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Chris MackinApr 24, 2023 8:42:19 AM16 min read

The cutting-edge: Behind the scenes of Innovation In Sound 2023

In anticipation of this year's Innovation in Sound showcase, we get a sneak peek at some of the work that our third year students will be exhibiting.

Each year, third year undergraduate students from BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production, BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering and BA (Hons) Music and Sound for Film & TV undertake the 'Innovation' module.

Exposed to experimental music, audio-visual works and immersive multi-channel experiences, they are tasked with producing work outside of the conventions of commercial music and, more importantly, outside of their comfort zones. 

With their work due to be exhibited in a free public showcase at Bristol Beacon on Wednesday 26th April, we caught up with a selection of students to learn more about what they've created. 

Jodie Doherty | The Soundscape of an Anthropogenic Ocean

Tell us about the idea behind your soundscape…

My piece is a glimpse into an underwater world where you are immersed in light and sound, listening to the ocean soundscape through surround sound speakers, being taken on a journey through sound, from the perspective of marine life.

Where did the inspiration come from to focus on ocean noise pollution?

I was looking for ways to combine my love for the ocean with my knowledge in sound and recording. After listening with my underwater microphones (hydrophones) it became clear that ocean noise pollution is a large part of what makes up the ocean and coastal soundscape. I wanted to create a thought provoking installation to raise awareness of this huge environmental issue.

What will people be experiencing, both aurally and visually?

My soundscape piece is made up entirely of field recordings taken from the UK coast, above and below water, but mainly recordings from my hydrophones. The oil lamp projectors will fill the room with light and underwater themed visuals adding to the feeling of being deep underwater.  

This is well removed from what you usually create, how has the experience been? 

It has been amazing, I've learnt so much and learning how to use Pro Tools has been a great addition to my skill set. Getting outside and visiting the coast to collect the field recordings has been really fun. It's been really good to leave my comfort zone and realise that creating soundscapes is something I am definitely going to pursue further.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from this project?  

How much I love creating soundscapes and how tricky working with field recordings can be. It's been really insightful thinking of new ways in which I can communicate through sound in a completely new and exciting way.

Jodie's soundscape will be exhibited on the lower ground floor of Bristol Beacon from 11:30am - 5pm.

Sam Renard | Obviously Traditional

What is "Obviously Traditional"?

"Obviously Traditional" is a project that revolves around the concept of the graphic score, more specifically an AI-Generated graphic score, and aims to showcase freedom of creativity through an unconventional approach to performance. The piece was recorded using various instruments, including a drum kit, piano, electric guitar and percussion kit that were randomly rearranged to further encourage the unorthodox approach.

Three 15-minute performances were recorded while following the graphic score and were then mixed into one final piece in post-production using volume and spatial automation that also followed the score; essentially, the project followed the graphic score from start to finish. 

Where did the inspiration come from to use an AI to generate the score?

The primary reason why I chose to generate the graphic score through Artificial intelligence is to really emphasise indeterminacy for this project, as I wanted to experiment with where this would take the performance musically. I believe we have a general tendency to revert back to what we are either familiar or comfortable with. This applies to many situations, including on a creative level, hence, I wanted to avoid myself or anyone generating the score as it would influence the direction of the project. Perhaps the inspiration comes from a general observation of creative possibilities explored over the past year in the "Innovation in Production" module, where there are no right or wrong projects or creative artefacts, it's just about exploring new pathways. 

What was it about indeterminacy and improvisation that really resonated with you to become the focus for this project?

There is no right or wrong way to perform a graphic score, but there is however the natural tendency to perform in ways we know. The goal for the recording sessions was to capture a balance of both experimentalist styles and conventional styles of performance. With some reflection prior to the recording session, it was clear that if the performers were to agree upon a specific style, key or time signature or structure, the piece would naturally diverge away from the graphic score as it isn't notes on a stave but rather shapes on a page. Therefore, the goal was to let our natural tendencies of play style but also unpredictability to improvise over the graphic score and let indeterminacy conduct the piece. I wanted to experiment with the balance between the level of unconventional improvisation and our human tendency to naturally diverge to familiarity. 

What has it been like to create a project so outside of your comfort zone?

This project was very much outside of my comfort zone and what I am familiar with. I come from a more traditional, classical background and primarily focus on orchestral compositions. Nevertheless, creating this project was a great experience overall. Although challenging at times, especially in the planning stage to get everything sorted, the recording session was efficient, interesting and entertaining. Overall, although the project was primarily outside of my comfort zone, it was simply a great experience in which I learned that working on unfamiliar grounds can be a rewarding experience. 

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from this project?  

The biggest lesson learned in this project was to approach a new experience that is unfamiliar with an open mind. I must say, at the start of the process, I felt unmotivated and quite unsure as to how I would perform in this project. In comparison to more familiar projects or experiences, there is always this reassurance of familiarity and at least some part of you knows which approaches to take and what directions to follow. This project was a new concept that I had not ventured into before, but thanks to collaboration, planning and some perseverance, the experience as a whole was engaging and educative. 

Sam's installation will be exhibited on the first floor at Bristol Beacon from 11:30am - 5pm. 

Alexandria Madsen | -237°

Can you give a brief overview of your performance?

-237˚ (pronounced "negative two-thirty-seven degrees") is a live performance project centred around bringing No-Input Mixing to a broader audience. This will be achieved through a blend of harsh noise techniques, as well as modern production techniques to "tame" the sound. The performance will be a continuous 15 minutes, formed through an improvisatory exploration of feedback and the aesthetics of failure.

What was the inspiration behind creating a live performance using No-Input Mixing?

As No-Input Mixing tends to be a niche technique which is often only present in the realm of art noise music, I wanted to bring it into the mainstream through the introduction of modern production techniques. These involve in-the-DAW audio effects, as well as a long list of source audio I can choose from to use during my performance.

These range from drum loops, to bass loops, to music and synth loops - which are all compatible key and tempo so I am able to smoothly transition from one to another. A large inspiration for the process of "taming" the harsh noise came from Riddim and Tearout Dubstep, particularly artists like TYNAN and Hekler who fluidly interpolate dubstep drums and bass with harsh synthetic noise.

You're also creating audio reactive visuals to go alongside the performance. How are you creating those?

The audio-reactive visuals will all be provided through software called PhotoMosh Pro, which takes both visual and audio input, and provides video effects which can be customised to be audio-reactive; I'll be sending a camera feed through this in order to be projected behind the performance.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from creating this project? 

Throughout this project, I've discovered the importance of constant subtle variation in music, which provides a human feel to digital-sounding works. This blend of human and digital is a wonderful concept to be explored outside of this project, and I'm eager to continue to expand my knowledge about this realm of performance and composition!

Alexandria's performance will take place at 8:35pm on the lower ground floor of Bristol Beacon
on Wednesday 26th April, 2023. 

Kane Train | Beauty Beneath Ballistics

What is "Beauty Beneath Ballistics" all about?

I don't want to give too much away because the project is designed to explain itself and reveal its mysteries as the installation progresses. After lots of struggling to find inspiration, the idea was sparked from recently teaching myself Russian. I talked with my tutor, Emmanuel, about this in a brainstorming session and wondered how my passion for languages could inform my Innovation project. One thing led to another and I connected the dots from music to language, to culture, to the war in Ukraine, and thus had the concept for my installation!

Where did the inspiration come from to utilise vinyl and vintage USSR tape players/recorders with more modern technology?

This was another thing that really manifested itself accidentally. Of course, I intentionally was seeking music related to the Slavic cultures at first, but I did not expect to stumble upon the opportunities that I did. One day, when browsing for vinyl online, I found a vintage USSR tape recorder from a Ukrainian seller on eBay, and I made the decision to order it, even though it had a hefty price mark. It was too good to miss out on, and it was sent directly from war-torn Kyiv in the midst of the conflict, which further added to the sentimental value of the project. I also found some other goodies which I will not disclose yet but, as I say, it all came together naturally and coincidentally. It seemed like I was having a period of amazing luck!

The audio you've crafted will degrade over its runtime to reflect the destructive effects of the war - how will you create this effect?

The destruction of the audio will be applied through digital processing live during the installation. I plan to use some pre-set automation effects that will be applied as a bare minimum safety net to ensure the destruction has the desired effect, but I am also planning on applying some processing effects to the audio live during the playback. 

What has it been like to create a project so outside of your comfort zone?

It has been an awesome experience working outside of my comfort zone. It has forced me to gain an understanding of analog tape technology which has been great! It has also made me realise that some truly great concepts can come when you are working within limitations. It makes you think harder and draw creative inspiration from sources that you may not tap into otherwise! I would say that final point is the biggest lesson I have learned from this project!

Kane's installation will be exhibited on the first floor at Bristol Beacon from 11:30am - 5pm

Jessica Palmer | Sound Pollution Through Social Cognition

Can you give a brief overview of your immersive piece?

My installation will act as a social cognitive experience, whereby listeners will hear an immersive surround soundscape that begins consisting of natural sounds of wildlife and progresses into industrial sounds of our development as a species. The audience will also have the chance to take part in the experience by listening to the reaction of their own heartbeat to the sounds, by holding a geophone mic to their chest. This project is an attempt to raise awareness of the damages of sound pollution on our natural world and our own bodies. 


Where did the inspiration come from to use a stethoscope to provide people with real-time feedback on the effects of noise pollution?

Initially, the idea was to have some form of heartbeat monitor - not necessarily a stethoscope - that would trigger visuals of some kind. However after considering the importance of the sensory experience and discussing with peers, I came to the conclusion that it is important to keep the connection to the listener, therefore an object that is held to the heart will physically feel more comforting and expressive than possibly a finger pulse detector, for example. 

What has it been like to create a project so far outside of your comfort zone?

It has been an interesting journey full of new lessons and mistakes made, but overall I am glad to have created something with a fulfilling purpose and strong motive to help spread the message of sound pollution. The technical process of piecing together this project has taught me so much about production that I may not have even tried to discover independently had I not been involved with the exhibition. 

What's the biggest lesson learned from this project?

Recording the sounds for this project has highly increased my awareness of noise that we experience in everyday life, and made me more appreciative of sound in general. It has allowed me to push my own creative boundaries and understand that every sound that we hear can be used in a piece of art and act as one itself, and is interpreted differently by everyone. 
Jessica's installation will be exhibited on the lower ground floor of Bristol Beacon from 11:30am - 5pm.

Heather Hughes | Entropic Myna



Tell us a little bit about your installation…

Entropic Myna is an experimental noise piece that explores themes of entropy, replication, memory and degradation. It was formed after I was given some 1930's shellac records of birdsong recorded by Ludwig Koch, who was the first sound recordist to capture birdsong.
After this, I started thinking more about birds, and how they possess a form of collective cognition, one that transmits data back and forth through music and song. This led me to think about communication and audio loss. Sometimes birds must lose information, and sometimes perhaps they add to it. These everyday melodies we hear are shooting data across our skies, but how are those waves processed as they travel at great speeds? And how does this constant soundscape influence the ecosystem? I'm also fascinated by birds such as lyrebirds and parrots, which have the ability to record, store and mimic information, audio mimicry in birds is just an evolutionary wonder.
All of this made me think about sonic information and the methods we use for recording. I decided to try and create my own records using re-recordings of the Ludwig Kock birds, being played from a gramophone. I also synthesised some birdsong and added a few other elements to create a type of audio collage. I got this cut to vinyl and also tried making my own clay vinyl, using the vibrations from a monitor with a DIY needle-type-device attached to it. I have then recreated my record - first in silicone, then in resin. A lot of the audio information is compromised but I've been left with some really interesting sounds which form the sonic sculpture of the Entropic Myna exhibition piece. 

It's such a cool concept, especially with how you're reusing vinyl and how you're presenting the final product. Where did the inspiration come from?

This work was partly inspired by Victoria Shen who is one of my favourite noise artists. She is based in America and creates a lot of innovative stuff. She also reproduces famous records in resin and uses them to generate noise in her live sets. This led me to find other people online who have documented this method. I think one video was named 'the most expensive way to steal music'. 
It has also been inspired by Shirley Pegna who is a Bristol-based, experimental sound artist. Shirley is part of BEEF (Bristol Experimental and Expanded Film) and runs workshops where you can create your own clay record. She was the inspiration behind the DIY needle-etching device. 
A lot of credit to these two women.  

How will people interact with the installation on the day?

Listeners are invited to interact with the Entropic Myna. The piece will be motion sensitive, meaning that when listeners move around the piece, they will be adding to the entropy of the sound sculpture. They are also invited to 'play' the clay record, which is going to be mic'd up and controlling more chaos. There are also audio input birds featured in the piece, with little record buttons on them so listeners are able to record their own audio and experiment with adding audio to the piece themselves.

What has it been like to create a project so outside of your comfort zone?

It has been pretty nerve-racking to work so far out of my comfort zone, but also incredibly fun. I have never worked with shellac records, never pressed anything to vinyl, and never worked with resin or silicone before. I had no idea if any of it was going to work, or if it would work within the right timeframe. But, getting to push my boundaries and work with sound in these completely new ways has been fascinating. 

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned from this project? 

The biggest lesson I have learnt from this project is to just experiment and see what happens. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. You don't know until you try and sometimes the medium you are working with will dictate how you move forwards. 
At the beginning of the project, I had plans. I went to great lengths to find ways of making my records loop so they would be suitable for the duration of the exhibition. I found some vintage record players on marketplace and spent hours trying to get them to behave how I wanted them to. All the while, worrying about whether or not the resin records would work at all. I was so pleased when I finally cast the resin records, because not only did they preserve the audio information, but the texture of them also means that they naturally loop on any ordinary turntable. Sometimes it is best to jump straight in and some things will take care of themselves.  

See it for yourself

The Innovation in Sound 2023 showcase is free to attend for all members of the public and will be open from 11am until 10pm. Claim your free ticket(s), see the full schedule for the day and check out a selection of teaser videos for the upcoming projects being exhibited.