Saturday, 3 October 2015

Aeolian, Aleatory

Treesong installation

I was in Bristol again this last week, and had some interesting encounters.  One of the things I strongly associate with Bristol is good art, easily accessible.  This mainly derives from our previous residence in the city during that wonderful period of the late 1970s to the early 1980s, when land art, conceptual art, radical cinema, new photography and exciting music all seemed to be bubbling up from the ground.  Even earlier, on hedonistic visits to a friend studying there, art also managed to figure: I recall that in 1972 we were ejected from an exhibition of kinetic art at the Arnolfini Gallery with the words, "This is an art gallery, not an adventure playground".  Happy days!

Thursday started out as a classic cool and foggy autumn morning, so I went for a walk on Durdham Downs, along with the dog-emptiers and fitness fanatics.  I noticed something odd was happening around a particularly magnificent beech tree: it looked as if a couple of young women were wiring it up, possibly to extract a confession or as some kind of experiment in psychokinesis.  Naturally, I wandered over.

Setting up

It turned out they were setting up a sound-art installation, Treesong, designed to transmute the movements of the tree and the passing wind into electronica -- the wooden collar acting as a pickup, augmented by 200 strings and tautly suspended stringed-instrument bows -- which would both be played through loudspeakers for the passing public and recorded by sound and installation artists Jony Easterby and Matthew Olden, lurking in a nearby hut.  The captured sounds would subsequently be composed by William Goodchild of the Bristol Ensemble into a piece to be performed at St. George's (the venue for the performance of Spem in alium I described in 2013) on 29th November.  So, no pressure, then!

Jony Easterby and Matthew Olden in the hut.
It's a serious business, this sound art...

I had a pleasant chat with Easterby and Olden, the men in the shed, and later on an enlightening discussion with an engaging man dispensing handout leaflets, who self-effacingly introduced himself as a member of the Bristol Ensemble but who, in retrospect, I realised may have been the composer William Goodchild*.  Amusingly, it seems the original intention had been to trigger the electronic sounds by the falling of beech-nuts, but nature has designated 2015 a Barren Year for this particular tree and, as no suitably-located conker-laden chestnut trees could be found, Plan B -- the Aeolian Option -- was hurriedly put into operation.

Even more amusingly (for me, but not for Jony and Matthew) a succession of those dogs who contest ownership of this stretch of the Downs evinced a yearning to pee over the pegged ground-level wires.  I wonder if Jony's enraged cries, suitably transfigured, will make it into the final piece?  Adirato, ma non troppo...

As long-term readers will know, I have form with sound-art, but I though this was an intriguing project, a nice combination of team effort, natural forces, and chance.  If I'm in Bristol on 29th November, I intend to hear the final result.  It will be a musical week; the weekend before I have been offered a ticket to hear Keith Jarrett play solo in London.

* More likely leader and founder Roger Huckle.

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