Tag Archives: City Summer Sounds

Tim Parkinson: Eight Questions for Edges

The University of Huddersfield’s Edges Ensemble, directed by Philip Thomas, will perform composer Tim Parkinson’s opera time with people at this year’s City Summer Sounds festival. Tim interviewed five members from Edges in the lead-up to the performance.



How would you define yourself?

A mature student who is constantly surprised by what he is achieving and as a person who tries to define himself on a daily basis. It is sometimes hard.

I’m primarily a composer… of acoustic and electronic music. Normally it involves dots and lines, at least at some point. I don’t think I’m good enough to write text scores, for example. Even the most abstract text scores have a real precision to them… you can hide a lot of ambiguity of meaning behind a wall of notes.

An emotional music composition student, who always likes to try new things.

As a fun-loving kinda guy who likes to listen to jazz music and take long walks in the countryside on bank holiday weekends.

I am a performer & new music instigator, and more recently a researcher as well. I play new and experimental music on the violin and think a lot about tuning systems. 


How does being a member of Edges relate to your life?

It started by opening my eyes to a new world of so many possibilities and hasn’t stopped. The wonderful, generous, Philip Thomas being a conduit to this new world that constantly informs they way in which I think about my work as a composer, musician, artist… I now cannot imagine a world without it!

I haven’t been a consistent member for a long time, but I’m always coming back for this or that thing. When I rehearsed with Edges often, it was a bit of a relaxing thing to do on a Friday. I wasn’t there for anyone else but me, so I left when experimental music started to take over all my headspace. I had been writing some music and essays for a module on Experimental music that year, and I just kind of overdosed on it.

I always found performing in general a bit of a chore and quite a lonely experience regardless of how many people were on stage; Edges doesn’t feel like that. It feels like a community of freely associated individuals who just happen to have found their way onto a stage and are going to do these very considered actions for the next hour or so.

How does it relate to my life? I realise I haven’t really answered the question. 

Finally I have a chance to perform, which I really enjoy playing experimental pieces!

Edges is the T’ai Chi of my life. It’s a mental, emotional and occasionally physical workout I do roughly once a week. It requires deep concentration and effort, even though at times it can look pretty easy to an outsider. Just swap chi energy for wandelweiser vibes and you’re about there.

It’s one of the bands I’m in. 


Where are you now as you write this? Describe what is in front of you. And what time is it?

I am in the Coffee Kabin, Huddersfield with the woman I love. This place has been the venue for so many wonderful musical performances this year it will forever be connected to really wonderful coffee and The Bacon Jam Collective of which I am a member. There is a brown leatherette sofa, some tables and a blackboard with a list of ‘AMAZING BURGERS’ on it. There is a big table right in front of me with some film studies papers on it which my partner is marking and a mobile phone a glass of lemonade and a pot of sugar. It is 16.20 on Friday afternoon and I should be in the studio. Ha! I am reminded of the author Nicholson Baker as I describe the room…

I’m at home, it’s 20 to 2 in the afternoon. Directly in front of me is a painting my dad made in the 1970s. It has a 60s feel to it. Very bright colours, and psychedelic patterns. He didn’t like it, so he gave it to me. I’m short sighted, so I can’t see it properly unless I get up close. If I get really close, I can see whole other worlds in a few inches. Maybe he doesn’t like it because he can see it all at once. It’s mysterious to me because I can’t connect the dots. I would try looking again with my glasses on, but that might spoil it. 

At home on the sofa, flatmate is playing FIFA just next to me at 21:45.

I’m at home in Huddersfield, opposite the beautiful surroundings of Greenhead Park, but my room faces the other way so I can’t see it. Instead I’m looking on to a slightly unorganised desk and through a window that overlooks our neighbours garden. Occasionally I see them doing weird exercise videos or having a barbecue or hanging out their underwear. It’s Thursday 21st May at 10:27.

I’m on the train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, returning home from Huddersfield. It’s a gross Virgin train, very loud in the quiet coach. My laptop is in front of me, and behind that (on the seat opposite) a heavy (and unwieldy) winter duck down duvet, which I’ve had to cart back from Huddersfield on foot, stuffed in a giant lime green M&S bag. It’s 8:15pm.


What were you doing exactly one year ago?

Almost to the day I was putting the finishing touches to my Masters Thesis… coming to the end of a frenetic but rewarding year.

Last year I was an assistant tutor at a sixth form college in Manchester, teaching A-level music and music technology. It ended up being a bit of a drag. I hardly wrote anything and I didn’t perform much.

I did get to see some of the most important people in my life much more frequently, though, as they live in Manchester. I lived in a semi in Withington, a town I’ve always had a strong connection with. It was nice to find myself in the place where the most vivid memories of my childhood are set. It hasn’t changed a lot.

I had to prepare my performance exam but I was planning my trip to Italy. 

I’m going to cheat here but almost exactly one year ago – Eurovision night 2014 – I was in a cramped house in London waiting so long for my housemates to get ready for a night out that I managed to watch the entirety of Eurovision on TV. We then went out, and I was lucky enough to meet a beautiful woman that night I would continue to see for a few months afterwards until I left back for Huddersfield. So obviously it sticks in the mind.

I was in Oslo, performing a recital of solo violin music for nyMusikks Komponistgruppe (the composers’ society of nyMusikk Norway).


What is Time With People all about? What is your view from the inside out?

It is about the person within, the person with whom we rarely engage. It is about happiness and melancholy. It is about being a social animal and about being alone in the world. This is probably a common state for us all. It is a statement on the modern malaise that effects us all. It is about connections, both to our inner selves and to our past incarnations. It talks of a big picture in terms of the microcosmic – or as my dictionary puts it humankind regarded as the epitome of the universe. 

As an insider it is about spending time with people who have become friends and friends who I have got to know a little better. It is also about chaos and melancholy, about searching and finding, it talks to the child within; this child is still very apparent and it sometimes gets me into trouble. Something about this work sticks to your insides and will not let go!

If you made a series of short film clips, filming normal people going about their lives… and then you took an eraser to it until all that was left were these bits of debris, fragments, dents, and impressions. These small details or traces of details, completely detached from their context – the things we don’t normally even notice.

Well I think it’s the real world – natural human movement in time and space, everyday life. No extra musical concern. Especially in movement 4 & 5 I really enjoy and I can feel myself in the reality, staying alone in this chaotic world. Also, I can just being myself, unlike other conventional performance. 

I think it’s funny for a starter. But the kind of funny where it’s because it reminds you of something or someone or sometime that you don’t want to remember, and it’s a bit awkward so you start to laugh. I think Time With People is also about reclaiming music (especially classical music, and opera, and contemporary music) for everyone. You don’t particularly have to know or understand what you are doing or watching to enjoy it, and you could possibly even ruin it by trying to read too much into it. Some bits are very hard, but there aren’t really any barriers that would stop someone with no musical background participating or enjoying the piece. I don’t know, that’s just what I think. I’ve heard people say things like ‘Time With People is what music will be like after the near-extinction of the human race’ and I kind of agree, but at the same time I don’t really care. It’s just fun to be a part of.

Dancers practice an exercise called ‘witnessing’  — one dancer holds a posture while another ‘witnesses’ their form by fitting his or her own body into the negative space left by the posture. The first dancer then departs, leaving only the new posture created by the act of ‘witnessing’. Through viewing this new posture, both dancers gain better understanding of their forms.

From inside, Time With People is something like this. We witness the objects (sounds, people & circumstances) of performance. The audience witnesses us. And we also witness them.


Are you just making it up as you go along?

Yes, of course. Being a teenager, being a partner, being a parent, being an older person – who told us anything about how to contend with all of this. I have always done this until I made the decision to leave work and come to university. Probably the first thing I have ever done, consciously. It was a good thing indeed! It seems to me it goes like this, you make some stuff up then you find out that it was a good thing or a bad thing, if it is bad then you make something else up and just keep going.  

If anyone got that impression, it would be a bad performance or they weren’t paying attention. Even a decision not to overthink is still a decision, and to come to that decision it has to be have been discussed or thought through. Even if I thought I could get away with it, I wouldn’t; It would be unfaithful to Tim’s intentions… and I don’t think that’s a very ethical approach to the performance of any music somebody has composed.

Yes most of it.

Time With People? No! It’s all composed! We’re just following the composer’s strict instructions! Philip Thomas told me that if we deviate even the slightest bit from the score we would be struck off from the ensemble! I’m kidding of course, there are freedoms in the piece and there are choices we have to determine ourselves. But a lot of the chorus parts have to be exactly right to fit in with the rest of the group and sound good. I wouldn’t say I was making it up as I went along. A lot of the choices we make we have to make in rehearsals and then stick to, mainly for practical reasons (what weird sounds am I going to bring with me? what clutter do I have lying around the house?) and then the piece becomes quite set by the time of the performance.

No. I like to be deliberate when performing. 


What is your next performance after this?

I hope to perform at Soni[K]ab next year. Distant plans to perform with my noise duo, Tout Croche, in Montreal. But nothing fixed.

I haven’t decided yet. James Wood and I have designs on collaborating for a new record. I’ve seen him do free improvisation a number of times now, and I found it very inspiring. 

I don’t have any plans after this. 

A string quartet concert with the London Contemporary Orchestra Soloists at Union Chapel, 31 May, 3pm. 


Is there anything else you’d like to say? 

I would like the question I have proposed for my PhD to be a little more rigorous! On the 1st of June I have to hand something in that will define what I will be doing for the next few years. By saying it out loud hopefully it may help in some way! But I doubt it! 

I just want to thank Tim for creating such a wonderful piece of music and Philip for inviting me to help realise it. It’s nice to have something to be doing now that all my degree work is in. I don’t like to sit still for too long. I have a tendency toward hedonism when I’m bored, and that’s fine, but not for too long.

Thanks for the opportunity 🙂 

‘The performer behaves in a situation partly determined by the composer, partly by himself, partly by ambient conditions. There is an elegant consistency which allows each of these elements to manifest its own nature, without imbalance, without imposition. Ambient sound penetrates the intended, is “included” in the music. It is relevant to the situation in which the music arises/relevant to the music, which is ever situational.’ — George Brecht, cited in Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation (John Lely & James Saunders, 2011)



Stephen Harvey

John Aulich

Dorothy Lee


Mira Benjamin



Five minutes with: Gwenaëlle Rouger

Gwenaëlle Rouger_o

Pianist Gwenaëlle Rouger will be joining Mark Knoop on stage as part of City Summer Sounds. We spent a few minutes having a chat with her.

We’re delighted to welcome you to our stage as part of the festival. Could you tell us a little about the works you will be performing? 

I will be playing a piece for piano and electronics called Dans le mur‘ (In the wall), by composer Georges Aperghis. Aperghis was inspired to write this piece by the graffiti that you see regularly out of the windows of commuter trains. He said he imagined that ‘the walls were a type of music, a sort of compressed music, compact, walls of music’. I like the violence and rebellion associated with this piece – it’s my kind of hip hop. The second piece is written for two pianos, live electronics and live video – I will be interpreting this with pianist Mark Knoop. It was composed by Michael Beil, and it is called ‘Doppel‘. I’m interested in its experimental format as a live visual and musical performance. I am also fascinated by the opportunity it gives to the audience to dissect and question the creative process by witnessing the composition and decomposition of the piece in real time.


You say that you perceive the concert as a moment of experimentation for both audience and performer. Why do you think it’s important to have this exploratory state of mind? 

This commitment to exploration and experience is the only way to take part in the evolution of the concert format, and the place of the pianist within it, from accepted 19th and 20th norms to what it will become in the 21st century. It is necessary for us to question existing models. By thinking of a concert as a shared experience for both audience and performer alike, we create a unique social moment and facilitate more engagement from the audience. When both listener and interpreter are sharing in this moment of experience, we create a positive creative feedback loop, which keeps the music alive. As John Cage says in his book “Silence“: “The activity of movement, sound, and light, we believe, is expressive, but what is expresses is determined by each one of you…”


In 2013 you began a project called ‘Urgent Stimulation’, in which you are enclosed in a box whilst performing, purposefully blocking the audience from seeing any visual element of your playing. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?  

My project “Urgent stimulation” is a concert for solo piano in which I play inside a box made out of a light wooden frame covered in black cloth. This structure covers where the pianist sits, and the area around the keyboard, while the tail and soundboard of the piano are left completely open. This idea comes from the feeling I’ve always had that when I am unable to see the performer I feel more directly in contact with the sound. This piece is called “Stimulation”, because the purpose of art is to stimulate the sensitivity, and creativity which is in every person; and “Urgent” because for this stimulation to occur, one must be an active listener, willing to engage. The void that is created by the absence of the performer creates a feeling of something missing that needs to be filled. The listeners are left in front of themselves, and their relationship with the sound.  


You also are one of the artistic directors, and a pianist of the new music ensemble soundinitiative. Can you tell us a bit more about soundinitiative?  What works have you been working on recently and what is important for you in this ensemble? 

soundinitiative is an ensemble of 12 musicians created in Paris in 2011. We like to think of ourselves as more of a band, in which strong links are formed between the musicians because we play together on a permanent basis. We also like to work with composers on a longer term, in order to create this same bond – this is the case with the likes of Chris Swithinbank, Santiago Dìez Fisher or Joanna Bailie. Through our series ‘Hors les murs’ (Out of the walls), we work outside conventional concert venues; our next date in this series will be in an art gallery in Paris, for example, on 18th June. We will be playing, among other pieces, a cycle by Peter Ablinger. This summer, we are also performing pieces by Joanna Bailie, Santiago Dìez Fisher, Mauro Lanza et Jennifer Walshe at the Darmstadt festival. At Darmstadt, true to our commitment to the notion of audience as experience, we will be the associate ensemble in Simon Steen Andersen’s workshop “Extended Music”.


soundinitiative have a focus on collaborations with established and emerging composers, could you tell us how does this collaborative process inform your playing both of the new works and also more generally? 

As performers, we give a body, a breath to the music that only existed in thought when composed. The collaboration with the composer is extremely subtle and enthralling. Both parties must welcome in the other in what makes the core of their personality. This cooperation, and the feeling of shared accomplishment, is an enormous source of energy.


Mark Knoop and Gwenaëlle Rouger  perform as part of City Summer Sounds festival on Thursday 12th, 7pm in the Performance Space, College Building. 

Admission is free 



For more about City Summer Sounds head to: www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

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City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Georgia Rodgers

In the final of our series of five minute interviews, we spoke to Georgia Rodgers, an Islington based composer pursuing a PhD in Music at City University.

This piece has come after a year long collaboration with cellist Séverine Ballon. How did that come about, and how has it been working with her?

I was introduced to Séverine by my supervisor Newton Armstrong last October, and she was kind enough to agree to work with me on this piece. It has been an absolutely brilliant experience and a real privilege. Séverine is a fantastically talented cello player. She plays with several renowned ensembles and is also pursuing a PhD in extended cello technique. Not only that but she is a great teacher; she showed me what is possible on the cello, what works and what doesn’t. She helped me to focus on the sounds I was interested in, to concentrate on what was important in the composition, and to communicate my ideas. She is also very patient! I’ve learnt so much from her and I’m very grateful.

Your piece combines electronics with the solo cello. How are these two aural aspects interacting with each other?

Ah, well that’s the million dollar question! The electronic sounds are derived entirely from simple processing of the live cello. Everything coming out of the loudspeakers is a slightly delayed or layered version of the live sound from the stage. In fact, the question you ask – how do the electronics and live sound interact with each other – is one of the key concerns of the composition. I’m interested in how our perception of the sound of the cello is altered when we hear a mix of live and electronic versions of it. I think by actively considering what we are hearing in this way, we may learn something about our own perception, what sound is and how it behaves. So, how do the two parts interact? I’d be interested to know what the audience thinks after hearing it!

You recently had a performance of your piece ‘A to B’ which is for acoustic percussion and electronics. How does this piece relate to the upcoming piece?

Yes, ‘A to B’ was performed at City in May this year by Serge Vuille. He did a really great job. The two pieces are quite similar in terms of their fundamentals: both have a solo instrumentalist playing on stage and four loudspeakers positioned around the audience. In both pieces the electronic part is derived entirely from the live instrumental sound using simple delays, layering and some transposition. In ‘A to B’ I investigated a range of extended playing techniques, a literal hands-on exploration of the percussion instruments, exploring the different sonic textures and spaces that could be created. In this new piece I think I have narrowed the range of instrumental material and electronic processing in order to concentrate on very small changes in the sound, trying to isolate thresholds in our perception, for example when does a noise become a pitch? When does a discrete sound become continuous? When does the space shift from front to back, left to right, near to far?

On Monday, your new piece is going to be performed alongside Morton Feldman’s ‘Patterns in a Chromatic Field’. How does your work fit in with this work? Are there any direct influences?

‘Patterns in a Chromatic Field’ is a fantastic piece; I’m really happy to be programmed along side it and am looking forward to hearing Séverine and Mark perform it. I don’t think there are any direct influences from it in my piece, but I am very interested in Feldman as a composer, in particular his approach to time. Feldman said that he was interested in getting at time “in its unstructured existence…before we put our paws on it” – our perception of time as a phenomenon, before we divide it into minutes and seconds. In ‘Patterns…’ he uses slightly varying repetition, a large time scale, and other techniques to approach this. My piece inhabits a very different world sonically but one of my concerns whilst composing it was accessing the present moment, by enabling us to consider our perception of sound.

Finally, “Listen to yourself listen” is a term you have applied to some of your research. What does this mean, and how does this come into play in the new work?

Listen to yourself listen is a phrase I’m using (with some poetic license) to imply a duality of listening – listening whilst at the same time understanding what it means to listen. This is why I’m interested in exploring our perception of sound and how it changes, where the thresholds of perception happen, at what point we hear one thing as opposed to another. I think it’s important to be conscious of our perception of sound in order to approach the sound itself, to learn more about what sound is and how it behaves, as well as learning more about ourselves perceiving it.

You can hear more of Georgia’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/georgiarodgers

Her new composition will be performed by Séverine Ballon on Monday 24th June at 7pm, alongside a performance of Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field.

For more information about City Summer Sounds head to: http://www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

Or follow us on facebook: http://facebook.com/CitySummerSounds

City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Mark Knoop


City Summer Sounds is now into its second week. We caught up with pianist Mark Knoop to talk about his upcoming performance in the festival next week.

 You are going to be performing Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field in next week’s concert, which is very much a piece about communication between the two performers. What does this piece mean to you?

Patterns in a Chromatic Field is an amazing late Feldman work of about 80 minutes duration. Séverine and I have talked about playing the piece for many years, so it’s great to have the opportunity to perform it at last. The title seems simultaneously rather dry musicological language, and also suggestive of the visual arts. Feldman actually subtitled the work “Untitled Composition” and is said to have preferred this designation.

“Patterns…” shares its scale with other late Feldman works, but has a more active surface than the big solo piano pieces. I think of the piece as if viewing a small, highly intricate, slowly rotating crystal, lit from one angle by strong light. As the crystal rotates, we see more detail emerging, then the view suddenly changes as the light hits a new facet.

The cellist Arne Deforce has pointed out a link to the work of Jasper Johns, who writes:

Take an object.

Do something to it.

Do something else to it

Do something else to it.

You’ve performed a number of Feldman pieces in recent years. As a pianist, is there something that draws you to his music?

Feldman’s piano writing is fascinating and powerful, also demanding and frustrating at times. I suppose I was initially attracted to the performative challenge of maintaining the scale of the long pieces, but even the shorter pieces have an way of immediately creating their own unique identity. Feldman does what he wants to do, there is no suggestion of compromise or concern with reaction or result.

You’re an Australian performer, now based in London. What was it that brought you to base yourself in London?

I moved to London in 2000 from Australia partly to distance myself from a rabidly reactionary conservative government and the Olympics. So that worked out well…

You seem to have a real focus on performing new works. Is there something you particularly enjoy about performing new works and collaborating with composers on new works?

Of course! I see music — like any other artform — to be primarily about creation. In order to have any relevance to contemporary culture, we must be continuously creating and collaborating. Marcel Duchamp maintained that art is no longer art after 20 years — of course in the performing arts there is a place for re-creation and reinterpretation, but the principal view should be forwards, not backwards.


You can find out more about Mark Knoop here: http://markknoop.com/


Séverine Ballon and Mark Knoop perform Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field alongside a new work by Georgia Rodgers on Monday 24th June 2013 at 7pm, in the Performance Space (ALG10), College Building.

For more information about City Summer Sounds head to: http://www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

Or follow us on facebook: http://facebook.com/CitySummerSounds


City Summer Sounds: Five minutes with Annie Yim


With City Summer Sounds now officially under way, we had a quick chat to Annie ahead of her performance tonight.

Your programme features works by Schubert and Schumann. What is it about these pieces in particular that made you want to perform them?

Schubert was an important influence on Schumann.  Both composers wrote great song compositions and song cycles, and this lyrical quality shines through their instrumental works.  I have always enjoyed programming them together.  Between Schubert’s Improputu in B-flat major and Schumann’s Humoreske, I’m playing two Schumann songs transcribed by Liszt.  They are both love songs, written to express his ardent love for Clara before they married.  Widmung (Dedication) from Schumann’s song cycle, Myrthen Op. 25, was presented to Clara on their wedding day.  Fruhlingsnacht (Spring evening) is from his Liederkreis Op. 39, set to poetry by Joseph Eichendorff.


You are currently writing a doctoral thesis on Schumann’s influences upon Brahms. How does this research feed into your performance of Schumann’s works?


My research is on Schumann’s influence on the young Brahms, specifically on the little known and very different original version of Brahms’s Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8.

Performance and musicology are very closely connected. They are quite different approaches, but for me as a performer, the goal is the same. My research involves multiple perspectives, including historical, analytical, performance practice, and performing traditions, all of which build one’s understanding of the composer, the music, and the tradition of interpretations of the music. These great works of art require much more than musical instincts to re-create or discover their meaning. I focus very much on Schumann’s musical-aesthetics in my current thesis, which are complex, as his literary and esoteric aesthetics are often entangled by preconceptions about his mental illness, a biographical aspect which often undermine Schumann’s musical innovation.  Brahms, even at 20 years old, recognized Schumann’s genius and ingenuity, and became hugely influenced by his mentor throughout his life, even though they met only four months before Schumann was incarcerated in the mental asylum.

You also recently presented a lecture-recital on humour in Schumann’s Humoreske Op. 20. What aspects of humour can the audience expect to hear in your performance of this piece tonight?


Our understanding of humour is quite different, as Humoreske is by no means light-hearted!  The German notion of Humour was originally a literary aesthetic in the 19th Century, championed by writers such as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul, who were Schumann’s heroes.

Jean Paul wrote that humour is represented by ‘an infinity of contrasts’, and that laughter is produced when juxtaposing pain and greatness.  For example, in Hoffmann’s novel Life and Opinion of Tomcat Murr, he tells two different but related stories, alternating them often at crucial moments to interrupt one from the other.  Humoreske is used for the first time in history as a musical title by Schumann here.

What happens in Schumann’s Humoreske adheres to it’s literary origin.  We have two contrasting but related tonalities, B-flat major, and G minor, which alternate throughout the work (just like in his Kreisleriana Op. 16).  The great moment arrives towards the end in a frenzied section, when we hear three fff chords in B-flat major, followed immediately in G MAJOR – a terrific sense of freedom is achieved as he breaks free of the B-flat major/G minor plot!  He has reached the zenith through ‘humour’. The Humoreske is indeed Schumann’s musical novel.

You can find out more about Annie Yim here: www.annieyim.com

Annie Yim performs a programme of Schubert and Schumann tonight (Tuesday 11th June 2013) at 7pm in the Performance Space (ALG10), College Building.


For more information about City Summer Sounds head to: http://www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

Or follow us on facebook: http://facebook.com/CitySummerSounds


City Summer Sounds: 5 minutes with Joanna Bailie



On Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th June Joanna Bailie brings her camera obscura inpsired installation to City Summer Sounds festival. We managed to find some time to chat to her about the work as she makes her final preparations:

Your installation ‘Northampton Square’ employs a large camera obscura. For those that don’t know, how does a camera obscura work?

Camera obscura means “dark room” in Latin, but not the kind of dark room in which one develops photographs. In fact it’s a very large version of the inside of a camera — a dark space with a hole cut in one side to let the light (and the image) through, plus a surface onto which to project this image. It works because light travels in straight lines. Of course I only have a projection screen, not a surface covered in chemicals that react to the light, so I cannot preserve any images, they must be experienced live by the audience.

You’ve had a number of works in the past few years focusing on the concept of a camera obscura. What was it that drew you to this medium?

Yes, perhaps I’m a little obsessed. I saw my first camera obscura at an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on art and illusion about 10 years ago. It was a shed sitting outside the building with a view on Waterloo Bridge. I didn’t know what a camera obscura was at that time, and I was quite taken aback by the image of London in motion, upside down. There was a peculiar quality to the image — I thought it was the most vivid thing I had ever seen. It’s absolutely pure projection of continuous reality, unlike a film with its 24 images per second. A camera obscura has no frames, it’s way beyond HD. It has a level of resolution that HD will never attain. I never get tired of making camera obscuras nor of the effect they have (on me).

Before this installation I made two pieces using a camera obscura, the first with a German scenographer called Christoph Ragg and the second with a string trio. It’s important to say that both these pieces used a theatrical camera obscura, meaning that the bright space that was projected into the dark one, was an interior and thus had to be lit by a lot of theatre spots in order to be bright enough to create a good image. Northampton Square will be lit by the sun of course.

The audience gets a very intimate experience here, getting right inside the camera itself. What do you hope an audience member will gain from ‘Northampton Square’?

First of all I hope, like me, they’ll enjoy the incredibly vivid quality of the image. It’s not intended to be a didactic work at all, but people often end up learning about how a camera works for the first time and they can’t believe that all it takes is a dark and light space with a hole between. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, you might expect the hole to simply let a ray of light into the dark room, which makes what happens that much more amazing. The sound is another thing altogether. It’s a bit more intimate and complex and makes use of a freezing process where the live sound is periodically frozen into a sustained sound. The intention is to make the audience listen to the live sound in a different way, to hear it as a potential music and to experience the contrast between it and the image. The sound is broken up, discrete and abridged while the image, as I’ve already mentioned, is pure continuity.

This installation in particular plays on the boundaries between music and non-music, and unlike the previous camera obscura works relinquishes a certain amount of control to the world outside the camera. Is this balance of music and non-music something that you have focused on before, and what inspired you to focus on this?

The idea of using real life as the basis for some kind of artistic narrative has been the basis of many of my recent works using field recordings. But of course with field recordings you can select what you use from all the sound you’ve captured. In the installation the sound and image are always at the mercy of what happens because they are live. My idea is to try to compose the real life coming into the installation by making a score: a set of (almost) live sound manipulations that the computer has to perform on the microphone feed. The score is quite elaborate and works fairly well regardless of what is going on outside. Occasionally something very special happens at exactly the right time and it’s all just chance (by the way, I recommend coming to see/hear the installation exactly on the hour for reasons that will become obvious!). You could say that the installation is all about creating a frame for reality via the projection screens that physically frame the image, and the computer manipulations that successively frame and unframe the sound.

What’s next for you and the camera obscura project?

Well Northampton Square will be the third incarnation of the installation (the first and second were in Brussels and Belfast). The fourth is set for Brussels again during the Tuned City Festival. That one will look onto a very busy road and will be very different from Northampton Square. Following that I’ll be creating a theatre piece about condensing the last 100 years of history with a German theatre-maker and actress called Katja Dryer, and working on my PhD of course!


You can find out more about Joanna Bailie here: http://joannabailie.com/

The installation ‘Northampton Square’ will be open between the hours of 12am and 6pm in Northampton Square Bandstand on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th June 2013.

For more information about City Summer Sounds head to: http://www.city.ac.uk/city-summer-sounds

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