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Permutations Prints

 
 

As part of the Permutations premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival, 10th-16th June 2017, we made a series of limited edition risograph prints which explore the varying levels of enclosure offered by opening and closing the chamber doors. These were exhibited in Aldeburgh Music's Hoffmann Building in an exhibition showcasing the project's evolution under their Open Space residency programme. 

Printed by Risotto Studio, Glasgow.

Prints are available to purchase, please askulina@gmail.com if interested!

Prototyping

 

A series of photographs describing the 1:1 mock-ups and prototyping completed out as part of the detailed design development.

This process has been critical in testing and resolving the system of components that form each of the chambers.

Working with Tandem Set & Scenery, we have been exploring various ways of preparing the steel frame to allow it to be rapidly constructed and deconstructed for production purposes. This has involved testing different methods of bolting and clamping the sections together and identifying suitable hinges for the corners to the chambers.

In parallel with resolving the design of the structure, we have also been reviewing samples for the finishes. We have worked with Tandem to identify robust materials to fabricate the pivoting doors and panels. These are designed to create an acoustically absorbent, felt lined interior and a flush, hard wearing timber lined finish on the exterior. It has been an involved process, testing a variety of timbers and different coloured stains whilst simultaneously experimenting with solutions for fabricating the undulating substrate to the felt which has been one of the greatest challenges in terms of ensuring adequate acoustic performance.

The same felt used to line the interior of the panels will be fixed to the reveal of the doors to create a recessed seal around all of the moving parts, helping reduce the extent of the sound transmission when the doors are all closed.

At high level in the chambers, we have been exploring different methods of integrating the 'invisible' Mobius-7 speakers from Amina Technologies, testing the height at which these perform best. We have also been reviewing options for the reflective 'skylight', testing different metal and acrylic laminate finishes and the translucent polycarbonate panels intended to diffuse the external lighting that will gently illuminate the interiors.

1401 - Mock-up in workshop

 

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Permutations in the Marshes

 

Following our investigations into lining, we decided to pursue a more detailed design of a version of the project to be sited close to the edge of the marsh, near Sarah Lucas’ Percival, just off the path to Iken. 

 

The proposal was intended to read as another sculptural intervention in the landscape, serving as a landmark on the path out into the marsh. The site was chosen to take advantage of the picturesque landscape setting and a certain remoteness or detachment from the rest of the campus, in order to create a sense of pilgrimage or discovery for the intended audience.

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Developing the chamber linings

 

As a way of establishing the specific ‘characters’ of the individual chambers, we explored how the internal lining could offer a way to affect both their acoustic and visual personalities. In conjunction with designing the overall volume of each chamber, we speculated about how we might manually shape the reverberation time of the recorded violin parts.

We saw the alteration of the lining from one chamber to the next as the equivalent to altering the timbre in a composition.

As an extension of this, we are interested in the idea that a space might be perceived as acoustically larger than it is in reality; creating an “acoustic tardis” of sorts. We then began to work with the same themes in the visual articulation of each chamber: playing with rhythm to affect one’s perception of perspective.

 

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Arch, Nikola Lenivets

 

Amongst the various acoustic settings explored was a scupltural belvedere, entitled ‘Arch’, designed by the Russian architect Bernaskoni. Constructed from stacked timber planks, this perforated viewing platform provided an opportunity to experiment with the acoustics of another informal performance setting. Freya wrote a simple contrapuntal piece inspired by her time at Nikola Lenivets which we then rehearsed with a number of other volunteers from the unit and eventually performed inside the structure for our Russian hosts and peers. We saw the Arch piece as another example of how performance can be used as research towards the development of our project. 

 

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Nikola Lenivets

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In November 2014, we spent a week in a small Russian village called Kvizzhi, part of Nikola-Lenivets art park. Working alongside a group of students from the Moscow School of Architecture, the Free Unit took part in a workshop focussed on the refurbishment of a former Soviet-era shop. We took this opportunity to test Freya’s initial sketches for Permutations in a range of different acoustic environments within the ruin of the shop as well as elsewhere in the art park. 

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six architectural characters

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Permutations Family Portrait

Our compositional exercises in expressing counterpoint in an architectural form culminated in a design iteration which focuses more on the idea of six architectural figures: individual ‘characters’, each with its own acoustic and spatial personality, corresponding to the individual solo-parts of the musical composition. This began to address our concerns regarding the acoustic and visual homogeneity of the previous proposal that we had begun with. These ideas are expressed by this timber model, all constructed in a similar manner but with proportional differences which came about through experimentation. Each volume - when struck against the walnut base pictured - resonated at different frequencies due to their differing masses and forms.

Contrapuntal script performance

With the help of Freya and three volunteers, including Robert Mull and visiting critics’, Ellis Woodman and Maria Smith, we performed a spoken piece in basic counterpoint for the rest of our peers in the Cass Free Unit. The script for the piece was a concise description of our aspirations for the project. The intention of the performance was to express some of the compositional ideas at the heart of the project, both in the music and in the architecture, whilst involving individuals external to the project in expressing the scope of its intent. It was an exercise in the use of performance as a didactic tool, a form of cultural production that is at once expressive of a set of creative values and at the same time teaches the participants and audience about a musical phenomenon. In many respects, the performance embodied more than just the spirit of the project; it also defined a way of articulating our broader aspirations for our own creative practices.

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Architectural responses to the music

Following our first listening, we decided to review our architectural proposal and explore the idea of counterpoint. This resulted in a number of small, compositional studies, which sought to physically express the structure of the music. We used the models to look at how the solo-parts might be brought together in a more sophisticated manner than we had acheived previously, becoming increasingly interested in the notion of creating a family of architectural figures each of which is defined by the individual solo parts of Freya’s composition.

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Recording Sketches at Eaton Square

 
 

In October 2014 we had our first opportunity to listen to a number of musical sketches that Freya had been working on for the piece. We met at St Peter’s Church on Eaton Square before Tamsin’s rehearsal there. Here we made a series of recordings testing the sketches in a variety of acoustic conditions that the church had to offer, including the highly reverberant nave and a number of small alcoves with varying degreess of absorbtion. This was a vital and altogether invigorating way for the team to get their ears tuned to the compositional ideas underpinning the piece, allowing them to get a feel for the atmosphere and range of musical effects Freya was interested in experimenting with.

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Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

My early conception of Permutations was as a tool through which to explore six-part counterpoint, imagining the violin parts as six equal, interwoven contrapuntal lines. The idea of being able to physically walk through the fabric of the music, and single out each thread individually was an exciting motivating factor for me. While this is still a large part of it, the entire piece will not consist of constant polyphony. Listening to some of the great feats of counterpoint from history, I began examining Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in some detail. I noticed that the intervals between the notes in the fugal subject are a palindrome. 

One of the notes that can be seen sketched on Finbarr and Andrew’s very first sketch of Permutations is ‘repetition : sublime’. Andrew wrote the note after reading parts of Edmund Burke’s ‘On the Sublime and Beautiful’, in which Burke writes the repeating visual elements create an imaginary infinite space, evoking a sense of the sublime.    

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The reflection of these ideas in Beethoven’s powerful fugal subject led me start playing around with the palindrome, exchanging the intervals while keeping the pattern constant. I enjoyed the way the patterns sounded somehow familiar and unexpected at once, and so began to use them for my sketches. At this point, I explained the palindrome in the fugal subject and how I had used the pattern to create my own palindromes to Finbarr and Andrew. They then became interested in the idea of using the palindromic structure to inform the architectural proposal in a direct way, by purposefully designing a visual rhythm in the chamber linings. 

FWC

Playing it by ear

 
Photo: John Brandenburger

Photo: John Brandenburger

Photo: John Brandenburger

Photo: John Brandenburger

“Jacques Barzun’s theme that the majority of men are outside the concept of C.P.Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’, and that most of us are part of a scientific culture, explains how easily we create gods of pseudo-sciences. We are surrounded by them today - economics, cybernetics, ergonomics, and, I believe, acoustics. If a few scientists wave some mathematics at us most of us swallow the results of their 'science’ without questioning. As Muggeridge says, 'Towards any kind of scientific mumbo-jumbo, we display a credulity which must be the envy of African witchdoctors.’ We neither question the scientists’ parameters nor do we ask if they have collected them all. The refreshing thing about Beranek’s book on acoustics is the empirical approach and collection of data of some 54 concert halls and opera houses throughout the world. 

We can go on measuring and calculating but finally any reaction to music is a highly subjective thingI believe it is also dangerous to talk about acoustics in an abstract way, to divorce them from their physical surroundings, because the whole architecture of the space in which music is made is as much responsible for our whole response to the music. It is dangerous to talk about only the acoustics of a hall as to think we can rely only on our intellect for judgement.”

Derek Sugden, 1967

('Snape Concert Hall’, Derek Sudgen [Ed. Rosemary Devine; Art Ed. Desmond Wyeth] The Arup Journal, Vol.1 No.4, June 1967 published by Ove Arup & Partners Consulting Engineers, Arup Associates Architects and Engineers, 13 Fitzroy Street, London W1)

During our research into the refurbishment of the former agricultural buildings at Snape, we came across a detailed analysis of the acoustic transformation of the maltings written by Derek Sugden, the main acoustician on the project. Sugden’s critique of the ‘pseudo-science’ behind modern acoustics was formative in our approach to our proposal. There are many examples of a tension occuring between the rationalisation of acoustic space and its subjective experience. Consequently, there is a long tradition of ‘fine-tuning’ or ‘playing it by ear’ when it comes to designing for the performance of music. 

The Bosedorfer Saal in Vienna is another such example, developed from a riding school into a highly-regarded performance venue in the late 19th Century. The acoustics were tested from horseback, listening for the right levels of reverberation whilst repositioning the fabric of the building.

Bosendorfer Saal, Vienna - converted from a former riding hall in the late 19th Century

Bosendorfer Saal, Vienna - converted from a former riding hall in the late 19th Century

(Von Fischer, Sabine., “Acoustics, Appropriated and Applied: Describing Sound in Architecture and Physics” Candide. Journal for Architectural Knowledge No. 06 (2012), p. 16)

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