Threads of Sound, is a visual / sound collaboration around the theme of ‘The Curious History of the St John’s Organ’ as a celebration of the restored organ at St. John’s Church, Notting Hill, London W11. An exhibition for Notting Hill Mayfest in the Sacred Space Gallery, opposite the organ’s new location, invited both visual and sound artists to respond to the multiple threads of the transformed church, and the organ’s threads into different cultures and periods of history including investigations inspired by the architecture of the space; the new mechanics and visual appearance of the organ; and how these may resonate sonically. The exhibition showcases the work of sound artist Fergus Kelly, photographers Philip Pinchin and Enamul Hoque, and Jessica Smulders Cohen.
Jessica Smulders Cohen. Threads of Sound: Expanded Instrument, 2013. Jessica’s practice stems from her background as both a weaver and a violinist. Threads under tension, the relationships between space and process, between form and sound or acoustics, have therefore become intrinsic to both the visual language and context of her work. Activating an existing architectural space in the form of site-specific installations, otherwise known as Expanded Instruments, her practice explores how static sculpture can evoke the potential for movement; whether as dissected looms or sound-making machines.
Fergus Kelly. Spectral Tenant (2013) 11′. Fergus Kelly is a sound artist from Dublin working with field recording, invented instruments and improvisation. Spectral Tenant uses a mixture of loom sounds, pipe sounds and field recordings. Having read that Durufle’s Requiem was to be performed for the launch of the newly restored organ, I decided to use that as one particular point of departure by editing small sections of a recording which were then pitch-shifted to create a kind of smeared harmonic mass of low-end undertow.
The organ is directly connected with English politician and philanthropist William Wilberforce, the Clapham Sect and the anti-slavery movement, as its original home when new in 1794/5, was Holy Trinity Clapham, the church where Wilberforce and his colleagues developed their political crusade to rid the world of slavery.
The diarist and author James Boswell witnessed Wilberforce’s eloquence in the House of Commons and noted: “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table; but as I listened, he grew, and grew, until the shrimp became a whale.”
This comment became another point of departure. I used blue whale recordings which had to be pitch-shifted up, as the sound is deep enough to be practically imperceptible. This sound fitted well with, and underscored, the treated Requiem recording.
Rather than use organ sounds, I decided to work with the principle of organ sound generation, and use the sounds of wind as it is heard through pipes. This was done by making recordings of various environments where pipes could be found, and recording inside them, which filtered the sound of the surrounding space. These are the sounds which open the piece.
In keeping with the Threads Of Sound theme of the show – teasing out a relationship with loom sounds and organ sounds – I used a series of recordings that had been kindly given to me by Felicity Ford, working with Wendy Morris at The Handweaver’s Studio, London. These were edited into short sections, and an interplay of different rhythms was set up, with these sounds making occasional appearances throughout the piece, traveling back and forth across the stereo field.
These sounds formed the core of the piece, which were then fleshed out by other recordings chosen for their textural and tonal qualities rather than for conceptual reasons. These included hydrophone recordings of pond life, metal friction sounds, struck poles and railings, sperm whale, pigeons and children playing. – with Fergus Kelly.
Laptop Orchestra – of Wind and Breath: The Laptop Orchestra incorporated the sounds of the organ, its wind, pipes, and the sounds of its construction, and the sounds of foghorns recorded in Vancouver harbour, together with Japanese Shakuhachi flute and a laptop orchestra. Directed by composer and sound artist Duncan Chapman, and joined by Caryl Mann, Mike McInerney and Carly Lake.
Crumbling Myths: A collaborative project between Rachael Finney and Merida Richards addressing the female position in sound and musical practice, performing an improvised sound piece exploring the idea of Organ as Voice/Voice as Organ.
Image: Jessica Smulders Cohen Threads of Sound: Expanded Instrument, 2013. Sculptural installation, dimensions variable.
Threads of Sound. St John’s Church, Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, London, W11 2NN. 9– 24 May 2013. Monday – Saturday, 10am – 2pm
Interview with Jess Smulders Cohen