Journey Through the Mirror Pool is a nine minute multi-channel sound installation that take audiences on a sonic descent from Bradford’s town hall clock through the surface of the mirror pool to the mechanical underbelly of drones and industrial pumps. The installation is part of SuperSenses exhibition at the National Science and Media Museum 2017. Created with Alan Dunn and Danny Saul.
Work for creating Journey through the Mirror Pool began with a two day recording session led by sound recordist Chris Watson and with Alan Dunn and students from Leeds Beckett University recording sounds around Bradford using contact mics, hydrophones, bat detectors, electromagnetic frequency detectors and other recording equipment. The aim was to unveil hidden sounds that are normally inaudible, or usually undetectable to the everyday ear without specialist listening or recording equipment.
The Mirror Pool is a public leisure destination in the centre of Bradford (it’s the largest urban water feature in the UK) where families go together to play and socialise and is a key part of the urban regeneration and focal point for this post industrial town. Over the course of a day the public square fills with water to form the pool, which is powered by a large pumping station and network underneath. We researched the town’s history of working class families visiting Morecambe on holiday or ‘Bradford by the Sea’. as it became known. The piece is presented as a dystopian industrial beach where after the town’s decline of industry; the machines that once powered the economy now work to provide leisure for the people.
Audiences sit on deckchairs in a collective and focused listening experience in an especially built sound space; the aim being to encourage listeners to hear unfamiliar sounds and consider sound and how we listen in a different way. The listening experience was designed as a coming together and has something of a ritualistic feel enhanced by the lighting and cocooned environment.
Recording days with Chris Watson, above and below the Mirror Pool
SOUND DESIGN & PRODUCTION
Over 170 individual pieces of audio were recorded on the days with Chris Watson, following a playback day at Leeds Beckett University where we discussed the recordings made, we took these back to the studio to begin the process of listening to the content, grouping and starting to sketch out a sonic narrative for the piece. These were our initial groupings of audio
- Dawn chorus (birds, Bradford town centre)
- Ambient mirror pool recordings, including people/voices (above surface)
- Town clock chimes
- Submergence under water (hydrophone recordings -going under water)
- Descent underground (ambient – darker room lighting)
- Drones (machines/textures)
- Rhythmic sounds (mechanical sounds)
- Electromagnetic buzzing (power station)
To compose the piece we worked with a combination of Ableton and Reaper DAW’s with associated plug-ins and effects. The sonic textures of the piece are quite distinct, from the opening above surface and very naturalistic recordings, through to the whirling descent submerging in the water to the more heavy industrial rhythms and textures. We spent a good few weeks listening to mechanical drones and industrial rhythms to achieve the beneath the surface section where we EQ’d over forty individual tiny audio samples of drones, textures and timbres to spatialise and randomised for a particular flutter section. We also worked with electromagnetic recordings using amplitude modulation and quad panning to achieve movement and dynamism within the piece.
It was the first time we had worked in multi-channel, Pro Audio provided us with a serious surround sound set up in our Noise studio to compose and we invited Danny Saul to collaborate with us and help us realise our production in multi-channel and his expertise in sound design to create the descent segment of the piece. We wanted the audience to experience movement across space, a feeling of submergence, and of being transported or ‘within’ the sounds through this listening experience.
We were also thrilled to work with Sam Meech who designed the lighting for the installation, creating a visual narrative that enhanced our soundscape to create a theatrical experience for audiences. The lighting was crucial to creating a suspense of reality and a mesmeric experience as the scenes unfolded through evolving colour washes and accents.
Thanks to John O’Shea, Kate Davies and the team at the National Science and Media Museum, Danny Saul, Sam Meech, Alan Dunn and Leeds Beckett students and Steve Cummings.
The Mirror Pool, Bradford
Early sketch for installation