The inspiration for this piece was a collage by English artist John Piper (1903-1992), who used fragments of sheet music to depict the chalk and flint cliffs between Seaford and Newhaven, Sussex. I was struck by the possibility of exploring how this visual patterning association could be reversed and sections of the cliff face turned into graphic musical notation.
The MA Digital Media Arts course has given me an opportunity to expand on this concept, providing access to the digital skills and knowledge to realise the potential, and apply a variety of tools and techniques to incorporate multi-layered visual, sound and performative elements.
Another influence was the American-born composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997), whose Studies for Player Piano compositions were sequenced instructions punched on paper rolls and relayed to a reproducing player piano. As well as wanting to emulate the audible effects of this technique, another component I wanted to integrate visually was combining the verticality of tumbling note triggers, juxtaposed with horizontal bands of flint, imitating the contrasting way that cine film runs through a projector vertically with how digital film editing defaults to a horizontal axis flow, at an intersection of temporal and geological time.
‘Undercliff Suite’ marks a stage on a developmental journey. It combines footage and images recorded during the lockdown period on the stretch of coast where I live. I filmed the cliff face at different times of day with light and shadows either accentuating or washing out flint nodes and surfaces. I used patterns within the geological features as a point of commencement to articulate my responses to the environment and circumstances. I sourced four antique piano rolls online and made a frame to film them unravelling.
Using a rough cut of the initial footage, I improvised and live scored on piano and guitar in response to the image sequences. This was woven into a soundtrack incorporating the percussive sound of flint, along with the sound of a piano roll unspooling. When this sound montage was recombined with the images in VDMX video mixing software, the dynamics and frequency ranges shaped the visuals in a mirroring reactive performance, giving another dimension and layer of interactivity to the piece.
A feature of my work is the combination of analogue, low-fi and low-tech forms of making alongside digital post-production, manipulation and enhancement. My aim was to develop a blend of practice within the constraints imposed by external factors, while maintaining broad conceptual goals and outcomes, and applying multiple reactive and interactive processes. In this way I maximised any potential for deviation and happenstance as a catalyst to draw out less obvious qualities inherent in the material. It doesn’t always make for easy listening or looking, but hopefully is something that is as compelling to experience as it was to produce.