04-09-2023 Music 12242

Natasha Barrett - Reconfiguring the Landscape

Natasha Barrett - Reconfiguring the Landscape

‘An astonishing work which truly builds on, and even perhaps improves on, the accomplishments of Bayle and Parmegiani.’ — The Sound Projector on ‚Heterotopia’

‘Natasha Barrett is now one of the leading composers in the emerging field of 3D audio: using high-density loudspeaker arrays and cutting-edge recording and mixing procedures to create works full of ingenuity and drama.’ — The New York Times

Persistence of Sound presents a new album from one of the world’s leading voices in electroacoustic music.

Natasha Barrett is known internationally for her intense explorations of the movement of sounds through space.

Whilst studying with Jonty Harrison at the University of Birmingham, Barrett worked with BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), which led to a doctoral composition degree supervised by composer Denis Smalley.

Barrett has since established an international reputation as a composer of 3D audio and ambisonics. She treats spatialisation as a musical parameter, and told the New York Times,

“I’m really concerned with the idea of tangibility. Sound is invisible, but we can do things that make you want to reach out and touch it.”

Barrett describes her inspiration as coming from the immediate sounding matter of the world around us, as well as the way it behaves.

Barrett's works are performed and commissioned throughout the world, and have received a long list of prizes, including the Giga-Hertz Award and the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Awards.

Persistence of Sound was founded by composer/producer Iain Chambers. Its releases span electroacoustic music, field recordings, and the unclassifiable music between these genres.

Notes by Natasha Barrett

Reconfiguring the Landscape (2019-2022) was an artistic research project investigating how 3-D electroacoustic composition and sound-art can evoke and provoke a new awareness of our outdoor sound environment.

The integration of art and technology was central to the investigation that focused on sound, space, time and the utility of outdoor areas. The ideas were tested in artistic creations, and during a three-year period Natasha Barrett created a series of site-specific, outdoor sound installations. These works were installed in public spaces for durations ranging from a few days to a few months.

The tracks on this CD are remixes of three installations and one two-part work that hovers in between installation and concert format. They are composed from the installation materials and unmodified site-specific recordings, and intend to capture the immersive personal listening experience of ‘being there’.

1. Impossible Moments from Venice 1 & 2 (2023)

On September 1st 2022 I landed in Venice for the first time. This was to be the final field-trip in the project. Loaded with expectations about history and culture, and influenced by how Venice has featured in the literary fiction of some of our great writers, my goal was to explore this city of islands, canals and bridges. Happy to be there outside the peak tourist season, and a year after cruise ships had been banned from the lagoon, I walked, listened and recorded. The tall and narrow buildings mislead a GPS and cast you into watery dead-ends, while a blind corner may reveal a hidden diagonal bridge leading to a passage the width of a person, transporting you directly to where you had intended to go. Capturing reality seemed impossible. The sounds, the acoustics, the light, the people, and whether the concept of the Venetian as a native inhabitant still exists, created a paradox of past, present and expectations of the future.

Impossible Moments from Venice 1 and 2 are exceptions from the rest of the tracks on this CD. I originally intended to rapidly compose a final site-specific sound installation in the heart of Venice. But despite the fine weather, the threat of rain changed my plans. Impossible Moments from Venice instead became short sound-scape concert pieces. Both unfold from the sound of wooden window shutters opening in the morning. No. 1 creates music from an impossible narrative of floating iron piers, vaporetti (water buses) and the behind-the-scenes jostling of the graceful gondolas from 5 am to 8 pm. No. 2 reveals the outdoor city squares, a fishmonger and church bells, from many vantage points, and ends with a fortuitous recording exemplifying the clash of cultures living side-by-side in this city.

2. Speaking Spaces 2: Surfaces from Graz (2021)

The installation “Inversion 3: Speaking Surfaces” consisted of two parts: one inside and one outside the Mumuth in Graz (AT). This new CD track “Speaking Spaces 2: Surfaces from Graz” is retitled as a remix of the featured materials from both parts of the original installation, along with some unmodified site-specific sound recordings to set the scene.

“Inversion 3: Speaking Surfaces” was the third installation that I created in the project, and uses similar concepts to the second installation called “Subliminal Throwback” which was located outdoors in Oslo. The installations in this series were played over an 8-channel loudspeaker array which defined the public listening zone (and in the Oslo version the speakers were hidden inside vegetation). There was also one sub-bass, and new loudspeaker technology engineered for the project by Franz Zotter from IEM. This speaker sends focused sound beams in any desired direction, and when aimed towards surfaces, we hear the reflection of the sound coloured by the materials and geometry of the surfaces. Based on the 24- channel prototype icosahedral speaker that Zotter developed in 2006, our invention called the “170” is an 8-channel compact spherical loudspeaker that takes most advantage of the horizontal axis (vertical is obsolete outdoors). The structure is built using a domestic 3D printer, and is cheap enough to risk in outdoor settings. In “Inversion 3: Speaking Surfaces”, two of these speakers were used: one indoors and one outdoors.

3. Presence / Nærvær (2022)

“Presence / Nærvær” was the last installation that I made in the project. It was located in the courtyard outside the Resistance Museum at Akershus Fortress - a medieval castle in Oslo. The cobbled courtyard is framed by heavy stone walls on three sides and a grassy bank with tall, mature trees. The natural soundscape changes significantly from hour to hour and day to day. Sometimes the trees dominate with great gusts of sound from the winds rushing in from the harbour. Sometimes it is completely still and silent, at other times throbbing with the bass from idling cruise ships, or cluttered by the noise from nearby construction work. In addition to these physical attributes the site has a long history. Over the centuries the fortress has survived all sieges and was under occupation in WWII. “Presence / Nærvær” was the only installation in the series where it felt natural to allude in some way to this history.

The work is created only from sounds that were within ear-shot of the site during a 6-month period. The location is therefore particularly interesting: it is close to both Oslo city centre and the main harbour. Tucked away from the through- flow, people would normally pass by without paying much attention. The sound landscape that drifted into the site included boat horns, hourly chimes and a carillon from the town hall, footsteps, birds, voices of tourists, Norwegian 17th May marching bands, sounds of cruise ships idling, squeaks from ship maintenance and loading, construction work and the hum of the city which has a particular frequency characteristic as the noise refracts around the cityscape. This background soundscape was rich with hardly audible gems which I attempted to draw into the foreground. The sound landscape was recorded with the EM32 microphone. The installation consisted of the 8-channel surround system used previously, and a new waterproof version of the 170 loudspeaker.

4. Remote Sensing on the Beach (2020)

“Remote Sensing on the Beach” (“Sansing i Strandsona”) was the first public space work created in the project, and leans closer to a concert composition than the other installations. The site was a small sandy bay on the east side of the inner Oslo Fjord on the outskirts of Oslo, called Hvervenbukta. The installation was setup inside a beach pavilion dating from 1765.

The work uses winter, spring and early summer recordings recorded with an SPS200 Soundfield microphone, as well as 3D topographical data (elevation maps) describing an arc of small hills surrounding the bay. This was my first attempt at sonifying high resolution landscape topography in 3D sound (sonification is the process of turning non-musical data into sound). The opening of the work is a projection of the landscape falling towards the beach pavilion, where on arrival the sound-world plunges into the tidal zone. Besides the more obvious water, wildlife and people, there are the distant drones of boats resonating across the waters and winter ice layers clinking as the waves roll into the shore.


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