Sep 212012

A live performance / installation series exploring vocal improvisation and drawing

Traces in/of/with sound was part of my AHRC funded PhD research into the creative process in sound art and a series of research periods juxtaposing the relationship between a fixed film of digitally mediated drawings and improvised and digitally processed voice. The initial idea for Traces in/of/with sound resides in the realm of visual music and my interest in the influence that the relationship between sound and image has on the music that is produced.

The National Film Board of Canada documentary The animator as musician: documentary, part of Norman McLaren, The Master’s Edition(Barbeau, 2005), talks about the work of one of the early exponents of visual music, in which I found the above stills. They reminded me of some of my drawings, and I found the connection with music established by Norman McLaren intriguing. Furthermore, in his book Lines: A Brief History, Tim Ingold (2007) draws attention to archetypal origins of such engagements with lines. This very much chimed with my interest in creating in a synthesis between raw humanity if you will and technology, usually expressed in my live voice / processing work [1].

In the liner notes to Folio and 4 Systems Earle Brown (2006) talks about the connection of still images made active and temporal through movement of the eye along them and earlier in the 20th century Paul Klee transferred this principle into much of his paintings. In this vein I have been looking towards motion as one connecting device, a principle also outlined by Niall Moody (2009). Traces in/of/with sound follows on from the previous explorations into the principle through my mobile phone project override, for example.

Whilst initially I looked towards eye tracking to establish this connection through movement, the focus later shifted towards movement in sight and sound, and through that to audio-visual spatiality.

So far the project has seen five performances, each with differing audio-visual configurations, from mono/1-screen to 8-channel/2-screen (see below). I am currently preparing an installed version for November at GV Gallery. The core visual material also changed during this time.

Before perusing the individual versions below, here is a short excerpt of the work:


Equally, there is a synaesthesic bond between the clumped harmonies and phantom delays of Iris Garrelfs and the playful squiggles that curl and writhe across the black – an illusion of elasticity and motion where there is none, co-authored by sound and image. ATTN Magazine


[1] An article by Brandon LaBelle discussing this relationship in my work is at


Version 1: spring 2010: Sounds at the Muse

venue: bar in West London
date: spring 2010
film: version 1
sound system: basic, stereo
recorded: stereo feed from desk
projections: behind me, 1 screen

Description of the situation:

This performance took place as part of a music night at Muse in West London. There were approximately 20 people in the audience. I had prepared coloured papers on which people could set out feedback. This however did not give useful results as answers referred to music only. Questions were not set up clearly enough.

When preparing images for the film I realised that they had to be inverted, showing a black background, as a white one would be far too bright. The film therefore was in black and white, supplied on DVD.

The screen was behind me, this meant I did not respond to the film in my music making and the audience created relationships out of random occurrences.


Version 2: spring 2012: Performance Space

venue: Performance Space in Hackney, London as part of Dismantled Cabaret
film: version 2
sound system: mono, bass amp (don’t ask…)
projections: to the left of me at 45 degree angle, on white washed wall


Description of the situation:

This performance took place nearly two years after the initial one. I had made the film longer by adding  more images. I had also realised that white images on a black background is rather hard on the eye – an understanding arising from finding out that I am dyslexic. I therefore changed white outlines to a sepia tone, which also added some depth to the images.

On arriving at the venue I find that the PA system was broken and could not be replaced in time. I agreed to perform with a guitar amp only, however what I played through at the end was an Orange bass amp. In mono. At the beginning of the performance the settings had been changed, resulting in a strong feedback which I had to resolve before continuing whilst the film continued. This had two implications: Firstly the music starts later than the film and the record below is short and also sets in somewhat abruptly. I also found it difficult to switch form ‘techmode’ into performance mode.

However, the projections looked great on the whitewashed walls, creating a sense of cave painting.

Questions from the audience afterwards related to my interaction with the images, how I had responded to them.



Version 3: Summer 2012: City University

venue: performance space at City University as part of City Lights: Transonic Transformations: Chips, Blossom and Hopscotch
film: version 2
sound system: 8- channel
projections: 2 screens in front of me

My Reflections:

The spatialisation worked very well in this space (sketch to come). I realised that this way of thinking about live distribution of sound as a kind of  ‘fragmented counterpoint’ began developing with my installation Parallel Textures. Individual sounds hurtling through space, plus a central sweep for those more connected lines. For the images I ended up using 2 projectors and screens, primarily for technical reasons as the central projector was very noisy. I felt this was an interesting arrangement and could be developed, for example, by using even more projectors and screens, with images fading in and out in a similar way to the sound. Perhaps at some point, as I become used to the images,  I also need to find ways to surprise myself in order to create a fresh response and evaluate the difference. However, for the moment I am still finding it peculiar to respond to images at the same time as creating a piece of music, which derives from feeling responsible for the audience’s pleasure, therefore focusing more on the sound rather than allowing a free flow of associations to occur.

Audience comments:

  • great drawings ( some people were unsure who made them)
  • some were concentrating on the sound more than the images
  • some experienced a narrative
  • some felt an introspective, ‘meditative’ quality
  • some structured sections: faces, animals, abstractions
  • some noted a tension between static images, framed by the screen, and the much freer movement of sound
  • one person suggested I sit on stage as he was not aware I was performing live
  • some experienced enjoyable surprise where the sounds were coming from

The “film”:

Whilst this is a stereo recording it needs to be remembered that sounds were distributed in space. In compositional terms, musical movement that is expected to emerge from a melodic line for example,  my come from actual movement through space.



Version 4: Autumn 2012: SoundFjord

This version took place as part of  a residency at SoundFjord in November 2013. Check the residency blog  for the details, including documentation of the performance.


Version 5: Summer 2013: Aural Detritus Festival

This version took place in June 2013 as part of the Aural DetritusFestival at the Phoenix Art Centre in Brighton. Based on version 4 it was extended to 30 minutes.

Below a 5min extract filmed on mobile phones showing the double projection aspect, and below that a full 30min single screen version. More documentation to follow


Version 6: Autumn 2013: Installation at GV Art 

This version was an installation at GV Art as part of  Noise and Whispers, curated by Martin A. Smith in November/December 2013.



to come

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