Churches wired for sonic brain

22 October 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Site of a musical brain: Gloucester Cathedral, which will house one of the 24 neuron units

Site of a musical brain: Gloucester Cathedral, which will house one of the 24 neuron units

GLOUCESTER Cathedral and St Andrew’s, Fulham Fields, in London, are two of 24 public sites across the UK chosen as venues for “The Frag­mented Orchestra”, an award-winning art project in which tiny particles of sound are picked up by artificial neuron units, which model the activity of the brain.

The sounds will be transmitted between the 24 locations — which include a football stadium, a motor­way crash barrier, a dairy farm, and a school playground — and back to the central location of the FACT Gallery in Liverpool. The score of overlapping har­monies will play there through 24 speakers from 11 December to 9 February 2009.

The performance can also be heard at each of the 24 neuron sites, as the collective audio generated in Liverpool is simultaneously streamed back to each of the remote units.

The project’s composers, Jane Grant, John Matthias, and Nick Ryan, describe it as akin to “hearing the human brain at work . . . the sound of the UK as music”. A small neuron unit will be mechanically attached in a solar-powered sound-box in each building, and will fire signals backwards and forwards when stimulated by sound. The units are connected to each other using the internet to form a “cortex”. The 24 venues have been chosen for their inherent sonic rhythms.

The Dean of Gloucester, the Very Revd Nick Bury, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of an innovative and imaginative arts project in a cathedral renowned for its magical acoustic. The unit will be placed on our great west doors, where it will pick up all the wonder­ful sounds of a busy cathedral — stunning choral music, the great organ, the chatter of excited school­children visiting the shop, tourists speaking in every kind of language, and the vergers Hoovering.”

The Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew’s, the Revd Martin East­wood, said the church was thrilled to host the project. “The neuron unit will be placed in the pulpit, and should pick up regular sounds of worship, but also various sounds coming from our many community activities, such as the mums-and-toddlers group, the fruit-and-veg co-op, and the homeless project.”

The project has won the PRS Foundation’s New Music Award of £50,000. Marcus Davey, chairman of the judges, described it as “a truly intriguing musical adventure”. 

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