SHAPING SOUNDS 2
This is the blog concerning the Shaping Sounds 2 research and development project. A description of it and a film about the pilot to it in 2010 can be seen on this page of my Various Guyses website:
We’ve just recently received National Lottery funding through the Arts Council to continue the work over three separate phases during the summer and autumn of 2012.
The project has been commissioned by Greenwich Dance and Colchester Arts Centre and will be housed and supported by the University of Bedfordshire. It will be produced by Jih-Wen Yeh at Step Out Arts with further administration by Dance4 and inkind support form Dance Digital and HeartnSoul. The acoustic technology used in the project will be provided by Akustik Technologie Göttingen.
MEETING WITH DIRK IN GÖTTINGEN
Sunday 1st April 2012
I’m on my way home from spending a couple of days in Gottingen, Germany where I’ve been staying with Dirk Püschel, director of Akustik Technologie Göttingen (AGT) and his wife Riccarda. The equipment and software we intend to explore during the project comes from AGT and this was an opportunity to discuss the project in advance with Dirk.
In our pilot project in 2010 we used a piece of equipment called the siVison (http://www.soundtec.eu/en/products/soundflow-sensor.html). Though this had been useful in some respects I was anxious to look at some of ATG’s more recent developments. We looked at four different pieces of equipment that we might use in this phase:
- SoundFlow Sensor http://www.soundtec.eu/en/products/soundflow-sensor.html
- the mini siTracer (no link for this yet-still in development)
I’m particularly excited by the siTracer, because of its beauty and magical qualities. The siTracer is a video camera and configuration of microphones set on a frame. They look and listen to the same field of vision. The software to which they are connected creates colour maps, displaying the intensity and source of any sound in the field of vision as it/they occur/s and superimposes these maps onto the projected image of the field. You get these fantastic subtly changing arrays of colour, which shift and move across the frame – like splashes of multicolored paint. What’s so fantastic about them is that they are not simply the creations of somebody’s psychedelic imagination, they are a factual representation of a phenomenon that is actually taking place in the room. Making visual, what cannot be seen. Normally this equipment is used to create sound analyses for engineers of things such as car and aircraft engines and trains moving over rail tracks…..it has never been used in an artistic/creative context such as ours before. The possible importance of this equipment to the experience of a deaf audience is self evident I believe, but we have yet to discover if this is so. From my perspective as a hearing person it is fantastically exciting.
(TO GIVE SOME IDEA OF WHAT THE SITRACER IS LIKE I AM INSERTING A FILM OF IT HERE FROM THE FUTURE PHASE 2 OF THE PROJECT. CHISATO INTRODUCES IT, WE THEN SEE A FEW CLIPS OF IT IN ACTION WITH HER MOVEMENT AND SOUND, THEN SHE GIVES HER REACTION AFTER SEEING THE FILM OF IT PLAYED BACK TO HER. APOLOGIES FOR THERE BEING NO SUBTITLES WHEN CHISATO IS TALKING AND SIGNING)
Unfortunately it doesn’t do one thing I hoped it would do. In a our previous pilot project the siTracer seemed to confirm that if you tried to send sound to a part of your body the siTracer would display colour in that area of the body, confirming that you managed to achieve this task. In the end of the documentary film, mentioned above, you can see this happening, when I ask Dirk to send sound to his shoulder. The colour maps are at their greatest intensity around his mouth and shoulder. However trying this out again during my visit, we could not reproduce this. So it seems that the incident in the film was a mere fluke – the particular set up of the room that day meant that the reverberations of sound conspired to re-enforce one another in the space in such a way that it looked like the sound was coming from Dirk’s shoulder. Infact they were just reverberations in the air that coincided in some point in space directly between the siTracer and his shoulder.
My disappointment with this is that I hope to use a lot of self-sounding with Chisato in our research. This involves feeling/listening to sound reverberating in the body and sending sound to it rather than simply making sound in the air. I had hoped that we might use the siTracer as a visual counterpart to this physical process. Looks like we can’t now. We will take the SoundFlow Sensor instead. This is particularly useful to working with sounds close to the surface of an object making the sound.
PHASE 1 - UNIVERSITY OF BEDFORDSHIRE
17th - 21st April 2012
So we finally arrived at the University of Bedfordshire, where we’re going to be resident for three separate weeks throughout 2012. For the first three days it’s just myself, deaf Japanese choreographer Chisato Minamimura and dance artist Flora Wellesley Wesley, plus two BSL interpreters. At the end of the week we’ll be joined by Dirk with some sound technology from his company ATG in Göttingen in Germany.
For the first three days we are concentrating on doing physical and vocal exploration in space.
We started with an introduction by everybody and then I asked Chisato and Flora each to use the space on their own for 15 minutes, as close to the way they would use a space if they were actually on their own as they could. I wanted to get a taste of who they were and what they would already naturally, or instinctively do, before we started adding to or playing with this in any way.
It was interesting to observe that Chisato used her breath and voice in a muted, but quite articulate way to inform her movement. She can’t hear the breaths and sound she’s making but her body is organically following it - or the reverse if you like. This was great for me to see, because this was initially what attracted me to working with her in the first place, so this was an affirmation essentially of why we’re working together - the fact that despite being deaf she displays an ability to unify her voice and body in a way that even some hearing people would find very difficult. The research is to explore this ability and hopefully extend it and enable Chisato to be more aware of it, so she can incorporate more into her expressive language and perhaps use it in her choreography.
Flora did the same and like Chisato, used both voice and movement in her explorations. She differed from Chisato in the sense that there seemed to be a greater sense of theatricality in what interested her. Not that she was being theatrical, or speaking, more that she seemed to be projecting herself into the space, while Chisato was more self contained, more in her own world.
(At this point I have to admit that I can’t remember what was in the discussion that followed. Certain things have been caught on video, so I hope that as I get to review them that I can give a taste of some of the discussions later.)
CHISATO TALKS ABOUT MAKING SOUND ON AND WITH THE BODY
We did a an exercise using voice and movement, working with a tennis ball. There were various stages to this.
1/ Just passing the ball backwards and forwards across the space to each other and trying to gather it with your centre. So in catching it you slow the ball down rather than just stop it.
2/ Holding the position you release the ball from and similarly the position you catch the ball with. Feeling into the sculptural nature of this still position, while trying to stay relaxed and not stiff. With this the pause is accentuated in the throwing process - THROW/CATCH…PAUSE….THROW/CATCH…PAUSE.. Rather than just throw, catch, throw, catch, throw, catch… Within this even if a ball gets dropped the person catching holds the position they finally retrieve the ball in (i.e. dropping the ball is not a mistake)
3/ Throwing with different trajectories, arching the ball through the air (passing), throwing straight at each other (chucking) and bouncing the ball to each other.
4/ Vocalising the trajectory of the ball. As the ball leaves the hands the thrower or catcher begins making sound that (in it’s intention) reflects the flight of the ball and continues until the catcher has caught it. This also includes vocalising the irregular bounces of the ball if it gets dropped (N.B. dropping is not a mistake)
5/ After a while taking the ball away and the partcipants continue vocalising and creating the actions of throwing, catching and pausing, as if the ball was still there.
6/ Eventually the above are done by Chisato and Flora on their own, solo. Throwing and catching the ball or imagniary ball themselves.
CHISATO TALKING ABOUT USING TENNIS BALLS AND VOICE
CHISATO’S STORY ABOUT THE ORCHESTRA
Chisato told a story about being at an event where deaf people were invited to feel the sounds of an orchestra through the vibrations created in a balloon which they held. She said this was a rather boring experience. However she broke off and started walking around the orchestra and was interested to discover that each musician/instrument had their own particular score to work from. Until she saw this she had not been aware that this was the case.
NO SOUND WITHOUT MOVEMENT
We talked about how there is no sound without movement. There is no sound without a medium for it to pass through. And it is not that there is a sound and the medium it passes through, or the medium and the sound passing through it – the sound is the medium is the sound…. Sound cannot pass through a vacuum.
CHISATO IS CREATING MUSIC
Chisato and Flora did an improvisation using an instruction I gave them where the voice creates an internal movement that they each continue to follow. So that as their voices “moved” so too did their bodies. Afterwards I said to Chisato that she had just been creating music as far as I was concerned. She asked how that related to the music created by an orchestra. As when “feeling” music she feels a regularity of vibration. I said that in general it’s true that most music has a regularity to it and for sure the sounds that she made were irregular. However I pointed out that there are genres of music where the sounds produced are irregular and potentially “ugly” in their nature. She asked me what I meant by “there was no music without movement” and I proceeded to mime the movements produced in playing various instruments (violin, drums, trumpet…). Playing an instrument is a particular kind of “dance” that is specifically designed to create sound/music.
WOULD THEY KNOW SHE WAS DEAF ?
Chisato wondered if a hearing person coming in and see her making sound and movement would know that she was deaf. I said porobably not – they might suspect it from some of the sounds she was making, but they may also just think the sounds are to do with her being Japanese. If they had come in while Chisato and Flora had been working together they would not have been able to detect a difference, without being told. However if they had come in while Chisato and Flora were talking together they would know. But the abstract nature of the voice-movement relationship we are working with is already “weird” on the hearing person’s level. So that’s all they would notice - that theire were two women in a room making abstract sounds and movements
Chisato wears a hearing aid. Although she is profoundly deaf she says there is a range where with the use of her hearing aid, she is able to control how loud her voice is, so she can be sure to not make too loud a sound when she is talking. She usually uses this in the studio. I asked her if while she is working in this project she would take this off so that whatever sound she is making and controlling she is only working with it through the vibrations she would anyway feel or sense.
THE INTERPRETER IS NOT THERE
Discussion about the interpreter. I wanted to ask the interpreter her opinion about something. I didn’t realise that if you do that it’s protocol for the interpreter to ask the deaf person if it’s ok to respond, because essentially they are simply the deaf person’s ear. This is odd for me, as I have an instinctive desire to include anybody who is in the room, no matter what their role. When we were going to video Chisato for the blog, I suggested that the interpreter be in the shot with Chisato, but Chisato said no and that we should only hear her voice off camera. She said often if the interpreter is included in the shot, rather than just her voice, some people perceive that what you are “hearing” are the views of the interpreter not the deaf person.
Chistao was saying normally it’s not very interesting for deaf people to watch people talking or singing in a stationary position. Chisato had taken up a position lying down at one point and had become interested in a sound she was making. She didn’t move with it. And she became concerned/interested in how a deaf audience would feel about this. I mentioned that although there was no movement in her body there was movement in her face, also shifts in her emotional expression. I suggested that as part of a performance, if we were ever to create one, perhaps we could have a camera trained on the performer/s face/s close up all the time, and project these close ups on a large screen/s.
CHISATO TALKS ABOUT THE SITRACER AND THE WEEK IN GENERAL
FLORA ON THE SITRACER
FLORA ON THE WEEK IN GENERAL
GUY ON THE PROJECT SO FAR
2ND MEETING WITH DIRK IN GÖTTINGEN
I asked Dirk to reflect on Phase 1 and what had been of most interest to him.
He said he was interested in the delay aspect of the siTracer and how through this there is the sense of the sound “painting” trails of colour across the screen
He would be interested in changing the siTracer to show the qualities of the sound not just the intensity level. For instance differentiating vowel sounds via colours in the same way that different levels of intensity are shown now.
He was interested in Chisato’s exeperience of the exercise where she, Flora and Dirk placed their mouths on each others bodies and made sound into them. He was interested in her ability to describe the difference between having somebody make a sound on her body and the experience of sound surrounding her when making sound submerged in a bath of water. How she could describe where the sounds started and how they extended into the body and how, in the bath, sound is coming from the outside and affecting all the parts of the body. He was interested in this because this is not normally very easy for most people to describe/distinguish, because they are more attuned to the hearing than the feeling. With her feeling sense she’s much more able to recognize the differences in the movement of sound/s. In some ways her sense experience of sound reflects the way the siTracer works. Also that she could experience how two sound sources at different parts of the body blend to make one sound - or do not blend to make one soun for that matter. Not so many scientific experiments are carried out in this area of acoustics, because we are so primarily centred on our hearing rather than sensing of sound.
PHASE 2 - UNIVERSITY OF BEDFORDSHIRE
11th June- 15th June
We started with just saying hello. Having been away from each other for two months now.
Chisato said she thought this was a very special project. She mentioned how she’d been talking with her friends - some of them profoundly deaf, some of them partially hearing. She said they were all intrigued by the notion of what we were doing even those who have generally shunned having a relationship with sound. I responded that a lot of the poeple I know would think that what we were doing was intriguing even those who might normally be quite sceptical, if I was talking about my voice-movement work in general.
EXERCISE MAKING SOUND TO MOVEMENT
We set up something where Flora would move and Chisato would sit and observe her movement and try to make sound that “matched” Flora’s it - not accompaning like music, but trying to be “the same”. It’s an exercise I first remember doing while working with Tom Morris way back in the 90’s during the Walking Orchestra Project at BAC when he was director there.
We did different versions of it:
1: With nobody leading - so Flora would also try and “match” her movements to the sounds of Chisato as she's trying to “match” the movements of Flora.
2. With Flora leading and disregrading Chisato’s sounds
3. With Chisato leading and Flora following
Jih Wen our producer came in and mentioned that as she watched she would not have known from the nature of the improvisation that this was a deaf person vocalising. The range of Chisato’s voice was such that it seemed liked anybody elses. This mirrored what I’d said to Chisato when she’d been doing her own voice-movement improvisation in Phase 1 - that the use of primal sounds is a leveller in a way that spoken sound isn’t. Actually I noticed that Chisato’s range is less when sitting and following Flora than when she is using her voice to her own body. When I sat down later and tried following people moving with my own voice I found my own voice was more limited. But it’s an unusual exercise to try, so maybe over time both Chisato and I might become more relaxed with it so it doesn't affect our range.
Chisato said that from her observation she felt that when she made a sound or changed her sound that Flora’s movement easily “matched” it, whereas she felt that when Flora made or changed her movement she was not as good at following. However of course she said she cannot hear, so how would she know. She noticed me making a gesture, putting my fingers together, as I was explaining that I thought the “matching” varied from being “spot on” to “close” to sometimes being “voice infront of movement” and then “movement infront of voice”. She said she’d like to follow Flora again with her voice and that she’d like me to gesture in the background how close or far away I felt the “matching” was. I’d never done this before and initially had some reticence, because I wasn’t sure how important it was - because whether I felt it was close or not would only be my sense of the “matching” not everybody’s. Chisato waved this objeection away, she just wanted to try it out. So we did it.
It was interesting to do because it created a whole new role on the “matching” front. It was really difficult, simply, with my hands, fingers and arms to adequately express how close or far away I thought things were. Chisato loved it, for her my gestures were another dance beyond Flora’s. Extending this to a performance level I could see how in a performance there could be a role, which would be somebody/ies or something gesturing how close or far they perceive the voice and the movement to be from one another at any moment in time.
The reason for doing this exercise for me is that it stretches vocal muscles that you might not chose to use if following your own body. Because the body you are viewing is out of your control. However ultimately it is training you be more able to respond vocally to your own movements, or more specifically your own emotions, which often emerge from nowhere unexpectedly (like the movements of another person) so this exercise prepares your voice to channel these unexpected emotional qualities rather than stand in their way. However having watched Chisato doing it I’m not sure how useful it is for a deaf person to do this exercise and not also be moving themselves. Interesting that Chisato asked me to doing the double job of demonstrating how close I felt she was. Maybe best to limit it to the person moving only to the voice and not vice-versa.
FLORA’S DYNAMIC COMPONENTS EXERCISE
Later Flora taught us different ways of breaking down movement into "dynamic components": Impulse, Continuous, Swing, Impact and Rebound.
We then added voice to these components. Chisato said she found this very useful - the separating out of the various different types of movement helped to clarify something about the process of matching voice to movement
WEDNESDAY - SETTING UP THE SITRACER
Spent the morning setting up the siTracer with Dirk. We were in a different room than before. Previoulsy we had been in the Studio Theatre, which is smaller and a "damper" environment. This time we were in a large dance studio, which is very live so a lot of reverberations. The problem for the siTracer in this is that it's designed to pin-point intensities of sound and in a live room sometimes the reverberations can be as intense as the source of the sound itself, so what the cloud images point to is less clear. In the Studio Theatre we were able to place the siTracer in the corner of the space and have the movement-voice activities going on across the space and project the siTracer images either side of this. In the Dance Studio we had to move the siTracer into the centre of the room and have the activities limited to a small area infront of it with the projections going on behind it - this was less satisfactory. Useful to know for the future.
Did some basic breathing exercises in pairs
1/ Person lies down and relaxes. Becomes aware of breathing.
2/ Partner kneels beside them and places hand on the person's belly. using the hand as a referencethe person tries to breath only into the belly for a few minutes.
3/ Partner moves hand to person's chest. They try to breath only into the chest.
4/ Partner places one hand on chest one hand on belly. Person focuses first part of inbreath on belly and second part on chest. On outbreath, breath leaves belly first and chest last.
5/ Continue this breathing patern but at the same time open mouth and "sing" out an "ah" sound for the duration of the outbreath.
6/ Try to extend the length of the "singing" by one each time until you reach your limit.
I had hesitated to do this exercise but Chisato found it quite profound in a way. It seemed to have an energetic effect on her - like she felt the emotional impact of singing for a long time in the same way a hearing pesron would. It's an odd thing for her to do - there are no instances in life where she would be required voluntarily or otherwise to make this kind of sound for this length of time. She found it interesting both to do herself and to experience it laying her hands on somebody else. I explained why actors and singers did exercises like this - the need to be able to both control and free up the breath, begin relating breathing to thought and the importance of the diaphragm and chest. I said to increase the range and flexibility of what your voice can do (whether you end up hearing it or not) you need to have a physical instrument to do it in the same way to increase the range and dynamics of your body requires different kinds of physical exrecise and training.
Following the breathing exercise Chisato said we must set up some future workshops for deaf people, but it would have to be a collaboration between the two of us – it couldn’t just be me teaching a group of deaf people on my own. I agreed and said that I had always hoped and envisaged that one of the outcomes of the research would be some kind of workshop programme that adapted the voice-movement work to make it relevant to deaf people. (The next day we used the siTracer to observe Dirk and Chisato doing the same breathing exercises, using it on a level at which it would pick up the quiet and low sounds of the breath).
SETTINGS ON THE SITRACER
Having combined movement components with voice I asked Chisato to simply improvise with these dynamics while I watched the projected siTracer images of her as Dirk played with it’s settings, thus changing the nature of the cloud images that accompanied her moving and sounding. This was really exciting. It’s addictively engrossing. On a certain setting the siTracer can pick up the small brushing sounds of cloth against cloth as people move or the slide of socks across the floor; on another setting it vividly displays the varying and sliding intensities of someone making loud and soft sounds like multicolored flames emerging form a persons mouth; it can be set to a delay setting meaning that the clouds and paths created take longer to decay so you get a clear sense of how the sound intensity is moving over time; another magical setting is one where once somebody stops making sound initially the screen is bare, but as the siTracer accustoms itself to the background sounds existing in the room, suddenly these create a blanket of tiny sound bubbles that spread across the screen like a virus.
THE SITRACER IS ADDICTIVE
This was remarked on by Tamara Ashley from Dance Digital who came to mentor us on Thursday morning. She noticed how difficult it was to take her eye off the cloud images that the siTracer was producing as a result of us talking as we discussed the project. I said this is why I was thinking of both creating an installation as well as a dance-digital performance. The installation would allow members of the public to indulge their fascination with the siTracer as a fantastic participatory “toy”. In a performance we’d have to use the siTracer more discerningly. Any performance would have to be a carefully blended patchwork of live movement and voice – some improvised, some set, projected and/or monitored video images, projected siTracer images of movement over-traced by sound clouds and also projections of just the sound clouds on their own with no attendant movement.
WHAT IS MUSIC?
There was discussion on Thursday about music. I keep on saying to Chisato that as she moves and makes sounds that she is making “music”. For her there is a need to know how this relates to the “music” played for instance by an orchestra. We talked about notions of randomness and structure, taste, repetition. I say it’s true that she is not making music in the same way as say a traditional singer or musician might make. Also that she is composing spontaneously and not in a considered way. But it occurs to me now that as she gets more used to appreciating the different sound sensations she is having during her improvisations that she might in time come to create sound in a more considered way.
Flora suggested “sounding” or “noise” would be a good word for what we’re doing. Though I think “sounding” is good it’s too random in it’s connotation and “noise” is too negative and doesn’t take account of the variety and range of sounds both she and Chisato are making. Flora also suggested “ensounding”, which I like, but I still want to hold onto the notion that what we are making is music (of a sort) otherwise it feels like we are saying that music is something else. Perhaps best to say we are making “music” through ensounding.
I realized that the kind of “music” we are making through our voice-movement approach I probably wouldn’t choose to record and listen to at home, but that’s partly because the “music” we are making is a blend of movement and sound and needs to be experienced and witnessed by the eyes and ears together (and one’s very being perhaps) at the moment of its creation. The fascination is in the combination of the two elements blended together and is doubled when you consider that what is being created is being done by a person who cannot hear the sounds she is making. It seems magic that what Chisato creates seems to emanate from her as if she could hear herself – which of course she can but only if you are willing to consider feeling as a form of hearing. I know that though this is magic for me as a hearing person it's not magic for Chisato or any other deaf person, but it is this sense of magic that draws me to the work more than the notion of doing something of “benefit” for Chisato. However if the process did not at the same time seem to hold any importance or meaning for Chisato then I would bring the whole thing to a close. I wouldn’t need to I suspect – I think Chisato would just stop doing it. I hope that as time progresses the experience of moving to her own sound will become as significant to Chisato as witnessing her does for me.
I asked Chisato to show me something of how she goes about choreographing a piece with dancers. Part of the research is to see how the experience of using the voice herself might affect the way Chisato choreographs on herself and others. She said she would show me but I would have to dance with Flora. She wanted to work on two people to work with.
She instructed us to both go away and find two contrasting repeatable movements each that displayed different component qualities. She said these should include voice with them, which is a new instruction for her as she wouldn't normally ask her dancers to make sound. Having made our two choices we then had to learn the others choices and join them all together. Chisato meanwhile made a short score joining the four choices in a particular sequence (sometimes taking the voice element out of one or other component) and gave them to us to both learn so we could do it in unison. Then we were each given different starting points in the sequence so that our sequences worked in canon. Chisato said that this would be a starting point for her work. From this she would normally build up a more complicated rhythmical structure.