Super Critical Mass: Ideas/art/music/space

fluoro spoke to Julian Day, Janet McKay and Luke Jaaniste, the creative team behind Super Critical Mass (SCM), a sonic arts company who combine intrigue, art and mass musicians in a public space.

(f) What do people experience when their bodies move through the soundscapes you create?

(SCM) An immersive, evolving sonic cloud or field that suggests a ‘full-bodied’ way of playing and listening. Sounds come from all around, moving about, echoing, sliding and emerging out of the architectural and acoustics of the spaces we work with. There’s a sense of the entire space being sonically activated that people often describe as meditative and visceral.

Each of our events (which we call ‘masses’) involves only one type of instrument (just flutes, or alto saxophones, or just mouth organs etc) that are dispersed in space. This creates a sense of ambiguity as to where certain sounds are coming from. Was this flute over here, or was it behind me over there? This spatial ambiguity can be quite enlivening and intriguing because it alters what we think we know about the spaces we occupy and the way we (sonically) occupy them.

We could also answer this question of bodily experience in terms of the two basic types of people in masses: the players and the listeners. If the performers are used to sitting down and reading a score, as most classical and orchestral musicians are, or if they are used to standing close together as and ensemble or band, then within SCM they experience a sense of liberation and ownership; their movement or placement within a space allows them to occupy space more freely than usual. This may well be the same for listeners, who might be are used to sitting or stand away from the performers (as is the case with most staged concerts). Furthermore, when audiences move throughout a space and/or have performers move about around them they can create their own journeys that make certain sounds more prominent then others.

So the two roles bleed together. Players are always listening. And listeners who take their own journey through the soundscape also end up playing the space as well.

(f) Which spaces inspire you?

(SCM)  We are drawn to a great variety of spaces; part of the point of our research is to find ways to sonically read architectures in site-specific ways that suit their unique acoustics, physical space and feel. To date, we’ve worked in laneways, meat markets, museums, public squares, bank buildings, atriums, parklands and even around lakes. Having said that we especially like very rich resonant spaces, especially those that are unadorned such as gigantic former factories or carparks or parklands – spaces that have some sense of ambience and expansiveness to them where performers and listeners alike have the room to move and muse.

We’re keen to think alternatively about space.

The two main spaces we are exploring at FutureEverything exemplify our approach. Manchester Cathedral has a wonderful acoustic, as most old and large European cathedrals do. It also has no fixed chairs so we have the chance to set up our own spatial configurations for the multiple choirs we are working with and the ensuring audience. The Salford Quays area will feature another of our masses for brass instruments encircling a body of water, having previously placed brass around The Lake at Central Park in New York. When we conducted our initial site visit at Salford Quays last year the echo effects and the opportunity to spread performers across its three bridges and perhaps even the many banks of the canals, struck us.

(f) Moving from city to city, you utilise local performers. How do the performers of Manchester differ to those in Melbourne?

(SCM) There are many ways in which we can take what we’ve learnt with one group of performers on one instrument in one city and transfer this to a similar sized group of the same instrument in another city. The brass mass for Salford Quays will carry on certain spatial and sonic pathways we’ve explored in working with brass on multiple occasions in Melbourne, and New York. Likewise the vocal mass in Manchester Cathedral will build on the research we’ve done with community choirs in Western Sydney.

The point of differentiation seems to be more about the type of instrument we end up working with, which is based very much on the sort of musical communities that exist in each location.

(f) What’s next?

(SCM) We’re currently working on around half-a-dozen simultaneous residencies/projects in various cities within Australia and the UK, with further plans developing for the future. SCM has begun to take on a life of its own which is very exciting and dynamic to say the least! What’s really exciting for us is how each public activity and residency stimulates further projects, growing and diversifying in the number and types of performers, spaces and partners we work with in each city.

Most immediately we are creating new work for the Aurora Festival in Western Sydney, working with the local communities of Blacktown that coincides with an exhibition of our sound/visual work at Blacktown Arts Centre. Then we’re off to Manchester where we’ll build two new masses for Manchester Cathedral and Salford Quays as part of the FutureEverything festival and Looping The Loop. That’s followed by a project in London for Sounds Of Spitalfields. Over the next twelve months we’re also artists-in-residence at Federation Square in Melbourne and are also undertaking a creative development period in Sydney working with ensembles such as The Song Company, Continuum Sax and the Ampere electric guitar quartet in various heritage sites. Other projects and cities are in the pipeline too. Stay tuned.

FutureEverything is an annual festival, hosted in the UK, which celebrates the forward thinking motions in the art, music and technology areas. It will run from Wednesday 19 – Sunday 19 May 2012.

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