the concept

Having decided to incorporate elements from the garden itself into some kind of installation, I visited Broomhill in September 2010, with the specific aim of gathering materials and making notes.  On returning home I sketched out the concept for a proposed installation:

Birth of an idea... Notebook collage, October 2010

These ideas culminated in a sound installation a year later in October 2011, as part of a joint exhibition "About the Land", with fellow artists Brenda Jet & Claire Winfield.

the process

The Broomhill sculpture garden is situated on a steep terraced hillside & I had to get the microphone signals a few hundred metres back up to the gallery to provide a real-time feed for recording & mixing.

So I bought 300m of cheap 4pair Cat5 network cable & made up some little balanced microphone amplifiers to boost the signal close to each sculpture.  Everything had to be fully waterproof, of course, as the cables were festooned across the gardens and woodland, which involved much clambering through undergrowth.  Once connected up, the whole thing was powered with 48V from my mixing desk & worked well - no hum!   Miraculously, nothing chewed through the thin cables during the course of the week either!  Thanks to Paul (Broomhill maintenance) for help with installing the cables over the road.

Installing microphones at dusk.
(You just can't get the staff these days!)

Then cabling into the gallery through
a convenient window

soldering a plug

It works!

Listening: Ronald Westerhuis - dog
(hollow stainless steel)

Listening: Mike Roles - welcome to the third millennium
The addition of the microphone adds a poignant twist to this complex & siniser sculptural installation

At any one time I had a maximum of 4 microphones connected back to the desk.  I mixed these down to 2 channels for an almost continuous recording over 7 days.  Each morning I copied the previous day's recordings to my laptop so that I had a continuously growing bank of material for random selection.  At this point I was replaying up to 16 recordings simultaneously to build up a montage with a live-feed mixed in.

After a couple of days I extended the cable down to the lake to listen in to more of the resonant metal sculptures.
(Photos below date from september 2010)

Listening: Matt Stein - Sail
This sculpture is hugely resonant and almost invites people to tap against it as they pass by.  I mounted the microphone low down at the back & hid the cable in the undergrowth.

Listening: Robert Kilverton - Tree
Each stainless steel tubular branch has a different resonant frequency &, because they're all bolted together, it was possible to hear this in the rain. My microphone was at the bottom of the longest branch. (Or is that the trunk?)

the sound (& silence)

I found that, by layering as many tracks as possible, my original concept was coming together: a dense chatter of wind & rain effects, birdsong, traffic, wildlife & human sound: everything that the sculptures were exposed to.  In fact my biggest concern, that individual sounds would be swamped by a mass of indeterminate noise, was completely unfounded: the loud sounds always cut through.

By the end of the week I had amassed over 172 hours of recorded sound, of which only a tiny amount had been played back in the gallery mix.

On returning home, I decided to approach the editing task with a tightly defined process which would prevent me from having to make aesthetic judgements on the value of any particular sound event.  Eliminating my own value system from the selection process allows the listener to hear through the sculptures' ears, not mine; thus adhering to the original concept.

I decided to compile two distinct forms of montage: all of the "sound" & all of the "silence" in a given time period: the extremes.  Hence the work's title: "Sound & silence in the listening garden".

The "sound" montage was simply a layering process in which every minute of the day's sound was interleaved and stacked in a continuous loop to provide a track density from 40 to 2000 layers.

But what is "silence"?  Outside the laboratory it's a relative term.  John Cage wrote a treatise on it & created his own work 4'33", listening to a performance of which isn't a particularly silent experience in most situations.  And therein lies the generally accepted definition.  "Silence is what you have left when nothing much else is happening".  Such is the case in the listening garden, the silence here corresponds to the quietest second from each minute of the day.  Some silences are quieter than others & they say quite a lot about place, too.

Happy listening!

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photos of mw © claire winfield. all other images © martin winfield 2013