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Guest of the Month September 2010: liminal

liminal is architect Frances Crow and composer and sound artist David Prior.

Since 2003 they have developed a body of work, which explores the relationship between sound and environment through installation, sound-walks, performance, consultancy and research.

They won our New Music Award for their project ‘The Organ of Corti’, which uses the innovative acoustic technology of Sonic Crystals to sculpt environmental sound into a constantly evolving musical composition.

Frances and David first worked together on a collaboration called Triptych, for the State of the Nation Festival at the South Bank Centre in 1998. In 2003 they reformed to create a 24-channel installation called Swash, which was based entirely on under-water recordings. Since then, they have split their time working together between developing their own artistic projects, publishing research and acting as consultants on the role of sound in masterplanning schemes. They have also created a number of sound designs for exhibitions including the Churchill Museum, London and the Jefferson Museum, Virginia, USA.

While addressing the theme of unwanted sound in many
of their projects, the point of departure in all of liminal’s work is to think of sound as a material for creative play. The recurring question behind many of their recent projects then, is how best to work creatively with sound in a culture already saturated by its presence. In response to this question, liminal describe pieces such as Songpole (2007) and The Organ of Corti as ‘listening devices’; provocations to listen to ourselves listening.

Frances is a practicing architect and following her studies at the Bartlett in the late 90s, she has worked in London, Berlin and Devon. Her approach to design has been informed by a preoccupation with the multi-sensory, micro-scale and this fascination has been continued through her work in liminal.

In addition to the work he does through liminal, David makes music that spans small scale instrumental compositions and electronic work as well as slightly warped pop, working under the monikers Arcades (with Dugal McKinnon) and Derailer (with John Matthias). He is also in demand as producer, re-mixer and sound designer. Forthcoming work includes a remix of the Portico Quartet track Clipper with Adrian Corker and the mixing of Adrian’s music for Tim Plester’s new film, The Way of the Morris.

Despite the diversity of his output his work is characterised by a fragile and delicate sound-world, which is deeply informed by his practice as an environmental sound recordist. David’s work has been performed all over the world and has won a number of international competitions. He is an Associate Professor in Music and Sound Arts at University College Falmouth.

What has been influencing liminal? They told us:

We’ve picked a few pieces here (sound/ art/ architecture) that are making us think at the moment…

Christian Calon and Chantal Dumas: Radio Roadmovies: Documents de Surface
Radio Roadmovies is a double CD of subtly edited environmental recordings from a trip Calon and Dumas made around the Northern Territories of their native Canada. It’s a kind of tribute, perhaps, to the also brilliant Solitude Trilogy, a series of radio pieces by Glenn Gould, made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1967. One of the two discs includes recordings of lots of interaction with people and is replete with recordings of ‘events’ and the bustle of things happening. The other (Documents de Surface) follows in the footsteps of Luc Ferrari’s Presque Rien, documenting almost nothing, absolutely beautifully.

Bach – Busoni: The Organ Coral Preludes: “I Call On Thee Lord” played by Paul Jacobs
I came across this piano arrangement last year and it has since made its way into my personal pantheon of best pieces of music ever. As such, I don’t want to say any more about it. Taking Busoni’s lead, I’m currently writing an arrangement of my own, not in an attempt to add anything, just to have a reason to live in it.

The Books: The Way Out
The Way Out isn’t as good a title for an album as Lost and Safe, the title of their 2005 release, but not much is.  Fortunately, the music is still quite lovely and after a long pause in Bookish activity, The Way Out is a welcome return. True to form, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have managed to put a library of relaxation records to good use, collaging text samples with their characteristic approach to hyper-edited instrumental recordings. I’ve heard this music described as low-fi electronica. It isn’t. It’s good-fi.

James Turrell: Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
We were drawn to the work of Turrell as an example of art about light. The notion that the Organ of Corti will frame sounds already present obviously has a debt to Turrell’s Skyspace pieces in which he mediates our experience of the sky simply by offering us a frame through which to view it. Rather than offering us the opportunity to view something new, Turrell offers us the opportunity to view something already familiar in a new way. He reminds us that the phenomenon we are observing is of course always changing, always new, and in so doing he suggests a reconsidering of the act of looking itself. We hope we might be able to do something similar with The Organ of Corti.

Juhani Pallassma “The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture of the Senses”
The Eyes of the Skin is part of a growing body of writing that reasserts the multi-sensory nature of architecture. Pallassma is a Finnish architect and writer who questions the dominance of the visual as a primary means for experiencing our environment. He suggests an approach to the built environment that incorporates touch, smell and sound, challenging our contemporary hierarchy of the senses.

Diller and Scofidio: The Blur Building, for the Swiss Expo, 2002
Diller and Scofidio are one of the reasons we’re working together. Their impressive body of work spans many different disciplines, from performance through to domestic houses, often using very unconventional solutions to mundane problems. A great example of this approach, and one of my favourites among their projects, is The Blur Building, which used fog to create an architecture of atmosphere and performance.