The Unsettled Planet

Earth C

Mundus Subterraneus
Joannem Janssonium & Elizeum Weeyerstraten

This is an interdisciplinary project funded by the Brigstow Institute’s Seedcorn funding. We have been meeting up and working in Geophysics in the Earth Sciences department, with colleagues from HUMS (the School of Humanities at Bristol) in order to think in interdisciplinary ways about cultural and historical responses to earthquakes. We have been generating insights into a shared language for research and creative practice in communicating the workings of the planet to a general audience.

Those involved include the head of the project Michael Kendall BGS Professor of Geophysics, myself -artist Shirley Pegna, whose artistic research and practice is concerned with sound as material, together with Tamsin Badcoe (Department of English), Daniel Haines (Department of Historical Studies) and Lucy Donkin (History / History of Art).

We noted that using seismology, we can observe signals on all length and time scales be they micro vibrations generated by everyday activity around us or large earthquakes in the far reaches of the globe or seismic events throughout Earth’s geologic history. These seismic signals are often imperceptible but occasionally we hear and feel their full roar in ground shaking events that can be unsettling and even catastrophic.

Our discussions have explored ideas concerning time and human experience in addition to scale and vibration. We discussed our different interests in earthquake activities, and have been interested to bring about a situation where we could create an experience of the understanding of the earth’s noisy seismic activities on our doorstep in Bristol and on the University Campus.

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The Tower and Bell
We decided to instrument the Great George bell in the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol University with a seismometer, amplifier and data logger. The bell recorded cultural noise in Bristol, but also distant earthquakes from as far away as Japan and other seismic active regions, but with regular punctuation from its own bell clapper. The tower itself is a cultural icon from last centaury, built in the 1920s but in a Victorian Gothic style to reflect the ideas of its funders in terms of promoting the gravitas of the institution – the University of Bristol.

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The seismometer and data logger sensing and recording the vibrations in the tower

As a sensitive instrument it was able to sense the bell’s impact and vibration in the tower and the impact of the cities traffic on the roads around the tower cause the tower to vibrate. We were surprised at how much vibration there was from these sources. In addition to this, here were identifiable micro vibrations from long distance seismic activity recorded over the months. We have recorded the behaviour of the Towers reaction to the planet.

Thanks here goes to members of the Geophysics department for their fantastic advice and help, Anna Horleston, James Wookey, and to Ophelia George of course for keeping up monitoring checks, installing solar power and downloading the hard drive from the recorder to further the research into the recordings.

Fiji September 6th, 2018 Mag 7.9 Earthquake

Film – The Bell – a day in the life of Great George
On chancellors day 23rd May 2018 with equipment and expertise from artist Rod Maclachlan, we captured on film a stop frame complete day and night cycle in the tower featuring Great George the 7ton bell.

The tower reminds us of the passing of time, majestic in its architectural splendour as well as showing us its fragility as a mere man made construction trembling from the vibration of the planet. The film captures the peeling of the bell by the volunteers for the Chancellor Day’s celebrations.

View from the top of the tower

Special collections
We were granted in 6th June 2018 permission to visit and benefit from university’s Special Collections. We were able to see historical illustrations and writings and as a ‘scoping exercise’ for resources, images, texts that gave rise to discussion where the past relates to the present.

Workshop
On the 19th June 2018 we organised between us a day where experts were invited to speak on their research. Thanks goes to Sarah Lawrence for organising the day with refreshments and lunch.

The planned workshop would bring to the fore ideas we had been discussing and those attending and particularly specialists would further the thoughts and ideas and questions of the project.
Our Questions:
How can artistic research bring new insights into the human perception of our unsettled planet?
How might bringing together artists, scientists and researchers in the humanities with shared interests, generate insights into a shared language for research and creative practice? We will focus on: What is certainty? How can we better communicate risk levels associated with ground movement?
Where has disruption and instability in the world encouraged a shift of ideas, solutions and connections? What are the political, environmental and cultural consequences of ground motion – and how do these scale with intensity.

After an introduction to the project by Michael Kendal, members of our group presented their papers and invited experts gave talks on seismic research. Recordings from the data collected from the seismometer un the tower were heard amplified on a large size sub woofer. Time was taken to show the visitors and speakers the seismometer in the tower, and experience in an installation in a car the vibration amplified from under foot in the street outside the university. Discussion occurred at lunch and the end of the day between those attending and were far ranging and of great benefit to the project.

Michael Kendall – Introduction to seismology and the project
Shirley Pegna – Shirley and George (a day in the life of a bell)
Lucy Donkin – Ruined buildings and unstable ground in early modern Italy
Tamsin Badcoe – ‘Steadfast Globes’ and ‘Unsettled Planets': Earthquakes in Early Modern England
Stephen Vaughan – ‘Zassho-Cascadia: seismic histories and rupture probabilities in Japan and America’
Paula Koelemeijer, Oxford University – Picking up good vibrations: Feeling the beat through the elephants’s feet
Paul Denton, British Geological Survey – Man-made seismic signals, from Madness to Messi
Ophelia George – prepared and created a poster with information about the data captured on the seismometer in the tower.

Artwork
An artwork will be made for the completion of the project along with an on line article in The Conversation. This work will take the form of an installation that will enable these inaudible sounds to be felt and sensed through vibration and stone. A rock disc will have grooves mastered within it, which will replay audible and inaudible vibration collected from the seismometer in the Wills Tower. These will be heard and felt via headphones and vibrating speaker box/s. In being made from stone, this ‘rock record’ will have a lifetime beyond our human span, and thus communicates the fragility of our (human) presence in geographical time.

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Clay Record Workshop

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Clay disc mastered with sound

As a spherical disc shaped slab of clay turns on a turntable. In the clip below you can see a vibrating hand-held speaker with an attached pointed sharp tool, making marks in the disc as it turns.

The marks in the disc are the result of the vibration of the sound from the speaker. When fired the solid disc with marks in it could theoretically be played like a record, and play back the sounds marked in it.

DJs and Sound Artists Sonny Lee Lightfoot, Issac Stacey – known as Copper Sounds and ceramicist Milly Hardy, ran a workshop on 31st March 2018 at the Brunswick Club in Bristol that I attended. https://brunswickclub.org.uk/
Here’s a more recent workshop Copper Sounds has organised at the Arnolfini Bristol.
https://www.arnolfini.org.uk/blog/hello-copper-heads
The ceramic studio is here:
https://www.wiltshireceramicstudio.co.uk

I have been speaking with the artists about the ideas around making a disc out of stone instead of clay. We discussed various ways this could be done with diamond cutting equipment or lasers and types of stone or other materials that could be used. The stone samples we are going to try out first are alabaster, soap stone, blue lias, marble and obsidian.

Also at the workshop was sound artist and DJ Graham Dunning. Dunning is known for his Mechanical Techno constructions and performances. It was great to construct with his help a near instant version of his ideas using a tier of discs that when played created repeated rhythms. Here’s my own creation made in the workshop that day in the clip below.

https://tickets.partyforthepeople.org/events/3867-workshop-modified-records-for-mechanical-techno

LISTENING TO STARS BY STARLIGHT

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photo Tanya Coulson

A hay field at midnight – midsummer – in Oxfordshire at the festival Supernormal 2017

People gathered at the Octopolis venue – a bird hide – part of the outside secret woodland cinema curated by BEEF for Supernormal17.
https://www.supernormalfestival.co.uk/programme

Nearly a hundred people turned up to experience the work walking in single file along a narrow path through a hay field in the moonlight.

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Speaker carriers, there were six of them, were dispersed along the line of walkers. Every so often the line stopped and people listened while people’s eyes became accustomed to the darkness.

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Please use head phones to listen

This is one of the tracks used in the walk. The sources of sound are all received from outside our earth’s atmosphere emanating from stars – pulsars at different distances and our own sun.

At the end of the field the line of promenaders followed the lead walker back along the path they’d just walked. Like a sedentary dance the outward walkers passed the returning walkers along the line, and their sounds crossed creating another version of the star sounds to listen to.

The quality of the summer air, the night sounds, the recorded star sounds and the clouds revealing the moon, prompted one of the walkers to say that it had made the experience of the vastness ‘above’ more vivid.

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CYMBALOLOGY AT SUPERNORMAL August 5th 2017

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Richie Smith at last found a venue keen to have his idea incorporating his collection of 25 cymbals, up till now, and for the last few decades, stacked in a cupboard at home.
https://www.supernormalfestival.co.uk/programme/cat_workshop
Supernormal 2017 welcomed his idea of a performance/installation with the cymbals offering the woods at the festival grounds in Braziers Park, Oxfordshire as a venue.

As he announced, it was a double first, to install all of the cymbals after so long, PLUS having the family performing and improvising together, which had never happened before.

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After the 35 minute performance, Richie explained that it was a pleasure to have such a first experience for those reasons, but from where the audience was listening they may not have heard the full potential of the sounds that came from the metal percussion as some of the frequencies could only be heard up close. He therefore invited them all in to try for themselves, which they all did!

Here are the audience playing the cymbals for themselves…

‘As it happens such a unique experience will never happen again where my partner and I and our two sons will play altogether for the first time. Thanks Supernormal it was a gas.’ Richie Smith – joined by his family Will Pegna, Louie Pegna and Shirley Pegna.

[For the whole 35 minutes see https://vimeo.com/232147409

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TOUCH DOWN IN ICELAND – July 16th 2017


Flight to Isafjordur
Please listen with headphones to all the sound

Exploration of the landscape via a hydrophone, geophone, contact mic, shotgun mic, pair of omni mics offered up experiences of the radically different terrain and these sonic experiences allowed me to feel more part of the environment – rocks, water, ice and all.

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View from Bolafell Mountain 625m high looking out in the direction of Greenland. Here the snow and ice stays on the high ground through the summer.

The strange surfaces of rock, lava, peat, water courses and unfamiliar crust embellishment on the land tempted me to want to find out what sound signal and vibration could be experienced from this new place.

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Please listen with headphones to all sound

Sound from under the ground

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Shih Yu and Katherine filming at the jetty.

Sound through the jetty via hydrophones

Hydrophone on the jetty

Hydrophone on the jetty

Here at the jetty at Isafjordur, sounds travelling through air and water picked up through the fabric of an iron and wood jetty were picked up with an Aqua hydrophone.

Water was on the move everywhere down the sides of the fjords. Here’s the sound of a stream picked up with an Aquarian Audio H2A hydrophone with particular icy quality.

Sound of the small stream

The AKG C568B shot gun mic and geophone-senor-RTC-4-5hz-375ohm and Sound Devices 744T recorded were also very exciting to work with. Thanks to SARU (Sonic Arts Research Unit) at Oxford Brookes University, I was able to try a variety of different pieces of equipment lent to further my process of working recording sound through the air and through materials other than air.

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Ready to record

Thanks to artist Katherine Lyons-Burk for an invitation to collaborate by contributing to the sound for her work concerning identity in the landscape and go to Iceland. I was able to work with her and filmmaker Shih Yu Chu, and try equipment I have not used before. Katherine was invited to work at an Arts Iceland Residency.
http://www.transartists.org/air/artsiceland.

The resulting video collaboration, Contested Landscapes, was created in just over a week. It is part of Katherine’s project working with the organisation Mind that is concerned with mental health issues. Katherine also created workshops in Norfolk (Autumn 2017) with young people based on identity following on from her work in Isafjordur.


Contested Landscapes

I’m pleased to have been invited back to Arts Iceland to create work supported by their Residency in Isafjordur in the Westfjords. I feel I have only just scratched the surface of possibilities of both the culture and landscape with the trip this summer, which offered a taste of otherness.

I especially loved the Arctic Terns and their acrobatics. This one however did not like me and here’s the evidence of its rather accurate dive bomb! Too close for comfort!

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BEYOND CHAOS with a new PERIPATETIC STAR WALK

With the sound of Pulsars on several hand held speakers, two performers inadvertently walked in to the crypt of St John’s Church, infiltrating a famous artwork….

https://vimeo.com/239136663

Accidental infiltration into – Line Describing A Cone by Anthony McCall
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/mccall-line-describing-a-cone-t12031

Our peripatetic journey through St John’s Church, in the vaults and outside the gates into the traffic filled streets, on their Video Club Night maybe added to and created some ‘chaos’ to the event Beyond Chaos! Waterloo, London.

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BEEF – Bristol Experimental and Expanded Film – contributed several works to an evening of works. http://www.beefbristol.org/
As a member of BEEF I was part of this cohort of artists, and brought a version of Pulsars where I experimented with using the Pulsar star sounds on 4 speakers held by two people. The speaker holding performers made there way round the visiting different spaces.

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Speakers and Mp3s

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Pulsars At Audiograft 2017

Performer carrying the sound in the space -photo Pier Corona

Performer carrying the sound in the space -photo Pier Corona

Listening to extremely far off sourced sounds has kept me engaged over the last few months. Radio waves from Jodrel Bank (UK) and the Parks radio telescope (Australia) have prompted me to think of the un-imaginable distances these sounds travel to our ears. For instance…

Crab Pulsar B0531+21 – 6,500 light-years from Earth
Vela Pulsar PSR B0833-45 – 1,000 light-years from Earth
PRS B0329-45 – approximately 3,500 light-years from outside our Galaxy
Our closest star, the Sun – 8.2 light-minutes from Earth
http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/research/pulsar/Education/Sounds/sounds.html
(18.09.2017)

Audience passing the speakers

Audience passing the speakers

– photo Pier Corona

Pulsars was performed in the Holywell Music Room at the Audiograft 17 Festival in Oxford. http://www.audiograft.co.uk/programme/thursday/

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Holywell Music Room Floor Plan

Twelve performers holding small battery operated speakers were dispersed all around the auditorium, the multiple sound sources being amongst the audience. The performers were seated at first, but moved about in some sections of the piece, accentuating the spatial element of the work.

During the 20minute piece each speaker played had it’s own dedicated track of sound, like an orchestral part. The sounds emanated from the performers MP3 player, attached to the speaker.

Each star had a section of the piece where variations of mainly the same star could be heard. Different rhythmic pulses heard in the work corresponded to the rotations of different Pulsars. In the last section of the piece all the performers gathering together and walked out en masse, through the front door into the street

Better with headphones

One of 12 speakers dispersing the sound

One of 12 speakers dispersing the sound

– photo Pier Corona

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PULSARS

A commissioned work for Audiograft 2017

Sky

photo Richie Smith – Sky

Pulsars Excerpt

This is an excerpt – at the moment a thumbnail sketch- from a commissioned piece for Audiograft 2017 and currently a work in progress. This sound work will be a performance of recorded sound heard via multiple hand held speakers in amongst an audience. It will focus on sound from pulsars found in and outside our galaxy. Different rhythmic pulses heard in the work will correspond to the rotations of different pulsars. Jodrel Bank research describes a pulsar as,
‘ …a highly magnetized neutron star, with a radius of 10-15 km. Radiation is beamed out along the magnetic poles and pulses of radiation are received as the beam crosses the Earth.’
http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/research/pulsar/Education/Sounds/sounds.html (12.1.2017)

The distance between the listener and the original source creating the energy we eventually hear is extreme. Although the amount of light years varies for each different pulsar heard in the work, in the course of attempting to think about these distances our imagined landscape is extended, via the sound.

One of the pulsars heard in the work will be the Vela Pulsar.
‘Vela Pulsar -supernova remnant PSR B0833-45 is the debris of the explosion of a massive star about 10,000 years old.’
http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/research/pulsar/Education/Sounds/sounds.html (12.1.2017)

This piece progresses the work I have done in the practical research for my PhD where I sonified live streamed alpha muons (cosmic rays) to an attic in Bristol. (You Are Here – 2013 http://vimeo.com/111437221). The energy source of the alpha muons was estimated to be from the galaxy Centaurus A or NGC – 5182 and situated 11 million light years from earth.

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