Found & Lost, an immersive opera situated in the stunning environs of London’s Corinthia Hotel, was composed by the hotel’s fourth artist in residence, Emily Hall. Straddling the worlds of opera and art installation, guests were invited on a sonic journey through some of the hotel’s most gorgeous spaces. We asked sound engineer David Sheppard to tell us about the challenges involved and why he chose to use our T7 speakers.
Creating a site-specific, immersive sound installation is a fun challenge but throw in the factors of presenting the work as a live opera within a working hotel and the level of challenge jumps up. This was the creative idea Emily Hall (composer) and I found ourselves with as we contemplated our Artists In Residence association with the Corinthia Hotel, London. We had a couple of months to mould our experience of being in the hotel into a narrative that would stand up as a performance work but at the same time exist as a sonic exploration of the various spaces of the building. We needed to integrate within the running of the hotel without intruding on the routines of the paying guests or staff.
The starting point was discovering text from the hotel that would be the catalyst for a narrative and the music. Working with poet Matthew Welton everything from wine-lists to engineering spreadsheets were taken and played with to produce eight songs. Reworking these texts gave hints of a story and characters which in turn enabled us to form a journey through the hotel that unfolded a drama. It also led a way through a whole range of spaces from stunning vaulted public areas to the intimacy of a guest room and through the practical staff corridors and the hissing of a boiler room.
As a public experience we had to limit our audience to 15 in order to fit into the rooms but also to ensure the full impact of the immersive nature could be enjoyed. It was also important that sound accompanied them throughout their journey without disrupting hotel life. We knew we needed live performers but at the same time we wanted a range of voices and sounds that were impractical to present in such a setting. This led to a live contingent of a chorus of seven mixed voices – Siglo De Oro cello – Oliver Coates and organ – James McVinnie appearing in different parts of the hotel alongside a series of pre-recorded songs and soundscapes featuring singers Allan Clayton, Mara Carlyle, Sophia Jernberg, Puzzle Muteson and boy treble Duncan Turboton. The recorded material needed to blend into the fabric of the hotel and not feel like a theatrical PA system, it had to come from speakers that not only looked appropriate to the space and the context but also sounded rich and full to do justice to the voices they delivered.
My previous experience of Bowers & Wilkins has been through studio monitors and headphone use but looking into the options for a more domestic environment led very quickly to the A5 as a static system for the guest room and the A7 for the Bassoon Bar, an art deco Jazz bar where the opera concluded with a “cathedral” organ solo. No only did the radiance of the sound deliver a smooth coverage to each space but the design aesthetic blended seamlessly with the interior of these warm and sleek spaces.
But the most exciting discovery for me was the T7 portable speaker. I had been introduced to them by artist Mira Calix who had used them in a similar situation but I was genuinely amazed at the richness of sound and consistency of delivery across a wide dynamic range. Knowing what these boxes could do cleared the way for us to create a moveable sound system that would accompany the singers and audience throughout the hotel. By sending audio over wireless transmitters to small receiver packs connected to the line inputs of seven T7’s we were abled to build a range of sound delivery systems, from large PA cluster to moving spatial surround-sound. The chorus of singers moved the speakers around, carrying and placing them as necessary and in order to make this workable for them fabricator James Shearer – Other Fabrications, designed wooden boxes to house the T7’s and their transmitter packs. Not only did these offer a comfortable way to carry the systems they were also built with visual design elements of the hotel and angled stands that allowed sound to be directed appropriately when the boxes were put down on a surface, whether a polished table or a concrete boiler-room floor. The combination of these boxes seamlessly blending with the visual environment and the powerful rich sound emerging magically from them set a dramatic statement right from the outset of the performance. The opening cello and organ prelude diffused around the spacious lobby lounge intrigued the audience who struggled to understand where the organ sound was coming from only to discover the boxes were the source when the chorus stepped forward and walked away taking the sound with them. Towards the end of the show the audience were handed the boxes and you could see their delight as they moved along carrying a voice that not only sounded wonderful but could literally be felt, vibrating in their hands.