Sound artists James Bulley and Daniel Jones explain how they came to create a unique sound installation using Bowers & Wilkins speakers at London’s Barbican Centre.
“As an artist duo whose practice uses sound to explore the world around us, our work involves the exploration of areas of knowledge and culture that are off the beaten track.
We have worked with amateur meteorologists to translate live weather patterns into orchestral composition, consulted Russian short-wave radio transmission frequencies to compose a piece which navigates the radio waves in real time, and — in this case — mapped the natural patterns of the human mind.
We were commissioned by the Barbican to create a sound installation for the Brain Waves Weekender, part of the ‘Wonder’ season of events on art and neuroscience. Our proposal sought to capture perhaps the most mysterious element of consciousness: the fact that it does not originate from any one point, but from the collective activity of countless neural pathways, each of which plays a vital role in the bigger picture of self-awareness.
Our installation α, β, γ, δ, θ, μ (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Theta, Mu) did so by making each audience member a part of the piece, by streaming audio through visitors’ smartphone handsets to create a transient multichannel sound system. The piece unfolded within an eight-channel speaker hub of Bowers and Wilkins 685 loudspeakers, playing an undulating composition made up of layers of analogue synthesis, cocooned in a blacked-out circle.
Through logging on and playing a unique sound stream via their phone’s small speaker, each visitor added a unique new part to the piece, representing one type of brainwave frequency. The overall musical landscape created was formed not from any individual source of sound, but from the collective contributions of the audience as a whole.
As sound artists, it is vital for us to pay attention to the exact acoustic conditions under which a piece is experienced. Care was taken to utilise an appropriate speaker configuration to complement the limited frequency response of the phone handsets. We filled out the low-end of the composition with a rich and accurate bass tone, and creating the sense of space and immersion that is vital to make the visitor feel that they have entered an entirely new environment.
The circular configuration of the Bowers & Wilkins 8-channel speaker system allowed us to create a remarkably convincing psychoacoustic effect of space. The sounds that the score was composed from were able to be slowly rotated around the circle, or positioned at will within a virtual environment.”