Sonic Bed Laboratory. Will you lie next to a stranger?

Extract of interview for Her Noise Catalogue:

What was the original motivation behind sonic bed?

I’ve long been interested in the physical experience of music and have made two sonic armchairs which combine the vibrational sensations of music perception with aural to make new compositions. These chairs, with speakers immersed under their upholstery, create situations that transform the listening experience for the sitter, turning ‘weird’ or ‘boring’ music into something meaningful. People will queue for hours, have a completely different experience, love it and talk of the musical as well as physical and psychological experiences they have had afterwards.

The body of my work in the last 10 years has been improvised site specific performance work through quadraphonic systems, which play with an open bag of unknown ingredients that have to be dealt with moment by moment every time. Sonic furniture provides quite the opposite: a purposefully constructed, intimately known, containable, portable venue, for which a specific piece is carefully made and which audience can experience one by one or alone, and directly through their bodies, no eyes.

Specific frequencies can be mapped to specific areas, architectural scores can be made.

Making a sonic bed will allow a development of this work in many directions.

Initially, this will be the first opportunity to work with the visitor lying down, secondly that a bed is a potentially social space. Third, that the space under an oversized kingsize will provide much larger spaces for speakers, enabling the construction of fully operational sub-woofa cabinets so allowing play with types and levels of vibration not yet managed through the chairs.

Sonic furniture background

Since my first sonic arcmchair (Arts Council funded interactive installation PlacemadeMobile, collaboration with Mandy McIntosh 1997), I have since made 2 works, which have been installed in London, Liverpool, York, Hamburg and Glasgow. The most recent outing to Hamburg delighted 400, 000 visiting bottoms.

Sonic Armchair no1

“A 1950’s armchair with 8 speakers installed inside , and a remote control for each sitter to play a specially made work by Kaffe. The piece for this show was titled “….for Doris Whincopp”: deep-layered and circular, which vibrated through and around the sitter massaging in shifting layers and patterns. A penetrating bass underneath, with two patterns gliding left to right at different speeds across the shoulders and the lower back and kidneys, the high frequencies buzzing circular around the ears. Visitors queued on the stairs all day to have a ride.

This magical armchair, successfully perverts an every day object and action into an extraordinary journey.Every home should have one.”

The Glasgow Herald. July 1997

In 1999, I was commissioned by the Millenium exhibition “Don’t Worry” at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, to make chair no.2, aka red chair. A luxurious and oversized development of the first, for which I made the work de cardiac bass(2000), Take a Ride(2000)Beckett Time Festival, and Drop Time(2002),Reading City Stages commission.

PLEASE SEE for more info on sonic armchairs made, in the artist, works made, solo section.

Through the process of developing the piece you have moved away from wanting to work with the brain’s activity as source to wanting to work with the whole of the human body, architectural maps as you call them. Why is this and in fact what do you mean by this?

Well I think almost 2 years has gone by since we first talked of this commission and so ideas and approaches of course have been moving on. A big part of that has been my developing a conceptual and physical understanding of energy and the continuous vibration of matter as well as developing a practise in working with many outputs of sound. So this means being able to build and work architecturally with sound, in real shapes that move with time.

Now the human body is constantly vibrating and releasing energy, electromagnetic frequencies, and they’re in the audible realm. Incredible. Simply put, every one of our bodies, each organ, is constantly producing its own stream of music, albeit super quiet, and when well will sing in harmony. Each cell, tissue and organ is releasing a different frequency, some are healthy(harmonious) and some unhealthy (discordant). Bioresonance is a practice which works at a cellular level, attempting to pinpoint and measure these frequencies, modifying the resonances, so rebalancing and healing the body.

It’s a field I’m just beginning a year’s research with, to try and understand it and see if there is any mileage in being able to use its readings as a means of making schemes for music making to experience through your body.

Bed then will simply present music for the map of the human body as a whole, its shape, its depths, its varieties and how it lies . And I will be using combinations of frequencies that I am being given from a bioresonance practitioner, that are known to have particular effects in certain combinations and so sculpt spaces to lie in using them. The development of this will be part of the lab aspect I will run with visitors at the gallery on Thursdays .

Multidimensional, scores for bodies…, played through the body.

I should add that I am not interested to explore this field to make ‘healing’ music or therapeutic furniture. Simply to explore the possibility of using the body map and its energy as source for music making. This is much more what I was looking for than brain activity as data, which now seems superficial in comparison. The vibrating body as a whole much more relevant.

Your ‘native’ context is that of live performance and improvised live music in which much is left to chance. You have yourself described the experience as ‘One minute you’re walking along and everything is breezy and beautiful and the next minute it’s a bloody disaster.’ The gallery environment is more controlled, and less is open to chance. What is the attraction of moving into this realm?

The gallery context provides a compositional environment and one that is not structured around performance , so normal performic restrictions regarding time and audience disappear. This is a great situation to present other ideas then, present them as you intend, rather than create something out of that situation, which is what the live work does.

As well as what is said above in no.2, sonic furniture also specifically allows me to work on a central aspect to the performic work which is accessing the physicality of sound and directly composing with it. The intimate nature of the gallery space is a great opportunity too, as visitors can have quiet experiences alone, and not be bombarded by the demands of a performance/happening . So at the end of the day its all about making an appreciation of the audio more aware.

Having said this about my compositional intentions and being able to work with precision, running a laboratory allows me to get direct input from visitors/audience, one to one and be able to essentially work on the composition together.

Aside from Sonic Bed, the object, your piece will involve a laboratory – what will visitors be able to experience in your space and what does their involvement entail?

Visitors can book into the laboratory for either a group or one to one hourly session. Max number 6 per group.

Experiments will involve lying on the bed and recording experiences through lying in different spaces, for different durations of time, active, passive and with different amount of light. How does the aural awareness change?

Visitors could have pulses read and hear the response as they begin to slow down.

Different combinations, positions and volumes of frequencies will be arranged around them. Pulses and temperatures could also be taken. They will be asked to describe what they experience, what they like and what they don’t like.

New pieces could be made from this input and added into the menu of pieces available for visitor selection in bed.

You have referred to making music with ‘systems’ (whether the system is you and the computer or a set of stretched wires, or recordings of environmental conditions). This time you are using people’s internal workings as systems. Can you talk about your interest in bioresonance?

I will be able to talk about it much more at the end of the project. On discovering the fact that our bodies are vibrating and continuously releasing frequencies within the human hearing range, I immediately became interested. On discovering that there was a practice that measured this energy and used it to balance or heal a body, ie.bioresonance, I immediately became interested to explore this field as a potential source for music making. I am still at that stage.

SB_Lab will be my first chance to experiment using these electrical maps as scores for music making.

KM September 1st 2005.