Artist Residency @ Burren College of Art – some notes

Between 18 March – 5 April, I undertook an artist residency at the Burren College Of Art, a contemporary art college on the west coast of Ireland near Ballyvaughn, Co Clare. The landscape around the area is stunning and dominated by The Burren, an otherworldly karst landscape:

While along the Mountain Walk, above Ailwee Caves.

What I love most about doing residencies is having that time to contemplate my practice, while in the midst of some beautiful and inspiring landscapes. One element that I’ve been keen on exploring more is finding more methods of manipulating field recordings. Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve been moving away from using synths in my main body of work, as opposed to my earlier practice where it was quite synth-heavy.

My general direction is to make recordings that sound less “artificial”, aka having a reliance on virtual instruments, and more “organic”, aka basing compositions on found sound samples and my own playing. I think this approach also creates a greater sense of immediacy within the works; they are sounds taken from a particular time in the environment, and in terms of my own playing, it establishes my own presence. One thing I found with synths was it created a sense of disconnect, and it felt inauthentic.

While on a walk up another part of the Burren behind the college, I came across a water tank collecting water streaming down the rocks after some recent rain. I took the original field recording and layered it multiple times with different effects (aside from the Doppler Shifter from Adobe Audition, all effects from Ableton Live 9):

1. Doppler Shifter (drippy preset)
2. Layer 1 with resonator (Valhalla)
3. Layer 1 with resonator (Tokyo)
4. Layer 1 with phaser effects (Slow Churn and Great Buddha)
5. Layer 1 with resonator (Moscow) – for a bass sound
6. Original field recording

Here is the result, with accompanying music visualisation made with Adobe After Effects, Trapcode Sound Keys and Trapcode Particular:

One aspect I wanted to continue exploring was how to integrate field recordings and field footage with performance. I’d been using a form of ecostructuralism [broadly speaking, the use of environmental aspects as composition] for a while, by creating percussion lines in Ableton through tracing the contours of a landscape. This time I decided to use contour lines as a basis for a graphical notation piece.

I traced three lines over a photograph, then grabbed my guitar and played.

“Karst” – for three guitars.

In “Karst”, vertical movements of the lines denotes changes of pitch, while horizontal movements denote the pace. I didn’t think too much of the key, although I chose D minor because it suited the darker mood of the piece. I hadn’t done a graphical notation piece since “The Light That Is Waiting” in 2016, so it was interesting to re-visit this technique. I combined the three guitars with two field recordings – one of the wind, and one of footsteps – to convey the feeling of walking along the rocks.

PS: The AMBEO Orbit is a free binaural panner plugin from Sennheiser, which I’ve been using quite a bit with these works. I find it very helpful in opening up recordings, particularly when there’s lots of interacting layers.