As the Be Open Sound Portal passes into the hands of two of London’s most dynamic creative schools, the very limitations of the experience it offers – an unparalleled, immersive sound experience normally only experienced by a privileged few for highly specific technical reasons – will be tested to the full. Looking at the work of some of the individuals who will guide students through this experimental process may give us an idea which direction the exploration may take.
In the summer of 2011, Colin Priest created a sound and action installation comprising 100 bicycle bells which were situated at critical experiential points along the Greenway, Capital Ring towpath and Stratford High St. The aim, said Colin, was to “wake up an area of the East End that maybe people were unaware of.” Priest is an inspirational figure capable of combining educational and artistic activity to aid and complement the development of new areas in London, particularly the area around the Olympic Park near where he lives. What is also interesting is the way he uses sound to highlight activity. Sound is not the goal in itself but a measure.
He is part of a team that will use the Be Open Sound Portal for a series of investigations into sound as metre for how space is experienced. The team is led by Dr. Kenneth Wilder, who is course director of the MA Interior and Spatial Design Course Director at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Speaking about the MA course, he says: “We have a very broad range of what we consider interior design practice,” he says. “But we have a very real concern with how people inhabit space.” The academic team at Chelsea College of arts and design will use the Sound Portal to further this investigation.
Having practiced and taught interior design and architecture, Wilder’s own art practice combines video with sculptural object. Wilder who studied at the Royal College of Art, and did his doctorate at Chelsea, has exhibited in both the UK and Germany. His work focuses on the philosophical aspects of the spectatorship of video and painting, and its relationship to architectural space. As a result the Working with Interior Spatial Design students from all levels, Priest and colleague Dan Scott will support the creation of an experimental light and sound-scape for installation in the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground, the large square at the heart of Chelsea College of Art and Design
Conversely the team at Central St. Martins, will use the Be Open Sound Portal as an incubator or catalyst for multi-disciplinary working. Each of their sessions is intended to test out the promise of the knowledge gained from the notion of crossing borders between disciplines by asking the question ‘What knowledge is produced by ‘contamination’ in the creation of sound art?’ This team which will examine the distinctions in the teaching of art and attempt to blur them is led by Christabel Harley who has taught Critical Studies on the Fine Art BA Degree at Central St Martins for 12 years and frequently examine the way in which art is taught.
She is joined by Matt Lewis a sound artist who has continually sought to extend the possibilities of sound as an art form, often stepping into worlds which would have been previously the realm of the journalist or creative writer. The description of a recent work, called Tumble will have to suffice. During September and October 2011 racing pigeons were resident on the roof of a gallery in South London. During the two weeks that the installation ran, the pigeons were fitted with GPS tracking devices and released from various locations around city. The pigeons then flew back to their loft above the gallery space. The flight routes tracked by GPS formed the musical structure of a piece with the coordinates of their flight defining which audio material was triggered.
The Sound Portal was originally based on a highly specialized tool for acoustic technicians and architects to assess the performance of future buildings and then became an experimental performance space. Its potentials will be explored when it is introduced to a whole range of creative activity and tested – if not in a mechanical sense then in a conceptual sense – to its very limit.