The Morning Line, Part 1

It’s rare these days to experience sound incorporated as an element into Public Art Works. I’m so very inspired by the impressively large-scale public sound installation by Tony Myatt, and Max/MSP wizard, Oli Larkin of the Music Research Centre (University of York, UK). The Morning Line is a huge outdoor sculpture, concealing a fifty-three speaker sound system driven by Max, which performs multi-spatial compositions by some of the world’s top sound artists. The Morning Line is touring internationally, currently in Vienna. Oli and Tony were kind enough to take the time during their massive set-up schedule, days before opening, to sit down and go into detail about the creation and technical management of such an ambitious and wonderful public art piece.

Can you give us a brief description of your project?

Tony: The Morning Line is a very large project, part of a series of art pavilions commissioned by art collector and patron Francesca von Habsburg’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation [T-B A21].

This is the second of four pavilions that she’s planning. It was designed by Matthew Ritchie, and architects Aranda/Lasch, from New York. They also worked with the Advanced Geometry Unit of Arup Engineering.

It began as a project to establish a collaborative structure that could be the basis for a whole variety of new art works. From its very conception — years before we got involved in the project — it was always designed to have a sound element of some sort that would try to unite sculpture with music in some way.

We were approached by T-B A21 in May 2008, who asked us to put together a system that could be a platform for the composers to realize spatial works on The Morning Line, which is a 17-ton outdoor, modular aluminum structure.

We’ve done a lot of work over the years in surround-sound technologies, methods and approaches, particularly on authoring techniques, ways in which people hear surround, and in techniques that can be used to enhance spatial audio perception.

Read Part 2 of this interview for an in-depth discussion of their Surround Concepts.

And this is the system that travels with the sculpture structure?

Correct. We showed it first in Seville at the Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2008. It was on display for a year. This is an outdoor sculpture, by the way, so we’re very grateful for the Meyer MM4XP speakers, which are waterproof. The sculpture traveled to Istanbul last year, as the centerpiece for the European City of Culture festival and was there for six months. We’re just about to open an exhibition here in Vienna, for the next six months, with a music festival of newly commissioned works.

The organization, T-B A21, have commissioned 28 composers now to write works specifically for The Morning Line. Oli, myself, Peter Worth and Dave Malham from the Music Research Centre, have been working with these composers to help them develop their ideas and concepts to be realized on the system and also to help them with the technicalities of working with spatial sound in general.

So we’ve got 10 new composers here whom we’re working with. I think that Francesca von Habsburg and T-B A21’s idea is that the piece will continue to tour and build a body of work over many years. And we’re also hoping to take it to North America at some point.

It’s all so exciting. Who curates the composers?

Tony: There have been a series of curators. T-B A21 is an art organization that collects contemporary art, so it has its own curators, but it has also commissioned sound curators to put together the music program for each venue.

For the first installation in Seville, Bryce Dessner — who plays guitar in the band The National — curated four works, and also an artist called Florian Hecker, who curated another four.

Russell Haswell curated the Istanbul international program of works, and four Turkish composers were also chosen by the MIAM institute in Istanbul for that exhibition.

For the Vienna installation Franz Pomassl has curated a series of artists including Carsten Nicolai and Christian Fennesz, and several from Eastern Europe.

We’re thrilled to be working with all these people.

View the full-sized screen shot.

So all the material is on the Mac Pro, and then going through Max. Is that correct?

Tony: Yeah. It’s all generated by our Morning Line patch.

That must be a really big Max patch!

Tony: Maybe one of the largest you’ve ever seen. [Laughs] Certainly one of the largest I’ve ever seen.

And how is the material mixed? Do you use pre-mixed multitrack files?

Tony: Because we want to make the pieces a multi-polyphonic experience in spatial terms, we don’t want to work with stereo files really. We want to work with all of the independent tracks and channels that a composer might use to put together that piece, so that we can separate out all the elements spatially across the sculpture.

Everything gets mixed on the fly, and also gets spatialized live as the pieces are playing back. So the Mac Pro contains all of the individual sound files that constitute the works. The Max patch sequences all of these sound files, spatializes them, pans them around, locates them, moves them and so on whilst the piece is being played. It’s a key feature of our approach that we can do that.

View the full-sized screen shot.

The Morning Line, Part 1

Jun 28, 2011 at 2:27pm



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