Big Ben (version 3)

September 24, 2008 at 6:50 pm (Big Ben Composition - Prototype 2)

Whilst spending the last week gradually moving house (once again!) I feel I have slightly neglected reflecting on the progress of my work. For the past week or so, I have continued working on my Big Ben composition, trying to push it forward in what I believe is a more interesting direction.

The piece has transformed a fair bit since I started working with the materials I have collected. However, the elements used in the first draft of the piece and the later versions are very much the same; a cut-out clock face of Big Ben, segments of a map denoting the locations I stood in and the area I travelled around, as well as the set of images and sound recordings gathered during my journey. Also, I have still used North (or the position of 12 o’clock) as the ‘present moment’ the viewer is experiencing. So for example when the Roman numeral ‘III’ is aligned vertically with North, the image of Big Ben reads 12.15 and you hear Big Ben chime (if that makes sense). I wanted to avoid using rotating clock hands, since they would get in the way of the image, reducing its powerful.

I decided to juxtapose all these elements to reveal both my method for approaching the composition, as well as my exploration of the material itself. Something wasn’t working though. The piece felt too static. The stuttered motion of the clock seemed rigid and, on the whole, didn’t really produce the feeling of movement around the space I was intending. From the feedback I got, the clock-face itself was perhaps too dominant, over-powering the image in the center.

Back to the drawing board!

After spending some time in photoshop separating the areas of the clock-face and making parts of it opaque, I began playing with the images once again. I decided to use different parts of the visuals to represent different aspects of my composition; the centre being the recorded image, the numbers on the clock being the timing mechanism of the piece, the outer layer of the clock being the direction/speed of my journey and finally the map segments showing my movement from one location to the next.

To bring out the feeling of movement in the composition I experimented with rotating each area of the clock face in different directions. I also thought it’d be interesting to echo the image in the centre outwards through each area, but obscure them slightly by layering the images at different angles and rotating them as well! I introduced a sepia colour to the central image and map (when positioned North) linking location to image, as well as bringing them both to the fore. I coloured the numbers on the clock red to the same effect.

I tried compositing the images in the centre, giving each photo a 5 second duration with a gradual fade out. This overlapping appealed to me and seemed to create a more fluid transition between the moments I had captured with my camera. To me, this felt closer to how I experienced my journey, not as isolated occurrences of images or sounds as defined by time, but as a something continuously evolving, a constant search for the next shot or perspective on the soundscape. I decided to layer the sound in the same way, using a 5 second duration with fade.

During the making of the piece, I tried to get as much feedback from people as possible and not let my attachment and perspective on the work invalidate any criticism (as difficult as it is!) One of the key comments/feedback that helped me progress was that the visual element was dominant. I could definitely see what they meant. I think this was also due to the fact that the sound is quiet during the rotation and is very much left in its natural state (no effects or gestural manipulation). This made me think more about the balance between sound and image in the piece. Could the visual be dominant whilst the clocks rotating, then as we travel back to previous events (in timeline B) the sound becomes dominant? How far could I explore this dynamic and what would be the most interesting approach?

The absence of the image. Big Ben chimes and we descend in to the part of the map where I first made my sound recording, the bank opposite Westminster. Total DARKNESS.

Since I only made sound recordings on that day it made sense to just use sound to express the ambience of the place, solely exploring the sonic activity and relationships that happened whilst I was there. I found my solution, but how was I going to approach it?

Originally I wanted to make 4 versions of ‘events’, in other words, four different relationships between the three elements; seaguls, police sirens and gongs of Big Ben. But, I’ve decided this too would be quite static and get boring after a few loops.

So now what I intend to do over the next two weeks is integrate maxMSP into the piece; creating 5 versions of activity for each element, then use max to randomly selected one activity for each element and then layered them everytime the image is absent. This will give a total of 125 different versions of events – much more exciting! To me these unexpected combinations of sounds will closer reflect the chance relationships that occur within London’s soundscape. The uncertainty of past events will be prevalent, as in Rashomon.

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