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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

06 July 2011

Drone noise weekend with Jamie Reid and the Organ of Corti

LAST WEEKEND I managed to record two drone-emitting sound sculptures: the Unity Stone at Jamie Reid’s The Ragged Kingdom at the Isis Gallery off City Road, and liminal’s Organ of Corti by St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Organ of Corti was the subject of a presentation at a recent day-long event held at the Sonic Art Research Unit.  But no one was letting on exactly what it sounded like.

The Organ is a sonic crystal , that is, an upright array of cylinders which has a scattering effect on sound waves passing through it:


This is a 3D view of it, and in real life it’s big enough for people to step up and walk through the short passageway among the columns:


Yes yes, but what’s it sound like? While I was waiting to go up and record, I watched a few tourists clamber onto the Organ’s platform and look around inside. All seemed to treat it as a visual rather than an auditory experience, gurning and waving at their friends through the optically-distorting perspex. Right enough the effect is quite subtle, as you can hear:


What’s interesting is how the droning sound isn’t the product of resonance or vibration (as I understand it). A visual equivalent would be something like a sculpture that could alter the colour spectrum of light rays passing close by it.

About a mile to the north in the Isis Gallery on Wenlock Road in Hoxton, formerly a laundry depot, was Jamie Reid’s The Ragged Kingdom show, billed as a ‘Peace Camp in our midst’.


Eight teepees representing the solstices and equinoxes of the year are arranged in a circle, with a smooth black granite pillar in the middle. On the opening night a cheerful, friendly man who seemed to be responsible for making it told me that it weighed half a ton.

The pillar has a square cross-section, about ten inches wide, and it rises to a height of just over four feet. The top half of the pillar is divided by two vertical cuts perpendicular to each other to make four equal-sized sections. (You’ll have guessed that the batteries in my camera had gone flat.)

When the top is made wet with water, and up to four people then rub it vigorously with the palms of their hands, a deep resonant drone grows in intensity. Perhaps it’s similar to how Tibetan singing bowls work.

On the following day I made this recording with the help of two other people who happened to be there, including someone from the Isis gallery whose voice you can hear towards the end:


The Ragged Kingdom is well worth visiting. All music-based youth culture needs a visual identity, and Jamie Reid’s work for the Sex Pistols played a huge role in defining the punk graphic style. The ecospiritual angle to Reid’s recent work seems a forlorn source of hope if you’re a materialist. But it’s good that Reid has remained true to what moves him.

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