Invisible is a sound installation housed in three of the telescope domes at the Institute of Astronomy, and has been created by the Flow Motion artists Anna Piva and Edward George. With Invisible, Flow Motion bring cosmology’s new emphasis on invisibility, darkness, absence, density and expansion, into dialogue with these themes as they inform the ancient and modern sound based cosmologies of Indian classical music, jazz and electronica. The research data became the basis for a process-based collaboration between Flow Motion and musicians Sukhdeep Singh (tabla), Raj Virdee (sitar), Jim Dvorak (trumpet), Harrison Smith (bass clarinet) .
The improved response is woven into the sound of the installation, along with field recordings from the site. The installation also includes the voices of secondary school pupils who attended three recent science-arts Invisible workshops run by Flow Motion and Dr Carolin Crawford at the Institute of Astronomy, and at Heston School in West London. The words are taken from their creative writing responding to cosmological ideas about dark energy. Participating students were from Bottisham, Linton, Melbourn and Swavesey Village Colleges, St Bede’s School in Cambridge, and Heston Community School, Syon Park School and Brentford School for Girls in West London.
Using the interiors of the telescope domes as surfaces and spaces across which the soundscapes resonate, Flow Motion transform the telescope domes into sound sculptures, each of which foreground a radically different use of space and instrumentation, density and emptiness, turning the architecture of space observation into sonic space, created from the evidence of the mysterious workings of our invisible universe. There are many sounds contained within the performance, all relating to ideas of darkness, invisibility, trace, absence, density and expansion.
The starting point is the sonification of research data that was used by scientists at the Institute of Astronomy to confirm the presence of dark energy , the enigmatic force that inhabits empty space and that drives the accelerating expansion of the Universe. Dark energy accounts for around 75% of the mass-energy density of the univese, yet it cannot be directly observed, only inferred from its effects on the universe’s visible matter.
The challenge of expressing the precondition of existence is the ability to surrender to the concept. Human nature compels us to seize one or more of the infinite possibilities and endeavour to manifest. Here the instrumentalists were exceptional in their restraint, because with such a low level of interaction between audience and artist there were always going to be a few nervous near-silences.
But by the nature of the piece, the viewer was encouraged to embrace the silence and the dark. Scientists are beginning to catch up with musicians in their realisation of the notion that silence and dark are not timebound, but are ever present, and indeed must be acknowledged and embraced in order to truly present something original.
Anna and Eddie rarely looked away from their electronic instrumentation, which from the audience point of view, consisted of an apple G4 and a mixing desk, but I sneaked a peek and saw a lot more gadgetry. Including a Kaoss pad, minidisk with microphone, a CD turntable and what looked like a very large echo/reverb effect unit. It is a shame that this was not shared with the audience, as I think that the artists interaction with electronica obviously mirrors that of the traditional instrumentalists. I wondered if the electronic artists had confused small movements with insignificant movements.
I did have a discussion afterwards with Eddie George about this point and he reminded me that “you have to use your ears, man”. The idea, for sound manipulators, then, is to pay attention to the reverbs, choruses, phases and delays and other spectral filters, and to develop the skill of knowing what and how much is being applied and when. This may be the new century equivalent listening out for Coltrane’s harmonic’s, or listening to the tone of Monk’s attack, in conjunction with the voicings.
For anyone who has ever had the luxury of a floatation session, The mood created was certainly conducive to that atmosphere. It certainly encouraged meditation and provided opportunity for reflection. This is the piece’s strength, and if the audience were expecting a “Big Bang”, they would be in for a surprise. This installation, was not all about presenting a show or a spectacle. But it was no less compelling for it.
Indeed it was captivating to watch the musicians interpret and react to the digital rumbles clicks and whirrs with upperstructural references to a structure which does not fully exsist . here Jim Dvorak (trumpet), and Harrison Smith (bass clarinet) were good at using the range of sounds and textures that their instruments can convey, instead of relying the melodic lines and jazzy phrases we’ve perhaps come to associate with the instruments. I thought that Sukhdeep Singh (tabla), Raj Virdee (sitar) were very comfortable with the vibration between musical event and non event. Their performances underpinned the work with a simple ayurvedic sensibility which , of course, has for a long time been able to enunciate the what the telescopes and electron microscopes are just (re)discovering – This world and its artforms begin from a field of infinite possibilities. Anna Piva and Eddie George are beginning to scratch the surface of a truly orginal artform.
Band Rating: 3/5Audience Rating: 3/5Overall gig vibe: 6/10