The multi-channel fixed-media composition Living Waves, was commissioned for the interdisciplinary Ruskin Rocks Project (http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ruskinrocks/) led by Prof Bruce Yardley, School of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds. The project brought together musicians (including Dame Evelyn Glennie), artists and scientists to create two new 21st Century lithophones (the Brantwood Musical Stones, designed by Dr Kia Ng (University of Leeds) and Marcus de Mowbray (freelance musical instrument maker) to be housed at Brantwood, the former home of artist, naturalist and social commentator John Ruskin, now a museum situated in the Lake District. The two tuned percussion instruments have been created from ringing rock extracted from several Cumbrian Quarries.
Living Waves has been inspired by the thoughts, writings and paintings of Ruskin. It is the sub-title he himself gave to Deucalion, his book on geology. It is also the name of a recent exhibition at Brantwood of some of his drawings and watercolours in which he explored the many repeated patterns which occur in nature. Mountains are viewed as fluid and dynamic forms, living waves created by the shifting of the earth’s crust.
Ruskin himself describes the phenomenon of repeated forms in nature on differing scales: ‘For a stone, when it is examined, will be found and mountain in miniature. The fineness of Nature’s work is so great, that, into a single block, a foot or two in diameter, she can compress as many changes of form and structure, on a small scale, as she needs for her mountains on a large one...’ (Ruskin, Modern Painters IV, 1860, P.311).
On a conceptual level, Ruskin identified with the medieval scholars’ concept of Musica Mundana, or ‘music of the spheres’. A celestial harmony. The three branches of the medieval concept of music were laid down by Boethius as Musica Mundana, Musica Humana (the internal music of the human body), and Musica Instrumentalis (sounds made by singers and instrumentalists). This sense of inter-connectedness pervades much of his work.
Through the compositional process I have tried to mirror Ruskin’s visual explorations from a sonic perspective, using a range of transformational techniques to convey repeated patterns in different soundscapes at both the micro and macro level. In the context of this piece I have also interpreted the three medieval divisions of music interpreted as: sounds naturally occurring in nature; speech and the sound of manmade machinery; and instrumental sounds (in this case improvisations, on the new Brantwood Musical Stones, played by percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie).
The Ruskin Rocks project was funded by Natural England through Defra's Aggregated Levy Sustainability Fund and was co-ordinated by Bobbie Millar.
- Sound Art