Soundplay Projects are musician Bal Cooke and visual artist Ewan Sinclair.
The two of us have worked separately in the Additonal Support Needs sector over a number of years and had built up ways of working using digital technology to facilitate art and music sessions. In 2017, we created the Soundplay Dome; a digital musical sensory space that uses projection, sound and interactive to create a unique creative musical experience.
We were delighted to win a commission to create a new work at Paisley Art Centre: we wanted to create something that played with a sense of scale using projection. In the dome, we use a program called Resolume Arena, which plays clips of video that can then be ‘mapped’ out through multiple projectors. It can also be ‘played’ using keyboards or drum pads to trigger those clips. We’d been playing around with this idea in workshops, using found footage from YouTube to make funny little intruments.
Having the space and time provided by the Arts Centre allowed us to film footage especially for it. We wanted to use voices to create the soundtrack and so filmed 4 singers; focussing in on their faces, so as not to have any other visual distractions. The singers would sing a note in a scales and sis this with ‘Aahs’ and ‘Oohs’. To link the piece to Paisley, we also filmed each singer performing a verse from ‘The Braes of Balquhidder’ by Paisley poet Robert Tannahill. We then captured vocal noises (consonants) to use as percussive sounds. The filming took the best part of a day, then there was 2 days editing and then experimenting with placing the faces in different arrangements, as well as with ‘triggering’ the singing clips using a keyboard.
We realised we needed to have the faces projected all the time, with the singing overlaid when played using the controller: we had filmed some ‘resting’ faces and these worked well as it animated the room nicely when there was nothing playing.
The second week was spent trying out positioning of the faces around the room. We had bought polysterene heads with the view to projecting onto these as well as walls. We found that it was just a bit too creepy (!) but also that the filiming of the faces wasn’t quite still enough to work on the heads. We then tried cardboard boxes to project onto and these worked really well for the ‘drum’ voices, giving them a more sculptural feel. Using the Arena software, we placed the rest of the faces around the walls of the room and onto a screen and felt that the variation between these worked well. Using 3 simple controllers (faders, keyboard and drum pads), we were able to control the different elements of the music in ways that felt appropriate. We also used a wireless gyroscope controller to fade in the verse of ‘The Braes’: because of the choice of scale sung by the ‘choir’, these 4 elements (verse, oohs, aahs and percussion) worked together musically.
We shared the piece at the Art Centre at the end of March and it was well received, with people reacting to it in different ways, some as active players, others as passive audience.
We are now looking to take this instrument, which we’ve named The Choraphone, and expand it and work with both experienced musicians and community groups to create content for it. We are presenting it at the old Post Office in the Piazza Centre on the afternoons of Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th of May and look forward to seeing how members of the public react to it.