June 17th, 2008 fay
This is where it begins, in the Temperate Palm House, though it wasn’t framed by blossom back in February when Ziggy Campbell and Simon Kirby met Glasshouse Curator David Mitchell on a cold spring morning. A cheeky robin hops, head on one side, between plants as musician, academic and horticulturist peer beneath stone benches and behind tall palms exploring the best location for a sound installation which has yet to be invented.
Back in the workshop Ziggy and Simon experiment with a Chinese dulcimer (a yang-chin) borrowed from Kimho and played by robotic beaters. Because they want to create an acoustic sound that fits the environment of the Palm House they are trying something that has never been done before; making music in collaboration with robots and living plants. Or in technical terms, pinched from their blog: “Software on the microcontrollers plays music composed for the installation that reacts to the presence of humans and changes in the soil of the plant beds…”
tuned robotic chimes – see how they run on Ziggy and Simon’s blog:
3pm Tuesday 10 June, Simon and Ziggy unload Three Pieces from the car; that’s one yang-chin, 12 chimes on bamboo stakes, 3 small sensor boxes, the electronic ‘brains’ of the outfit and a lot of very fine, brightly coloured electric cable. In the Palm House they find RBGE’s Fiona Inches and Steve Herrington have cordoned off their space with a ‘men at work’ barrier. Four days of wiring and calibrating lie ahead.
6pm Wednesday 11 June, chimes are sounding from the foliage, light filters through the leaves. “What a fantastic place to work,” says Simon. Time to stand back and enjoy the space with friends. Ziggy carefully rakes over any soil they have disturbed in the course of inserting bamboo stakes. Enough for today, tomorrow the yang-chin…
3.40pm Wednesday 12 June, Simon (left) and Ziggy discover that the yang-chin, now sitting discreetly among bamboo, is out of tune and not quite audible enough. Steve joins the consultation and as a result brings wooden planks which raise and tilt the instrument so the beaters hit the strings with a cleaner sound. To quote Ian Hamilton Finlay, “art is a small adjustment.”
4pm, Friday 13 June, Art has had a few more small adjustments (we’re talking micromillimetres at a time) but now Three Pieces is playing as intended. Rosie Lewis and Jacqui Skelton of Poor Boy arrive for the Health and Safety inspection prompting a celebratory performance from robotic chimes and yang-chin. “This is absolutely fantastic,” says Rosie. A bird flies across the border setting off another ripple of chimes. It’s that robin again.
Three Pieces is open 14-29 June.
Special thanks to David Mitchell, Fiona Inches, Steve Herrington – and all the staff in the Palm House who will know the melody very well by the end of the exhibition!
Entry Filed under: Behind the scenes