I’ve somehow been commissioned to create a permanent interactive audio-artwork in the centre of Cardiff. How this happened is a random series of events (a chance meeting and conversation with Emma Price, then an unexpected request for me to propose some new ideas to the commissioning body), but I have to admit to feeling a little bit like a fraud. Although I’ve brought many creative projects to fruition, I don’t really consider myself an artist. And yet my presentation, which consisted of a little bit of rambling about loving Cardiff and bringing a tiny bit of joy to everyone’s day, plus showing a couple of Youtube vidoes, resulted in me beating a handful of professional creative practitioners to the commission. And so I must apologise to them first. I hope the piece I build does the site proud.
So, what is it?
I’m planning to build a “human windchime” at the underpass between two parts of St David’s shopping centre on Hills Street, the thoroughfare between The Hayes and Charles Street. My primary objective is to provide an experience that will inject a little bit of joy into the day of anybody who interacts with it, whether they are aware of their interaction or not. By walking under a row of sensors they will trigger different sounds. In this way they will act as a human breeze that creates a wind-chime of beautiful sounds. The busier the underpass, the heavier the “breeze”.
I plan to install a line of discrete sensors across the thoroughfare between the two parts of the shopping centre. Depending on the directionality and sensitivity of the sensors available, I will place between 11 and 16 sensors in a line, each of which will be assigned a sound, probably using a major pentatonic scale, so that every note will sound pleasant and harmonic with every other. The green lines on the picture below display the possible locations for the sensor row.
As someone passes under a sensor, it will trigger a particular sound, the tone of which will differ depending on which end of the sensor-row they pass under. Passing on the far right would trigger a high note, and passing on the far left would trigger a low note, for example. I plan to incorporate a light with each sensor that glows when the relevant sensor is triggered. At busy times the windchimes will be constantly playing as shoppers pass continually underneath it. In the dead of night, maybe a single solitary note would quietly ring out as a weary clubber triggers it as they weave their way home.
As well as it being a seemingly random set of sounds being generated, I hope that some people would take the opportunity to “play” the installation, even if only briefly. I would love it if we could encourage “flashmobs”, site-specific dance or theatre pieces, or any musical activity that could incorporate playing it as an instrument.
Through a dedicated website, I plan to stream a live feed of the sounds being created over the internet. This would allow anyone to tune in and listen to the human windchime anywhere in the world, perhaps watching via a webcam. I anticipate that some people would tune in to use these random windchimes as a means of relaxation, or re-connecting with Cardiff.
To increase the public participation with the installation (which is really important to me) I would like to encourage musicians and creatives to submit their own banks of sounds that would be applied, say, monthly. One month may be a local vocalist singing those particular notes, the next may be bird song recorded around Cardiff, and December could feature jingle bells! Different global partners may be particularly interested in this. Perhaps sounds sent from Cardiff’s twin cities of Stuttgart or Xiamen might be featured. This public participation could feature a social element, maybe with a Twitter hashtag and Facebook voting, making the piece constantly fresh and shared on social networks.
I also believe there may be an opportunity for mobile phone apps as part of this, again increasing public participation. I don’t have a definitive idea as yet, but believe there may be a great opportunity for someone on an iPhone, for example, to download the last 30 seconds they just heard. Or perhaps to have their own mini-version on their handset. Or maybe to be able to have some subtle influence on the volume or pitch of the notes.
I would love this installation to excite and inspire people to interact with it actively as well as passively, and bring a moment of joy to all those that come into contact with it. I’m currently looking for people with the relevant skills to help me bring it to life, so get in touch if you think you have the necessary skills.