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Sounds Good

BA (Hons) Music Performance and Production student Cameron Naylor talks about his recent involvement in the ‘Sounds Good’ installation at Leeds City Museum and describes how he created his piece.

Sounds Good

When I heard about the chance to create work for the Leeds City Museum I jumped at the opportunity. The brief was to create a soundscape comprised of samples sent in from local artists, in order to be played on a loop in the Broderick Hall for the duration of the installation. The inspiration behind my piece was Brian Eno’s Quiet Club work in the way that it created an environment inside the installation space. This can be heard in the ambience that underscores the submissions, so the piece always has a place to return to sonically.  

I’m really happy with the way the piece came out in the end. It became a show reel highlighting the local talent running for nearly 30 minutes in total. The visuals worked well in accompanying the music, and tied in well with the colour scheme, and the instrument mosaics at the heart of the installation.

Audio

When dealing with over 20 musical submissions ranging in key, genre, and tempo, it was crucial that the piece had a recurring theme. By creating a motif that ran throughout, the submissions would feel less out of place despite having very little in common musically.

This ambience underscoring the 30 minute piece was created from samples of the submissions themselves. The ambience is atonal so there is no clash with transitions into the submissions. There are loops of guitar swells, percussive elements, and vocal samples that are manipulated to create the track heard below the full piece (and also in the tech demo video).

Care was taken compositionally to ensure that the soundscape would not be too overpowering for the exhibit. The submissions fade in and out of the mix slowly, creating a slow evolution over the duration of the piece. In this way the track may remain peripheral while attendees view the other installation pieces.

Large screen above the floor of main room in Leeds City Room - a large round Victoria auditorium

Visual

Along with the soundscape came the visual element. This was necessary as some submissions had videos, or pictures of the artist that were to be displayed alongside the piece.

In much the same way as the ambience underscoring the submissions, I wanted the visuals to retain a through line for the sake of cohesion. I decided to create a geometric backing which reacted visually to the music. By having the visuals react to the music in real time, the two elements become linked in another way, as opposed to being arbitrary other than the pictures and videos appearing every so often.

Another reason for the reactive aspect was that some submissions did not have a visual counter part, and also any static images I could overlay on the geometric pattern to give the illusion that they are modulating in time with the piece.

The colours of the visuals were determined by the motifs used in the signage for the installation.

Technology

The soundscape was compiled and produced in Ableton Live 10, both in my home and also in Pirate Studios when professional level speakers were necessary.

The visuals were also produced in Ableton, using Max 4 Live. This was my first time using the Max 4 Live Jitter system, and so there was a significant learning curve.

The geometric background is a 3d sphere rendered using the Jitter GL system. By utilising visible polygons, a lighting render, and a zoomed in camera angle, the sphere is almost unrecognisable and instead, is perceived as a patterned surface.

The 3d shape is then made to modulate according to the amplitude of the track. Using the catch and slide features in Max, the sphere reacts in time with the music, which had to be altered when fed in to the system. When feeding the raw audio into Max, the sphere shook a considerable amount, and this was not the desired effect. By adding a lot of reverb and compression (to flatten peaks and extend tails) and also a resonator to create more linear envelopes, I achieved a fluid motion like a flag waving.

The visuals were captured using syphon, and the audio exported directly from Ableton. Using Imovie I finished the visuals by adding in transitions between background colours, and also lining up corresponding video and picture submissions.

The Sounds Good installation ran from 6th-11th October 2020. Read more about the installation here.

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Cameron Naylor

Cameron is a third year BA (Hons) Music Performance & Production student and can be contacted on Cameronnaylor133@gmail.com.

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