Peter Batchelor: composer, sound designer

Old Joe Sound Sculpture

Four-channel, site-specific work at the Chamberlain Clock Tower, University of Birmingham • 27-28 September 2001, 9am-5pm




The Chamberlain Clock Tower dominates the skyline of the University and Birmingham South. Its chimes inform the daily workings of the nearby community, yet they are largely taken for granted - their sonic contribution to the environment noticed only when absent or persistent (i.e. during maintenance).

At any given 'vantage point' within the University, the sound of the chimes can be experienced uniquely: the very position of the tower with respect to the surrounding buildings means that the bell sounds are echoed, distorted and/or absorbed by the nearby walls before reaching the ears of the casual passer-by. Walking through the campus while the clock is chiming, one can therefore experience an evolving combination of bell sonorities; their very source is sometimes ambiguous. This peculiarity is explored in this sound sculpture.

Four speakers have been placed at the top of the tower, facing outward from each of the four walls. These broadcast short compositions of bell sonorities quarter-hourly to complement the existing chimes. Depending on his/her location, a listener can only ever hear directly the sound from up to two speakers, any other sound being reflected (echoed), and so delayed and coloured by the surrounding architecture. In this way, for example, different bell sounds issuing simultaneously from each side of the bell tower (an impossible scenario with the existing bells which, of course, radiate the same sound in all directions) might result in an arpeggiated quality as perceived by the listener. Such spatial characteristics are explored musically in each composition.

This installation springs directly from the activities of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), a collective of composers and a multi-speaker surround-sound diffusion system directed by Dr Jonty Harrison, which is based within the Department of Music at the University of Birmingham. BEAST is internationally respected for its work in the promotion, dissemination and spatialised performance of the sonic arts. It is BEAST's preoccupation with sound in space which informs this work.



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