A walk I do

carlaARUComposed for Carla Rees (Kingma system alto flute), with support from the Britten-Pears Foundation and first performed at The Forge, London in May 2016. Like my other recent works.  A walk I do is a composed work that combines instrumental performance with live audio and text processing. In this case I asked Carla to send me an informal description of a favourite walk, which I used as found material. As in another similar piece, Paul’s walk, originally written for clarinetist Paul Roe, the text itself is not so important as the fact that in describing, a person conveys their relationship to place, and the way we all relate to our environment through personal memory and experiences.

Download the app (contains score and info) and important installation notes  [64bit app, only runs on Mac OS] You need an audio interface and dual display/projection to perform the piece but can test it without these]. Have a look at the score.

Last tested, May 2017. Please note that the app is no longer updated and may not work on newer OSX (> 10.9). I’ve reached the point where it’s too hard to keep doing major recoding. Might update it one day.

Here’s a screen movie (for audition/viewing purposes only)

carlaDMU

A walk I do was made in Openframeworks (visuals) and puredata (audio) although the final software interface is packaged as a standalone mac osx app. Although written for specific performers initially, all my recent works are designed to be adaptable to other instrumentations and performable with software that requires minimal technical knowledge. Get in touch if you’re interested in discussing a version.

Paul’s Walk

for performer(s), live text and audio processing. Text by Paul Roe. First performance (original version), Up Close With Music, Concorde Ensemble, Dublin April 2015.

Paul’s Walk is a semi-improvisatory live work. It can be performed by any instrument (or two, sharing the part) but probably works best for sustaining instruments (e.g. woodwind or strings). This screen movie is of an older version. Paul’s Walk version 2: updated 2017 – download here: score / app (Mac OSX) / performance instructions

Paul’s Walk from novamara on Vimeo.

APP IS NOT CURRENTLY AVAILABLE: Please note that the mac/ipad app required for this work is no longer updated and will not work on newer OSX. I hope to find another platform soon. 

Lately I’ve been making interactive or ‘responsive’ pieces that are a mix of music, text and sound, on themes to do with place – what it means and how it feels to walk and be in a landscape. This piece was originally composed for clarinetist Paul Roe. The words are taken from Paul’s informal description of a favourite walk, Upper lake at Glendalough in Co. Wicklow – a walk he says he ‘truly loves’.

How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

Music by friend and fellow composer Richard Hoadley , words by me – written and recorded to use within an interactive work, Piano Glyphs, with pianist Philip Mead. Performed at De Montfort University  Cultural Exchanges festival, 26 February 2015.

More info on Richard’s piece here.

 How to play the piano (in 88 notes)

To start, hands still.
Content at first to pedal,
knees rising and falling,
feet pumping.
Making stationary journeys
in Aunt Win’s stuffy parlour
the pianola unfurls its pattern,
punching airy absences
into the middle class gloom.

The invisible other’s papery digits
are miraculously exhumed
and the keys move
mindlessly
to mark the time.

The touch, fingers down.
Fleshy pads leech secret heat
from darkened ebony
and ridged whorls rub
on slivered ivory tusk.
A tactile dissonance beneath this black and white
hints at a sprawling history of lust
(of animal desire)
concealed in those chaste meetings.
And yet
they felt so good.

But that rough purchase
has long since been usurped.
Now there’s the syrupy clasp
of skin on plastic.
Now there’s a new glossary,
a different trade.
The moral slip and slide
of polyurethane.

Keep it legato, if you can (An interlude)
Miss Norman will play some skipping music,
and fifteen infant ballerinas in pink attire will hop
left leg, then right,
across a cold church hall.
They jolt discretely,
too graceless yet to fake that blended join
from leap to leap.
It comes with practice — the piano is the same.
The phrases that we long to get just right.
The limpid, liquid, pearly grains that run and trill,
and peal and flow,
and try to skip along.

One sound follows another,
the action rises, then it falls — no true glissando here.
Think ahead and grasp
towards the next moment.
We dance freely without limits
only in our minds.

Reach inside, be brave.
This overstrung contraption
with its lid-skin lifted
to expose the innards — tendons, hammers, metal frame, and folded felt.
The instrument laid bare for examination.
A candlelit cadaver in a sitting room,
dragged home by night
from some disgusting charnel house.

The lights go down.
The audience waits to be amazed
at revelations from a bloodless corpse.
A hand plucks life from swaddled strings,
a movement etched in clouds of resonating wire.
The internal is entirely strange.
Suddenly, here is a new translation.

Don’t forget to get the piano tuned.
The process is quite arbitrary.
We make assumptions.
Check the 4ths and 5ths,
and choose a scale.
Doubling the frequency
from F to F,
from C to shining C.
But there’s no real independence,
just a wobbling indecision as to possible divisions
that have changed, from year to year.

At last, the piano tuner starts to play,
smiles, picks up a snatch of melody,
and plays again.
Gleefully we sit back down,
lift our fingers,
move them to and fro.

The range is fixed, you know.
Seven octaves,
and a minor third
to bring things to a close.

Katharine Norman, December 2014.

Trying to translate

Composer: Katharine Norman. Performer: Philip Mead.

Duration 15 minutes, composed 1992 (revised electronics, 2014), for piano, live electronics and digital sound.

Score

Please note that there are currently no performance materials for the electronics part of this application. It would be fairly easy for a determined person to make a max or pd patch (the ‘effects’ are fairly simple – but I have updated it several times since its beginnings in 1992 and have now officially given up!)

In Trying to translate I treat the distinction between a recorded sound world and the live piano performance as a metaphor for translation more generally.

Much of the recorded source material comes from a radio documentary in which a female speaker describes the problems of translating from Gaelic to English and how translation affects meaning, vocabulary and ‘takes away from the magic of the sounds’. In the course of this discussion, she describes the decline of Gaelic music since the 1950s ‘with the advent of television’, and in particular Gaelic heterophony, where congregations sing ornate renditions of psalm and hymn tunes, each person singing at their own speed. I was struck by both the beauty of the speaker’s voice and the emotion behind her meaning; I share her sorrow that old ways of making music about, and for, everyday life have disappeared or faded from general use, and also have a particular fondness for the glorious, but intimate, sound of Gaelic psalm singing, which appears in the fixed sound part and — transcribed and ‘translated’ — forms the basis of the piano writing.

Trying to translate was commissioned by the Mead/Montague duo, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was first performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1991.The speech is from a BBC Radio 3 Soundings documentary, and is used by kind permission of the BBC (I don’t know the identity of the speaker). Trying to translate is recorded on Transparent things (Metier), music by Katharine Norman performed by Philip Mead.

Memory places

for small ensemble

Composed in 1991, Memory places is a piece I wrote as a graduate student at Princeton, almost as an ‘escape’ from being immersed in the world of computer music and sound manipulation. It draws its inspiration from the Renaissance notion of the ‘Theatre of Memory’ (I had recently read Frances Yates’ extraordinary book on the subject), and the fact that instrumental music – played by live, human performers – is a remembering of sound quite unlike that of recorded sound, entailing a building of sonic ‘edifices’ before our very ears. While I was probably dwelling overly on ontological niceties, I was also enjoying the experience of writing for people, to play. Aspects of these concerns are built into the way the piece is composed, with performers responding to each others’ materials and ‘picking up’ aural objects for quasi-improvisation. It was the last piece I wrote in this vein, but I was quite pleased with the result – and this wonderful performance by the Princeton New Music Ensemble.The piece has been performed in both the UK and USA, and reached the finals of the ALEA II International Composition Competition, receiving a performance conducted by Gunther Schuller.

Recording: Princeton New Music Ensemble, live performance. Please contact me if you’d like a score.

Helpful Instructions for Circus Performers

featuretopScore

This rather eccentric set of pieces for solo percussion, intended as not a little ironic in tone, was commissioned for Simon Limbrick to play at a concert of music by composers then working at Goldsmiths, University of London. The university supported the concert, held at The Warehouse, London and hosted a reception afterwards. Simon did a fantastic job, and even wore a bow tie. I think it may have been a revolving one. This and the other newly commissioned works were duly entered as ‘research outputs’ for the impending Research Assessment Exercise, so guaranteeing more likelihood of prestige and – more importantly – funding, for another few years. Jumping through hoops does not feature in this piece, except for figuratively speaking, but a number of other circus tricks are described.

Outside its original context, the piece provides a set of light-hearted virtuoso pieces. If you’d like to perform them, please feel free to cut and edit to suit the occasion. See the score for essential programme notes. Unfortunately there is no recording.

Icarus


(live performance, Electric Voices)

Score (scan of hard copy – 18MB)

Icarus (for four voices and ‘tape’ – fixed digital sound) was commissioned by Sonic Arts Network and first performed at the Purcell Room, London, in 1993 by Electric Voices. It was also selected for the ISCM World Music Days, in 1995.

In this piece the myth of Icarus is interwoven with brief extracts from Leonardo’s astounding writings on flight, and on the sun, some of which are given below. Both could be said to represent a yearning for distant possibilities, spiritual or otherwise.

…You will study the anatomy of the wings of a bird together with the muscles of the breast which are the movers of these wings. And you do the same for man in order to show the possibility that there is in man to sustain himself amid the air by the flapping of wings…

…Why the sinews beneath the bird’s wings are more powerful than those above. It is done for the movement… … in order that the process of going up may be easy, and that of going down difficult and meeting with resistance, and it is especially adapted for going forward drawing itself back in the manner of a file…

…That bird will rise on high which by means of a circular movement in the shape of a screw makes its reflex movement against the coming of the wind and against the flight of this wind, turning always upon its right or left side… When the bird passes from a slow to a swift current of the wind it lets itself be carried by the wind until it has devised a new assistance for itself… …the bird has always time to redirect its course and in safety adjust its flight which will always proceed entirely free.

The sun does not move.
The sun has substance, shape, motion, radiance, heat… …for in the whole world I do not see a body of greater magnitude and power than this… …all vital force descends from it since the heat that is in living creatures comes from the soul and there is no other heat or light in the universe.

These texts are used as material for the singers and the digital part, in the latter they are processed using a variety of computer techniques. The recordng is from a live performance and doesn’t really do the singers enough justice – they did a marvellous job, and toured the work throughout the UK. I’ve also used and reworked the material from the digital part in Leonardo’s Lists, a piece for dance, live image and video (by Brian Newbold) and live sound, commissioned by Elektrodome and South West Arts (2000).

Two Thumbs Up (July 15th, 1978)

solo piano, 3 minutes – 2005.


(Clive Williamson)
Composed to be played with thumbs only, a baroque suite in miniature based on Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

Download score 

 

 

 

 

 

Programme notes (to be read at performance):

a one-minute true story…(remembering to inhale)…so me and linda cadge a lift to bob dylan’s gig in ‘78 from our stoned english teacher and very pregnant wife who realise they forgot their tickets when we reach guildford so me and linda get out and stick up our thumbs to hitch – festooned in beads and indian print – hoping for hunky hippies in a vw camper van but getting a nice clean st john ambulance man in a mini who took us all the way to where we sat down with 250,000 people and were just preparing to ‘inhale deeply’ when we saw my little sister sitting 10 feet away – it sometimes seems like life is mostly thumbs.

Composed for Clive Williamson to play at the 2005 Guildford International Music Festival—(sorry, Clive!). Full-quality recording released on Cadenza, as is a score of the whole collection.

Yes, really

Yes, really, written in 2008, reached the finals of the New Media Writing Prize 2010. It is an email-based fiction in which the stories of three characters, based in the North of England, are interwoven and arrive in your email inbox as a series of messages. It’s a tale about music, consciousness, communication and being trapped.

yesreally

Transparent things

Solo piano, 1996.

(Philip Mead, piano)
Score

Transparent things, through which the past shines!
Man-made objects, or natural ones, inert in themselves but much used by careless life (you are thinking, and quite rightly so, of a hillside stone over which a multitude of small animals have scurried in the course of incalculable seasons) are particularly difficult to keep in surface focus: novices fall through the surface, humming happily to themselves, and are soon reveling with childish abandon in the story of this stone, of that heath
Vladimir Nabokov

The pieces can be performed as a set (keeping the order below) or individually/in pairs, as the pianist prefers.

  • Cold Light, 6.a.m.
  • Still, Clear (for VRM)
  • Frozen Edge
  • Long Causeway

Commissioned for Stephen Gutman, with funds provided by a Holst Award.

Duration approx. 16 minutes (whole set).

The four pieces which make up Transparent things each explore notions of transparency: the idea of looking through a surface in search of something less tangible, and more resonant. They were inspired by both the above quotation and my long walks on and around Stanage Edge, in the Peak District, Derbyshire (UK). Although the individual pieces came from memories of specific times and places, they are not overtly programmatic. Perhaps I was seeking a musical analogy for that growing clarity of mind than can arise during a solitary walk, when there is time to reflect, to remember and to get thoughts and dreams into focus.

This piece is recorded by Philip Mead on CD (Transparent things)

Fuga Interna (suspend)

Piano, 2010.

Fuga Interna (begin) is the fifth piece in a series for piano, Fuga Interna, and was first performed by Philip Mead.

Download score

All the works in the Fuga Interna series are inspired by my experience of playing Bach’s Fugue in B minor, from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Like all the pieces in the series, this Fuga Interna (begin includes brief references to any that came before, though it is not necessary to know this to appreciate the work, nor to perform the works in order. This Bach fugue is a constant companion in all my compositional endeavours, and has been for some thirty years.

Bees and broom

[This piece is quite old, you might find it doesn’t work in all browsers, or at least not without installing Flash and Jsynth plugins]

For a few years we lived on Pender Island, off the coast of British Columbia. Yellow broom, an invasive plant, was everywhere, regarded by many as an unwanted, destructive presence. But not by all …

Bees and broom (2004) is a little piece of interactive online writing that contains a hidden game. It was my first venture into digital writing and uses Flash and Jsynth (for the game). You’ll need the sound up.

beesandbroom

Here and there

Here and there (2006) is a small piece of interactive digital writing. For several years I lived on Pender Island, off the coast of British Columbia. At night it was truly dark, and the moon and stars were the only lights. Like the moths, we relied on both for nocturnal navigation. For a period, life was very different and our guidance systems changed … in some ways, forever.
hereandthere

Writings on sound and art

soundingart

That passing glance – sounding paths between memory and familiarity in The Routledge Companion to Sounding Art, Marcel Cobussen, Vincent Meelberg and Barry Truax, eds, Routledge, 2017.

 Some questions around listening: Vancouver Soundscape Revisited by Claude Schryer in Expanding the horizon of electroacoustic music analysis, Simon Emmerson and Leigh Landy, eds, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 376-299.

Listening at Home in Affective Landscapes in Literature, Art and Everyday Life, Christine Berberich, Neil Campbell and Robert Hudson, eds, Routledge (previously by Ashgate), 2015, 207–221.

The concept of Acoustic Ecology [pending] — keynote speech for Symposium on Acoustic Ecology, Kent University, November 2013.

Listening together, making place, Organised Sound 17/3, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Guest editor/curator, two themed issues of Organised Sound (CUP), on ‘Sound, Listening and Place’ (read editorials for 16/3 and 17/3, 2011-12).

The Listening Workshop, an essay written in response to attending the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology conference in Corfu, 2011. Published inSoundscape, the journal of the WFAE.

Beating the bounds for ordinary listening, keynote presentation, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology conference, Corfu, 2011.

Conkers (listening out for organised experience), in Organised Sound, 15, pp 116-124 doi:10.1017/S1355771810000105. 2010.

Listening Change , a panel presentation for ArtMusFair 2010, Fryderyk Chopin Conservatory, Warsaw. October 2010.

A Wave Across the Auditorium, an experimental essay on sound, art and space for a book accompanying Absorption and Resonance, an exhibition of Sound Art in Norway (2009).

Local Materials (there’s my stop), an essay on my works with voices, words and sound. Also published in Playing with Words ed. Cathy Lane (CRiSAP/RGAP/Cornerhouse, 2008).

Where are We Listening, and What are We Listening To?, a keynote address: EMS07 (Electroacoustic Music Studies 07), De Montfort University, London.

Pareil à un voyageur perdu, (trans Evelyne Gayou) in Portraits Polychromes 10: Francis Dhomont. Paris: GRMINA,INA PP10,2006. (translation of Chapter 6, Sounding Art)

Before and After Listening to Judy Klein’s ‘the wolves of Bays Mountain’, for Open Space magazine, issue 6, 2004

(book) Sounding Art: Eight Literary Excursions through Electronic Music, Aldershot, UK and Vermont, USA: Ashgate, 2004.

Stepping outside for a moment: narrative space in two works for sound alone, book chapter, in Music, electronic media and culture, ed. Simon Emmerson. Aldershot, UK and Vermont, USA: Ashgate, 2000.

Real-world Music as Composed Listening in A Poetry of Reality: Composing with Recorded Sound Contemporary Music Review, vol 15 Parts 1-2, ISBN 3-7186-5932-8 (1996), Taylor and Francis, issue editor Katharine Norman – now available on Kindle!

Telling Tales, in Timbre Composition in Electroacoustic Music. Contemporary Music Review vol. 10, Part 2 pp 103-9. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994.

 

Other bits and pieces

The Space Between: a curated online gallery of electroacoustic sound works, for Sonus.ca

An essay on Mentoring, posted to a list and subsquently published in eContact (journal of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community)

“Canadian Music and Performing Arts,” encyclopedia entry for The World and its Peoples (Brown Reference Group).

“Classical Music and Opera,” extended entry in USA 1950s, encyclopedia series (Brown Reference Group, 2005).

“Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studio,” in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, ed. Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan, and New York: Grove, 2001.

“Electronic Music,” extended entry in Encarta Encyclopedia (1995– ), World-English Edition (Microsoft CD-ROM).

Realworld Music (Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton 1993) Summary – The dissertation explores the aesthetic, philosophical and listening implications of a documentary approach to tape music composition. I see this approach as fundamentally different from that of classical musique concrète. The first chapter suggests ‘categories’ for the way we may listen creatively in real life, and transfer these stances to musical listening. Subsequent chapters draw on comparisons and analogies from oral storytelling traditions, Eisensteinian film theory and modern poetic thought. I discuss a variety of pieces by composers such as Risset, Ferrari, Lansky and Lucier, and also some of my own compositions. NB a revised version of some of this dissertation is published in A Poetry of Reality: Composing with Recorded Sound (see above).

Island Windrose

Island Windrose was made in 2006, while I was living on an island off West Coast Canada. There were frequent windstorms, during which the trees would sway, and often come down, and we would be without electricity for hours, sometimes days.

This flash-based interactive writing piece is a small allegory about life, death, and precarious conditions. Turn up the sound.
– [quite old – some online features may not work]
windrose

B contained

For solo clarinet and digital fixed sound, 2000.

Composer: Katharine Norman. Performer: Jonathan Cooper.

confined … enclosed … implied … revealed

[B] contained was commissioned by Jane O’Leary/Concorde for Paul Roe to play at the Galway Arts Festival. I wrote this piece very much with Paul in mind, and his particular ability to explore the more experimental timbres contained within the clarinet. The first performance was in the context of a contemporary art exhibition on the theme of ‘containers’, and the pieces were played in the midst of the exhibition with the audience around.

Listening to music offers, among so many things, a refuge in which to be contained. Here, the digital sound provides a sonic container for the live performer. All the electronic material in this piece was created from an initial recording of the note ‘b’, played on clarinet. This note, less than a second long, is looped and played continuously throughout, though sometimes the original is almost inaudible, masked by its various incarnations and developments. The player doesn’t actually get to play a ‘b’ until the final section of the piece. Instead, the clarinet line gradually incorporates pitches to either side of this elusive goal, which it surrounds or ‘contains’ and – at the same time – strives to reach.

A thank you to Ross Bencina – this was my first piece using his very nice software, Audiomulch.

Making Place text

Here, setting out alone,
feet heavy in the clay,
travel seems a blind cacophony
replete with ancient allegories
In a dark wood
An isle full of noises
Tilting at shadowy windmills
You can’t see the wood for the trees
— the usual wayfaring fears

At first, still in darkness,
strike out on a new path
with only black images to go on
Behind today’s raucous machinery
a memory of crows
Flinch – anticipating movement
feathers across the face
Nothing is something in this featureless expanse
Everything is up for grabs

But soon, gradually,
the natural signs take root
It all falls into place
Turn when the river forks
Wait where the traffic halts and waits
Look out for the short cut
Take the longer path
Stop to buy bread
Hardly special, this quotidian mapping

Later (a time that starts before you know it)
the ordinary gathers ground
Making the trek in all kinds of weather
Visions, sounds and memories collide
Emotions and communities elide
Paths begin to form
inscribed from here to there
A line from me to us,
from you to me

And then, those older shadows fade
Knowledge creeps in by stealth,
beating the bounds
Nothing exotic – this withness
It could be anyone, and anywhere
Again (and again and again) that same walk
together
Making this place,
dwelling here

Katharine Norman (2012)

Making Place

Making Place

Here, setting out alone,
feet heavy in the clay,
travel seems a blind cacophony
replete with ancient allegories.
read full text

Scroll down to download materials and for more info.

Making Place is a poetic exploration of place, and place making, for one or two performers and live interactive processing of animation, text and audio. It can be performed by any instrument capable of realising a version of the semi-improvisatory score.

Last tested, May 2017. Please note that the app is no longer updated and may not work on newer OSX (> 10.9). I’ve reached the point where it’s too hard to keep doing major recoding. Might update it one day.

click to: DOWNLOAD MATERIALS AND INFO (64bit Mac OSX app, score etc). Please feel free to experiment – or get in touch.

As of 2016 the performer uses the score in conjunction with a mac app (OSX) that can be preloaded with the performer’s choice of field recordings and images. You are encouraged to incorporate your own images and recorded sounds.There are currently score versions for piano solo, piano duo, violin solo, violin and ‘cello, and ‘cello solo, but almost any pitched instrument could interpret the score.

Making Place was commissioned by Kate Halsall with funds from the Arts Council of England and the Britten Pears Foundation. First performance, Sonorities festival, Belfast, April 2013 (one piano version).Other performances Falmouth University, Cornwall, May 2013 (two pianos – Kate Halsall, Fumiko Miyachi), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (Kate Halsall), New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival 2015 (violin, Maja Cerar), International Computer Music Conference Athens, ZKM Karlsruhe (piano, Sebastian Berweck), Mannes College, New School NYC (piano, Daniel Schreiner), Banff Centre (Kate Halsall).

London – three sound pieces

For sound alone, 1991-1994.

These three sound-based works are all about London, not the London of tourist brochures but the London that I lived in at the time, the early 1990s, and the London remembered by my mother, growing up during World War II. All three pieces make use of personal recordings, and form an aural autoethnography which, I hope, communicates a sense of place and time to a wider audience. Now many of the sounds have changed – the sparrows that were an omnipresent aural feature of my east London back garden are relatively few and far between now, writing in 2010. The memories that my mother held so vividly when I recorded her in the early 1990s are now more distant.

London E17


In London, as in all large cities, even a short walk can involve abrupt transitions from one sonic, and social, environment to another. The source sounds for this piece are diverse, and all were recorded in and around Walthamstow, London E17, which I considered to be my home `patch’ at the time. Although there is quite a bit of sound-processing, it is intentionally surreptitious. I used it to `light’ a series of linked sonic films, letting the so-called ordinary shine through. The music travels through various environments, dwelling for several minutes in each. They include sounds from my back garden, underground `tube’ trains, my local eel pie and mash caf , a noisy outdoor market, roadworks, rain. London E17 is dedicated to Paul Lansky, with thanks and affection.

In her own time


My mother holds a wealth of memories concerning her life in London during the Second World War. In these stories from her childhood the horror of war is disguised, or perhaps made even more painful, coloured by a child’s excitement and lack of understanding. And, of course, she tells them now from an adult’s perspective, looking back at the person she once was. Her memories were familiar bedtime stories for me, so much so that I feel they are part of my experience too. During the Gulf war they began to haunt me; perhaps I realised, for the first time, how it must have been. With my mum’s enthusiastic participation, I used her words, emotions and personality as the basis for this piece. Many of the recordings were made `on location’, as my parents and I revisited the places where she grew up.

In her own time is as much about my feelings for my mother as about the events she describes. More generally, it’s also concerned with memories, places or people as they are now and were then, the temporal nature of sound itself, and the important legacy that stories provide.

People underground

The sounds used in this piece were recorded in foot tunnels underneath the Thames. These tunnels are reached by descending in large Victorian lifts, complete with mahogany panelling and raucous sliding metal doors. The tunnels are extraordinary, and the experience of interacting with them more so. As the doors open, the crowd emerges into a wonderfully reverberant environment, and many people immediately begin playing with it – stamping their feet, shouting, listening to echoes, making spooky noises with their kids. It’s one of few occasions in everyday life when people spontaneously engage with sound, and the `effects’ produced are surprisingly nightmarish. In the damp and dimly-lit tunnels, you could almost convince yourself that the journey may not end, or that you might be entering some dark, unknown world. This piece is a walk below ground in both the sonic and metaphorical sense, an imaginary journey in which the sounds of the tunnel, and the people, drift in and out of focus, become intensified or surreal or fade inexplicably to silence. Things aren’t what they seem, until the music returns to the surface.

People underground has also been used as the soundtrack for a film, Below the Surface by Paul Rodgers, with whom the original sounds were recorded.

Available on LONDON, a CD of music and sound art by Katharine Norman (NMC D034)

Squeaky Reel

Sound alone, fixed, 1998.

This very short piece uses only three unidentified sounds, provided by the CD label, to make a rather grungy, irreverent and perhaps slightly folk-like dance. Other than some slight processing, the sounds were left to speak for themselves. I made Squeaky Reel with a NeXT computer and Cmix software, and anything else that came to hand. Commissioned by empreintes DIGITALes and full-quality copy released on Miniatures concrètes Électro clips 2.