sound

Porcelain Heart

Porcelain as a material is a particularly complex and robust composite. In addition, the lengthy evolution of its production contains a wealth of historical and cultural significance. Using the techniques of granular synthesis, and sampled spoken word, Porcelain Heart attempts to forge form and content, taking as its raw materials the seemingly disparate elements of porcelain’s biography, and colliding them together. Porcelain becomes a metaphor, at times fluid, at times opaque, moving between the macro and micro structures in a piece which is as much about process as product.

Note: Frankly, I understand if you skip these words and head straight to the play button. In fact, I encourage it. You probably don't have much time. Please spend it listening... 

The starting point for this project was the ceramic material - porcelain. I watched a programme about ceramics (Thomas and Smith, 2012), and the compositional transformation which take place under fast firing to create this delicate but extremely robust composite.  “Because of the complex interplay between raw materials, processing routes and approaches and the kinetics of the firing process, porcelains represent some of the most complicate ceramic systems” (Carty and Senapati, 1998). These terms of elemental materiality lend themselves to techniques of audio composition and transformation, and porcelain as a concept provided a surprisingly diverse range of interest, which could be translated into the sound domain. 

The starting point for this project was the ceramic material - porcelain. I watched a programme about ceramics (Thomas and Smith, 2012), and the compositional transformation which take place under fast firing to create this delicate but extremely robust composite.  “Because of the complex interplay between raw materials, processing routes and approaches and the kinetics of the firing process, porcelains represent some of the most complicate ceramic systems” (Carty and Senapati, 1998). These terms of elemental materiality lend themselves to techniques of audio composition and transformation, and porcelain as a concept provided a surprisingly diverse range of interest, which could be translated into the sound domain.

This valuation of cultural artifacts, with its consequent labour markets, is explored in this soundscape. The history of the Chinese porcelain manufacturing industry has undergone many changes over such a vast period of time, with distinct evolutionary stages. Whilst it would have been possible to concentrate on the material elements of porcelain production, the human impact is not only interesting, but is the very reason that porcelain (as a manufactured, synthetic compound) exists.

The term ‘porcelain heart’ refers to a clinical paper written about a patient with hypertension and thoracic pain. The conceptual image that acts as graphic score the for this soundscape, is based on an inverted diagram of porcelain compositions (Carty and Senapati, 1998) and not only serves as a compositional framework but also resembles (somewhat!) a heart.  Triangular diagrams are often used to show the compositional ranges in minerals, so triangulation seemed apt for use, retaining conceptual integrity across the very three elements necessary for porcelain - clay, quartz and feldspar. “Because of their three-part composition of clay, feldspar, and quartz, porcelains are referred to as triaxial whitewares (Carty and Senapati, 1998). 

I wanted the soundscape to reflect qualities of porcelain in both form and content - in the process as well as the outcome. So I decided to incorporate granular synthesis - a form of particle synthesis - via Max MSP into the recording, so that the material transformation that takes place in porcelain production, can be represented in the transformation of the raw materials - the sound recordings - of the soundscape.  This allows for an unusual listening experience at the level underneath discrete notation. In cardiology, auscultation refers to skilled listening - and it is this central idea that ties together the disparate parts of the Porcelain Heart soundscape.

I've written more (yes, more!) about this piece here (with references), but for the sake of brevity here's the graphic score:

 

Referring to this score, one can understand the piece better; English speech (representing quartz) decreases over time, as the firing process (granular synthesis) changes the composition of the raw materials. However crystals of quartz (labour - represented by quotes from the porcelain factory workers in Boyd Gillette’s research) remain, affecting the strength of the end product. This double entendre refers to both strength of the industry, as well as to porcelain itself.

Meanwhile reverberation is used to a decreasing extent on the tracks containing water (reverberation being ‘wet’ in the common sound recording lexicon, and water decreasing over time in porcelain firing). 

Tracks containing fire are heavily processed using granular synthesis, to impact their opacity. Changes to timbre (representing clay) are made to the factory worker quotes, partly for practical reasons (other recorded speech was conceptually tied to the other core materials of quartz and feldspar, and had been processed through granular synthesis where this stream of speech had not been effected) and partly for conceptual reasons  (there were historic and cultural reasons for varying clay content and thus colour in porcelain production). 

Finally Mandarin speech (representing feldspar) is processing through granular synthesis to varying degrees over time. This reflects feldspar’s value as a flux in the production of porcelain.

 

Flamecho

This piece was inspired from many journeys I made, after moving to west London whilst continuing try to keep up  with flamenkitos in east London, whose stamina for parties always outlasted my own. 

Returning on the tube on the way home from a night of flamenco, remembered sounds blurred with the rhythms of the tube.

 

The Long Way Home

Because sometimes it's not about how efficiently we do it, it's about jolting yourself awake in the most habituated behaviours, to gain some perspective.

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