Bowers & Wilkins at Istanbul Biennial 2011

Sound artist and Associate Professor Jane Grant describes the installation of a new sonic art work, Ghost, using Bowers & Wilkins WM6 speakers at the 2011 Istanbul Biennial

Lanfranco Aceti, the Director and Curator of ISEA 2011 chose the Maksem, in Taksim Square, and one of the main centres of Istanbul to site the piece.

Ghost is an 8 channel sound installation and Maksem is an octagonal building so this worked beautifully. Maksem was built by Sultan Mahmud I in 1732 to channel water, and to listen to the sound of water flowing, which was a considered a therapy or medium for contemplation for a long time in Turkey.

The space is beautiful, rich, with four high windows allowing the light to move around the inside of the space throughout the day and change the experience of the piece. On the walls are panels of gold Arabic writing (including the Sultan’s symbol) but in the language of the Ottoman Empire and facing the entrance is a water distribution system sculpted in white marble.

The main square at Taksim is extremely busy, the sounds of people talking, laughing, shouting, mixed with traffic, tram-bells and sirens, street traders selling roasting sweetcorn and Turkish coffee.

I had previously embedded the system with ‘neural memory’ -a drone sound composed of a very deep crackling bass which is almost imperceptible sonically, but you can feel it as you enter the Maksem, and another, lighter, more fluid sound. These two drones were made to underwrite the piece sonically, to unify the overall sound and form the sonic memory in the system.

I had eight microphones made by The Magic Microphone Company and these were suspended from the four window high up outside the building, picking up the sounds of the street, Taksim Square and a nearby mosque. The neurogranular sampler used in the computer reconfigures the internal, embedded sounds and the external sounds causing a temporal and sonic overlapping of the neural past with the neural present, a rupture in the flow of sensory and endogenous information.

When the external sounds fail to reach a volume threshold the system journeys around its own neuronal pathways re-visiting older, established routes, using its ‘memory’ as buoyancy when external sounds die away. We arranged four pairs of WM6 speakers at head height in a semi-circle around one side of the space, so that you might listen to them all from the centre or close up.

The live sounds reconfigured as neural memory last up to three minutes and some of them may embed themselves into the composition as a whole, so you hear this wonderful flickering of sounds in the space, each sonic event outside the space blending with what is going on inside and extending it. These sounds travel across the eight speakers and the system becomes a musical instrument. The real events overlapping with the memory in the piece, making you really question what is external and what is being played, the sonic events become a threshold, a re-orchestration of past and present.

The call to prayer was particularly affecting, a nearby Mosque providing the most beautiful sounds five times each day, also police sirens causing the sound to ripple through the eight speakers in the space, flicking backward and forwards through the building. These events demarcate the work, punctuating the everyday sounds of speech, and traffic, marking time throughout the day.

You can see a full gallery of images on our Facebook page.

I would like to thank Gözde Baykara, Steve Berry, John Matthias, Tim Hodgson, Pieter Verhees and Marj Grant for their generous support in installing this work.
I would also like to thank Plymouth University, Bowers and Wilkins, Cycling ’74 and The Magic Microphone Company for their generous support of the work.
The software at the centre of the work was designed for the ‘art +sound’  Research Group at Plymouth University by John Matthias, Jane Grant, Tim Hodgson, Nick Ryan and Kin Design and is a development of the Neuronal Sonic Software which was used for The Fragmented Orchestra (Jane Grant, John Matthias and Nick Ryan) which was the winner of the 2008 PRS for music foundation New Music Award.
The work appears as part of ISEA 2011 Istanbul/ 12th Istanbul Biennial and was curated by Lanfranco Aceti and Ozden Sahin.Jane Grant  – artist / John Matthias – Producer / Tim Hodgson – Programmer
This work is supported by: Plymouth University,  Bowers and Wilkins  and Cycling ’74

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