surfaces (2010- )surfaces is part of James Saunders’ ongoing project on the sonic properties of materials. Each piece in the series explores the way in which elementary actions elicit sounds from specific types of materials. In surfaces, all of the materials are flat. The sounds are produced through manual manipulation or the use of tools and objects in conjunction with the surfaces. The score uses verbal descriptions to specify action types; these vary between singular instructions and longer, more complicated sequences. Instructions may be repeated, reapplied to the same surface or transferred to a different one. Over the course of the performance, the surfaces become transformed, potentially resulting in detritus.
Note on the first performance
surfaces was made as a collaboration with percussionist Simon Limbrick and first presented at hcmf 2011 from 19-20 November. Simon’s realisation was presented in a near-silent environment, with control over lighting, external sound and a quieted flow of audience. In the context of a quiet installation-space, sounds components were produced from actions on the surfaces of a range of materials, selected with a consideration for their environmental impact , including recycled sources and plant-based plastics. Over a 24 hour period, the performance was directed with a series of instructions that focus the listening towards the wide range of sound qualities available from the interaction between the materials and tools or objects. The extended duration of the performance created a listening environment with the scope for subtler and more acute perception, effected by the changing cycles of daylight, external sound and our bodily functions. Although there is a visual dimension to the piece, the prime direction is the production of sonic properties of the surfaces. At the end of the work, the materials could be recycled, displayed or taken by the audience. The work was relayed by a continuous web-cam, permitting access across global time-zones.
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I’m back in the room with Simon now, having had a little sleep. I’ve been looking at the way some of the work he’s done has developed. There’s a sheet hanging at the back of the room with a load of squares drawn on it. When I left last night at about 2am, it only had a few marked on it, but he’s gradually filled the whole surface now, going back to this, and other actions, over the course of the realisation.
I’ve found that by sitting in on the piece for extended periods over the last 23 hours, I’ve gradually acclimatised to the pacing and focus of Simon’s work. There’s a lovely split between preparatory activities, such as moving surface to and from the work area or gathering tools or objects, and the more focused actions which result in sound production.
From what I can see, he’s used about 250 or so of the 300 cards, coming back to some of them over the course of the realisation.
Simon Limbrick is currently performing his realisation of surfaces at hcmf. I’ve been popping in and out of the space today, and it’s been interesting to see what has changed on returning. There’s now quite a lot of mess on the table as the materials start to get broken down into debris of various proportions.
Although there’s clearly a visual aspect to the way he’s realising it, I laid down and closed my eyes for twenty minutes and found the way this prioritised the sound gave it more presence. It’s about the sonic properties of the materials primarily, and I was able to concentrate more fully this way. I found that surprising as I don’t normally close my eyes when listening.
The way the light is changing in the room is lovely though, particularly now that it is getting dark. Simon turned the lights off about an hour ago so we’re sitting in the late afternoon gloom, looking over the rooftops towards the football ground where Huddersfield are currently playing Notts County.
The website for surfaces is now up and running, and there will be a live video stream of the performance on 19-20 November at hcmf. Before that, Simon is working on the piece as part of a residency at Aldbeurgh, during the TEDx conference. He’ll be doing a short presentation as part of that event, which will include a discussion we recorded yesterday in Bath. The Huddersfield performance will last for 24 hours, and will take place in the university art school.
There’s now a website that will document the project I’m doing with Simon Limbrick for hcmf// this year. The piece is called surfaces and is part of an ongoing project, on the sonic properties of materials, which investigates the way in which sounds can be elicited from simple materials. There are some pictures of the work we’ve been doing here. The piece uses surfaces – including various types of paper, wood and other recyclable materials – as the instrumentation, with a verbal score describing actions to be undertaken. During the performance, overlaid instructions transform the materials, leaving a pile of detritus by the end. In the version Simon is going to realise, the performance will last 24 hours. He is going to be working at Aldeburgh in early November during the TEDx event in the lead up to the Huddersfield performance, which happens from 11am on Saturday 20 November. The festival performance will also be streamed live on the web.