette tape stuck to a board, which he then played with a tape head. By this stage, the room was getting very noisy…
I attached a contact mic to the underside of the visitors’ comments table so that whenever they wrote the sound would be amplified. This became an instrument later on during the group improvisation, and resulted in lots of scribbly drawings where the marks were secondary to the sounds they produced. I also set up the bicycle wheel as a playable object, attaching it to a girder and tying paper cups to the spokes, with the instruction “Hold Me Tight”. There were two violin bows available to play the spokes, and moving the cups to your ear amplified the vibrations.
The group came together at about 3pm to make a joint sound piece. John set up a new loop and then recorded the rest of us responding to it. Michael used his tape strips to generate short bursts of sound. Dot made low creaks with her balloons and a contact mic. I played the bicycle wheel, making drones. Kevin played extracts of audio, which at one point said “I am sending you the message now”, coinciding with a lovely computer dial-up sound from John’s loop. Kate made scratches and rhythms with the table. The whole piece was about 10 minutes long, and seemed to end quite naturally when one of the balloons burst.
Later on, Dot, Michael and I linked all the balloons together to form a giant, wobbling mass. We each attached a contact mic to a part of it and set about trying to generate feedback through the vibrations in the balloons, producing wonderful drones at different pitches. There were moments where we managed to hold onto a chord between us before the balloons twisted away. It could be developed into a succinct repeatable performance if we ever needed anything to tour…
Early on, Dot and I went out to Anglia Square to make new versions of the Floor Survey. I attached the mic directly to my shoe, in an attempt to echo Dot’s visual movement. The results were interesting but not as varied as with the stick; there was more impact and less surface. We returned to Unit 5 and listened to the results, but decided not to install them. I thought it might be good to let the ambient sound of the space differ from the day before.
We held a group discussion before the public arrived, giving feedback on the day before, and ideas for the day ahead. I think this was really useful for anyone who, like me, had had a period of inactivity or indecision the previous day. It re-focused the activity as a group event rather than separate individual pieces. New ideas for collaborations emerged, and we got back to work.
We listened to the group recording from Saturday, and then I installed it inside a traffic bollard, and placed it outside the entrance. You could press your ear against the plastic and hear all the details of the sound. It was useful to have a ‘finished’ piece installed, to contrast with the process work that was going on.
Dot planned a video piece where the camera emerges and moves through the pile of balloons, using them as a visual and sonic filter, and she wanted us to create another group soundtrack. As we had an audience she decided to link her camera to the television so that the audience could see its movements, as well as watch the soundtrack being performed. She then extended the piece by filling a car with balloons, playing the group soundtrack from yesterday through the car stereo, and climbing in with the balloons in the restricted space. Interestingly, she felt that the second soundtrack was less successful than the first, possibly because we were repeating some elements rather than improvising anew, but also that there weren’t any of the wonderful coincidences that there were in the first piece.
Rachael continued to extend her thread drawings throughout the space, echoing the circular shapes that were emerging everywhere. Her work interacted well with Kate’s, whose lightbulb installations were moved around and modified for the Sunday. They were both responsible for altering the visual impact of the space, which is extremely evident when we watch back our slightly wonky timelapse video; it feels like the space has gone through twenty different variations in the weekend.
Bev’s piece evolved, as visitors to the space were encouraged to record a video response to the broadcast poetry. New phrases would emerge and loop, bringing to the foreground conversational stammers, breaths and corrections, which were not part of the original text.
Vicki Weitz (Weitz & Muller) arrived in the afternoon with her family. Her sons were very eager to join in with the various activities, particularly with Michael’s electronics, so we turned the second half of the afternoon into an impromptu workshop. I taught them how to generate sounds from a broken speaker cone they had found, and Michael gave a brief circuit bending/contact mic demonstration, which resulted in one of them giving a short sound performance to the rest of us. I like the fact that the event was flexible in its positioning of audience and artist; when visitors arrived it reconfigured the activity and the focus of work, so that we were being visitor-specific as well as site-specific. I think the original objective of ‘opening up the process of making live/durational art’ was achieved.
Michael’s work was perhaps the most durational of all the work there. He seemed to be constantly performing/experimenting , which given the preoccupation with noise in his work is quite a hard thing to be able to sustain. Likewise, he managed to respond to other performers throughout the weekend, creating dialogues with smaller sounds, and providing a ‘dynamic range’ for the space.
John had produced five or six loops by the end of the second day, which were gradually taped up on the wall around him. He said he felt that a lot of the time he was “battling with technology”, but that he enjoyed working on a series of sounds for a continuous period.
As people started clearing away and going home I decided to do a final sound piece using my parabolic microphone, focused on Dot’s bell (a small bell attached to a helium balloon which had been drifting around the space all weekend like a ghost cat). It amplified the tinkling, but also the scuffles and movement of people packing up, and is captured in a loop.
Michael and Dot took great pleasure in bursting all the balloons, which is captured on video. Final photos were taken of the Documentation Wall (it had grown immensely over the two days). As we were just about ready to leave the clouds opened and an enormous thunderstorm threatened to flood the room. I was left thinking about how different the project might have been if we had had the thudding of heavy rain all weekend…