Bennett Hogg

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Ghost Orchestra

Ghost Orchestra (click to view) was the working title used by John Ferguson and myself for a performance piece premiered at the Newcastle-Gateshead AV08 Festival as part of the “Haunted House” event at Culture Lab, Newcastle, curated by Sally Jane Norman to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Antonin Artaud. Our initial idea had been to play intruments “at a distance”.  For John this meant using Wii controllers through the laptop to control and process live guitar feedback. My contribution was more analgue – acoustic, in fact – as it uses a suspended violin and cello as resonators for the sound of running fingers along the strands of wool suspending them (creating low groaning and creaking sounds) or plucking the wool to set of more persussive sonorities. During the experiments with the wool I had the idea of making what is in effect a sequencer with wool – tying large-ish knots in the wool, threading this through the violin and cello strings and then pulling the wool through the strings. It creates a rather “airy” sul ponticello effect when it’s just the pure wool, but as the knots pass between the strings they effectively “pluck” the strings they pass over. By spacing the knots out irregularly an irregular rhythm is generated if the wool is pulled at a steady speed. This also made possible more aggressive, violent gestures, that served as useful disruptions of the otherwise slowly evolving and atmospheric creaks and groans. I made a fairly simple MAX patch to enrich the possibilities, a series of inter-related delays and transpositions, and at one point a playback of some pre-recorded bow-pressure noise.

The short film of the performance is actually an edited extract – there is also about a minute and a hlf of the opening where we played a fragment of Artaud’s Pour en finir avec le judgement de Dieu through a couple of contact transducers attached to the violin – the effect was like hearing Artaud’s screams and chanting through a very primitive radio receiver, but this doesn’t really come across in the video because of the sound quality. The event co-incided almost to the day with what should have been the sixtieth anniversary of the broadcast of Artaud’s final chef d’oeuvre but the premiere broadcast was banned by the head of Radio France, and Artaud died some three weeks later.

We’ve not really developed this much beyond the experimental version you can see here, but are intending to do so once some of the other projects we’re involved in a completed (probably in the Autumn of 2009). What you see here doesn’t feel much like a “piece”, as such, more a putting-into-practice of some ideas that need further development and refinement to be completely convincing. I thought, though, that it’s nevertheless interesting to look at, and get some idea as to where this set of ideas might go. The project sits on the back of the Resistant Violin project, too – there’s one line of thinking that would see the technology developed for the Resistant Violin being deployed in this sort of situation, too.

Thanks to Mark Self for filming this – check out his amazing website Music Film Broth which is probably the best showcase for contemporary music making and gigs in the North of England, with a huge range of video documentation of gigs, seminars, performance events, etc.

As part of the same event Culture lab and AV08 presented Reality Soundtrack by Slovenian composer and sound artist Tao G. Vrhovec-Sambolec, who is a regular visiting artist to my department.