This is a new project with my partner Jane Perryman, based around the yearly solar cycle as experienced from our rural cottage in Suffolk.
We began working on this project together on the summer solstice, discussing the methods and data as it unfolded. As Jane collected photos and material on a fortnightly basis, and based the shape of her ceramics on the changing angles of the sun, I would also be present recording environmental sounds at each session, getting up at civil twilight (for instance, 3:45 am at the summer solstice) to record the birdsong and other environmental sounds in the immediate area. Both of our elements have adopted the same structure and material: 26 segments of time using material from the immediate locale, which, in case of the soundscape, the palindromic structure reflects the changing conditions of daylight by both lengthening/shortening the duration of each segment to match (from 45 seconds to 90 seconds and back), and varying the dynamics, density of events to match the varying position of the civil twilight sunrise and noon azimuth over the period, along with reflecting this in the spatial mix of the sound, with the various environmental elements in the places in the timeline when they were collected. The question explored here is whether the use of the Unintentional, or use of structures and elements taken from things that stand outside of human intervention, make for a justifiable art object?
The sun’s electromagnetic drone which runs throughout the piece is used with the kind permission of Professor Alexander Kosonichev of the Stanford Observatory. This sound was also run through a Fournier analysis to derive the harmonics present and give a pitch series to use in the composition as simple melodic material, which was confined to five notes. The authorial hand is only evident here, as these pitches were used for brief bursts of simple melodic improvisation, So this is a collage, not a mosaic, which would imply similar elements existing on the same plane, as this is a collection of disparate elements as and when they occur in our surroundings. This is a piece of musique concrete, as it primarily uses raw material gathered from the world around us and modified.
After the fortnightly series of pots were completed and fired, their struck tones (the idea coming from the way a potter taps a pot to check for flaws) were recorded and assigned a place in the structure, along with the birdsong, wind, and rain that I had collected at that respective week. The sounds of the pots themselves are the only things altered, although not to any great extent; only slowed slightly (4x) to allow the natural harmonics, that would otherwise be much too brief, to reveal themselves.
Here’s what my friend Tom Hall wrote about it in an article:
Elective Affinities: Kevin Flanagan’s Soundtrack to Accompany From Light to Dark From Dark to Light.
Composer-performer Kevin Flanagan has made a sonic work as part of ceramic artist Jane Perryman’s collaborative project From Light to Dark From Dark to Light. The sonic accompanies the ceramic as one person might accompany another on an outing: there are shared interests and interplay, but also a sense of separate artistic identities. To borrow a phrase notably used by Goethe, we notice ‘elective affinities’ between the two works, but differences too that extend beyond the affordances of the media, tools to fashion and modes of perceptions employed to experience them (sight, touch, sound, heat, hands, eyes, ears, microphones, musical instruments, coffee, clay, noise, clay, wind, text, etc.). Reflecting as it does practices rooted in the 20th Century avant-garde more recently familiar from cinematic sound design, we might describe Flanagan’s work as a ‘soundtrack’.
The research and process underpinning the creation of Perryman’s project has been well-documented elsewhere. Experiencing the work is to notice aspects of gradually changing visual and textural form, regularity, organic irregularity, repetition and process. These notions form a good starting point for experiencing Flanagans’ 30 minute soundtrack, heard on an endless gallery loop. This presentation complements the soundtrack’s form, which encapsulates the spiral and palindromic nature of musical pitch and a telescoped, Viconian cyclical year. The 26 divisions within Perryman’s work are also reflected in the sectional temporal form of Flanagan’s soundtrack. (The two accompanied one another into the landscape each fortnight as described elsewhere, he with microphone and digital recorder.) The sonic perceptual divisions are marked by a prominent bass note in the piano, with the duration of each section (between 45 and 90 seconds) and other aspects of the soundtrack being determined by the ever-changing ratio between the duration of night and day.
The other sonic components that make up the soundtrack are readily apparent to the ear. We notice interplay between the simple piano musical ‘gestures’ and semi-improvised soprano saxophone responses. Speaking in January 2021, Flanagan described an interest in how closely these ‘are touching upon each other’ – we may compare this with the placement between Perryman’s ceramic artefacts in the gallery space. The minimalistic cluster of five repeatedly reordered notes we hear are derived from analysis of the low rumbling drone we sense underpinning the soundtrack, a ‘sonification’ by Professor Alexander G. Kosovichev of data recordings of solar oscillations.
Within the soundtrack we also hear the lightly struck, gong-like sounds of each of Perryman’s 26 ceramics in sequence and may notice connections to the sounding notes of the piano and sax. Finally, we hear overlapping ambient ‘field recordings’ made during observational sessions as described above. Listening, we notice the rich sonic textures the microphone happened to capture which mirror the lines and traces of natural materials which texture the surfaces of Perryman’s ceramics. Blending with the other sonic elements, we notice textures of wind, rain, aircraft, and birdsong, and are occasionally surprised by the sounds of vocalising Tawny owls, or the happenstance of encountering the human-made sounds of aircraft within the sonic environment.