WENSUM - Elise Chohan - Lawrence Bradby

The idea of working with Lawrence Bradby came after seeing his contribution to the Sonimation commission. I very much liked the poetry used in that work, so we got together to discuss what sort of piece we might make If we worked together.

Poetry, like music is a time-based art, which normally moves linearly from beginning to end. We thought it would be fun to challenge this idea, and to see if it was possible to 'distort time'.

Lawrence picked a theme as I felt that if he was to write the words of the poem, he would need something he could use instinctively, rather than me dictating to him what he should think about. He picked the theme of the river Wensum in Norwich, and went for walks there to gather thoughts and ideas. He also showed me a couple of poems as reference, to indicate a type of style he had in mind, for example: 'River-doors' by Sean O'Brian. He also showed me some of his previous work as an example.

In turn I played Lawrence some works which I felt would bring significance to my part in this work: 'Scherzo' by Andrew Lewis I particularly had in mind with his manipulation of his daughters' voices. I also played him some more commercial work: 'To Cure a Weakling Child' by Aphex Twin, again for the actual sounds produced. I also played him an Underworld track 'Pearl's Girl' for the pacey rhythmic style of speech-song.

We talked about which aspects we both liked and discovered we were both quite keen on taking small motives and looping them. This actually led to how we were going to structure the piece, in that I had a visual plan of blocks of different lengths overlapping different layers. I asked Lawrence if he would be able to write a list of one-word lines, a list of two or three-word phrases, and then longer phrases etc. This would give us building-blocks of different sizes.


Short phrases


Lawrence came back to me with exactly that - and better than I could have imagined! I then built a small pd patch which would enable us to play the different building blocks using the computer keyboard (though midi would also have been a possibility) as an interface. The idea of this is that we would be able to play different combinations and hear what things would sound like together. I also set up a loop with some bassy samples taken from the recording, to provide an example of what else we might include in the work

streamed sample (ogg vorbis mp3) of small building blocks through PD

The next couple of hurdles were to decide how much processing of voice there should be and what type. I was aware that voice is great for processing as it tends to be so rich in range, timbre and gesture, but at the same time, it is easy to fall into cliches with certain processes where a popular sound effect would be the result of the process, rather than catching the less common qualities of vocal processing.

Another issue was whether we would be able to position the words and phrases on the 'canvas' together. I knew Lawrence wanted a part in actually arranging the element of the poem: of coururse! But knowing that I tend to stop every few minutes to spend time altering a sound or making a loop, I feared that this would be excruciating for anyone else to sit through!

In the end this piece has never come to fruition, though I would still like to realise it eventually, as I feel that, as a concept it works really well. Lawrence and I are still in touch though busy with other things, and hopefully the work we have put in so far will not go to waste.