CD: The BOM Fellows are at the centre of everything we do. Each year we search out a small cohort of creative practitioners working across art, technology and science, providing them with an Incubator Programme of mentoring and creative development support, access to space, networks, peers, legal, professional and business expertise. In return they add immeasurably to our engagement and exhibition programming. They are a creative force and resource seam that runs through the BOM project and we’re hugely proud that we get to keep them for a while.
We wanted the wider BOM audience to know more about this year’s intake of Fellows, so as first in a series of blogs, we asked Matthew Evans a few questions about his practice. Matthew is a sound artist and musician. He is a Visiting Tutor and Doctoral Researcher at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He has also worked with Sense UK, Options For Life (an organisation that provides innovative opportunities for people with learning disabilities) and the Barbican, in the facilitation of workshops and research and development for the creation of gestural music devices to aid arts accessibility.
CD: You’re currently working on the sonification of microbiology, you’re literally making sound out of bacteria and moulds, is that a correct description of your project at BOM?
ME: My practice generally concerns making sound and music out of data. In the case of my PhD, that had meant making sound and music out of images by utilising pixel data in a variety of modes. This has allowed me to create a system that generates self-reflexive scores. If I put a video through the system, I can use the pixel data to create sound or music from the input. The aim is to create a multisensorial relationship with stimuli that ordinarily affect a singular sense.
In the case of microbiological sources, I am working on exploring life and death at a microscopic level. For instance, how can I map the microscopy of fertilisation, using that data to make composition and installation? I then use haptics such as the SUBPAC—a wearable vest that amplifies the tangible qualities of sound—to be able to have a visceral experience of the input.
The human body and life itself is such a deeply mysterious and creative act and using sound and music to create new modes for examining how we relate to ourselves and others is a such a source of inspiration for me.
CD: Your introductory piece on the website mentions aleatoric composition, having looked up what that means, I now know it refers to music or sound creation in which some element of the composition is left to chance. How much creative control are you intending to have? Is there any truth in the rumour that I just made up, that once you have extrapolated sounds from your microbes, you’ll be sampling those critters and composing a soundtrack to the forthcoming Attenborough documentary, Slime Planet?
ME: Hahahha, that would be terrific!
I have a complete fascination with generative systems that give control over to something else. John Cage explains, “Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it’s own accord.”
I have control over data mappings and deciding general aesthetic properties but after that, I turn the system on and it does its thing.
CD: Fellows often seem to support each other’s practice in practical ways, have there been instances when this has happened for you? Has there been any cross-pollination creatively? If so, could you elaborate?
ME: I have a radio show called “Concrete Music” on Brum radio. I have had Fellows, Kruse, Ben Neal and Harmeet Chagger-Khan on to discuss their practice and some of the records that have inspired it. There have been some fascinating conversations. Me and Kruse especially, as we have a lot of shared artistic interests and although it is early days, we have had some conversations surrounding how we could collaborate with haptics.
I have quite a niche skillset, but if I can ever help someone realise work that involves sound or music and I can be of service in some way, it is always a pleasure to help.
CD: Given unlimited funding and access to whatever skilled practitioners you need, what creative work would you love to make?
ME: I have recently created an installation called “ADSR”. The RGB data of a photograph of my late father playing his guitar was analysed and used to trigger samples of him playing his guitar. The final stage of the process is the output of audio via a SUBPAC, a haptic vest that amplifies the tangible qualities of sound. In creating an interdependent, multi modal response from a photograph, this installation aimed to explore how the compositional form of an image can be used to generate a sonic composition.
In translating image to sound, it seeks to explore how different mediums can be connected and how physical and contextual artefacts can be incorporated in the work to further embed a subject of a photograph. With a photograph being frozen in stasis and principally affecting the visual sense, this installation seeks to explore how making an image audible can generate a reanimation of a photograph. In making an image audible and exploiting the sonic characteristics via haptics, the installation seeks to explore how making sound from image can allow one to metaphorically feel and hear a person once more.
This installation made up a chapter for my PhD thesis and the conclusion ends with, “Working on this project has been an extremely helpful tool for maintaining a relationship with my father. When a sudden loss occurs, there can be an intense feeling of lack of control. This process, however, has allowed me to revisit and reanimate his photographs with a renewed sense of possibility, from circumstances that at the time felt like the end of a process rather than the start of one. At present this research has been focused on my own relationship with loss. In the future I would be interested to investigate how this image-to-sound process could be further abstracted as a creative method for others to cope with bereavement.”
I think with unlimited funding, I would love to develop a model that would allow people to use the various data that they have after a love one has passed and be able to use it ways that would help with loss.
CD: I think a lot of people would appreciate you being able to develop that project Matthew.
CD: What’s going to happen after the climate crisis apocalypse?
ME: Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of interbeing, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth. This is the highest possible form of prayer.
To express our reverence for the Earth is not to deify her or believe she is any more sacred than ourselves. It is to love her, to take care of her and to take refuge in her. When we suffer, the Earth embraces us, accepts us, and restores our energy, making us strong and stable again. The relief that we seek is right under our feet and all around us. Much of our suffering can be healed if we realize this. If we understand our deep connection and relationship with the Earth, we will have enough love, strength, and awakening to look after ourselves and the Earth so that we both can thrive.”
I think unfortunately, pendulums often have to swing drastically for people to take action or become aware. It is so easy to take things for granted in a society that praises individualism so highly. I can imagine that the world and the society around us will change in ways we can’t even imagine, bringing with it an unfathomable amount of loss and suffering. But I do believe humans have an incredible propensity for compassion and love and although a catalyst to return to that will come at an unimaginable expense, I hope for future generations there is way that we can come back into contact with the how utterly interconnected we all are.
Also, probs be lots of drinking powdered food and bartering over seeds after all centralised banking has collapsed.
CD: Best thing to order in the BOM café?
ME: I think the vegan ginger and pear cake is a delight.
CD: Big up the Vegan ginger and pear cake! Thanks Matthew