John Eacott and Natasha Bird in conversation.
24/5/2013. Southbank, London.
JE. Floodtide has now existed publicly for 5 years. During that time quite a lot has been achieved and much has been learned. When the project began sonification was quite a new field. There is now a much larger groundswell of artists who use data mapping across a wide range of work. Almost as a by-product of Floodtide the notion of generating music notation in real time which we call LiveNotation has grown. There have been 13 performances of Floodtide using live tide flow data. There have been several other performances using calculated data in which the principles and technology of LiveNotation have been developed including the use of portable and hand held devices like iPads and smart phones. We have worked with many different ensembles, something well in excess of 100 musicians have taken part in performances. Most, if not all events have attracted large audiences. There has been enthusiastic feedback from audiences and participants. The aim of the new proposal is to take Floodtide to a new level and reach wider audiences. This will be achieved with the installation of a permanent sensor generating notation constantly which will make it easier to organize formal performances and also permit 'viral' performances and participation, with events organized by individuals and groups autonomously.
NB. That's what I mean about this proposal. Although the project does have this rich history and we should talk about our track record is is important we go straight in with the headline of what we are doing now. And that everything up to now has led to this point where members of the public can play the tide whenever they like. This will also give a freedom to us and to anyone else to experiment and change the project into what they want it to be - such as playing the tide remotely, playing the tide at the same time every day for a week, incorporating it into their daily routine. Drawing on the strengths of Floodtide as we've been doing, so that the notation can be adapted and suit a variety of players, any number, any ability, any kind of group. I think it's unusual that you could have a brass band playing along with a choir or a busker on a guitar and it handles all of these different levels of complexity. So it will be something that we can play with, but also something that people can branch off with. At the heart of the project will be a sensor that is providing notation all the time.
JE. So it's magnifying the project, magnifying its reach, aiming for a global audience and also making it much easier to make performances. We would hope that there will be a significant increase in the rate at which performances develop.
NB. Going back to some of the initial ideas we discussed when you introduced me to the project, the beauty of the piece is that the tide continues beyond the performance. That is because the data and notation will be accessible, it's not only conceptual. This will add another dimension to the performances that we do because we will be able to say to people the music is still there, have a go.. the tide and data are continuing, it is just being played at the points people choose. We talk about LiveNotation, why is it different? Because when the project started this was quite an original idea in terms of sonification and mapping and representation of data. It is still unique in that respect but there is more. Why is it a valuable thing for people to play the tide?
JE. Addressing the question of LiveNotation, I feel we are at the tip of the tip of the iceberg here and that it is an exciting new field. And that makes it important now to crank up the intensity, to take it more seriously and allow the project to reach much further. LiveNotation is an interesting concept in itself. Our way of using LiveNotation is in Floodtide which is a good way of promoting LiveNotation.
NB. So the aim of the proposal is to have a structure through which we can develop and disseminate Floodtide and make it the best it can be. The resources that requires are actually fairly minimal. This is to do with the reach and the participation but all depends of having the resource there that is reliable.
JE. Yes, it's clear to me now that the focus of this phase of development is the permanent sensor and the things that can derive from that. In order for that to work we need to take the sensor installation seriously. This includes a robust and problem free physical mounting and all the connecting technologies like wireless internet and web server application need to be well thought out. That will provide the basis from which good things can grow.
NB. Yes, that is the thing, and with that many good things will come and secure the future of the project. here are other aspects of the project that are important too. It would be good to include a traveling setup that could be used in Barrow-in-Furness for example, because it shows that there still is a place for satellite or region specific events. The listening post is a valuable idea too because it will bring people to the place where the music is generated and it will give people a connection to the project. Everybody that plays or hears about Floodtide finds it an intriguing idea but I don't feel yet that we have really grabbed the public's attention and I think the permanent sensor, the listening post and the chance to go online and play your own tide will grab people. It is like a viral effect and a publicity thing, but it is also just taking the concept to levels that we have always spoken about. And now we are learning that it wouldn't be difficult or expensive but we need to make the most of it.
JE. To use a gardening analogy, it feels like the sensor is becoming the main stem of the object and there are other shoots that we need to nurture too. The sensor provides a bedrock for the project.
NB. It is important that the proposal makes the impact about how ground-breaking this is. It's quite detailed, and that is ok because we are asking for quite a lot of money, but the focus should be clear and the thing that is different about this proposal is that it is self sustaining and the focus is a resource and the good things that can come from that. So it's not only for people at the Southbank on a certain weekend, not only for people that buy tickets for an event or make it over to Trinity Buoy Wharf. It's something that will be far-reaching and we are going to try our best to ensure that it reaches every direction that it can. It is artistically drawn, it allows anybody to play the tide and connect to the tide. It allows everybody to perform a piece of ground-breaking contemporary composition as it is being created and it gives people the resource to create their own visions of what it could be.
JE. That's a powerful notion. It allows the possibility for people to create their own visions.
NB. It also breaks away from hierarchies in music between performer and audience. You can play, you can't play, you're professional.. This is something we have always talked about and this is the step which will allow this. The performance begins when you begin to play. And that is the thing that is ground-breaking about it - it is turning the volume up on something that.. [is silent..]
JE. That reminds me of Christopher Small's book 'Musiking', he uses the verb 'to musik' which challenges the divisions between artist and audience. I feel that we are implementing that.
NB. With regard to this proposal which is to Arts Council England, while it is ok to talk about the world-wide reach of the project we need to refer to how that reach is of benefit in England. And the benefit is that you become known world wide. Britain is an island and we are affected by tide. Most cities in the UK have rivers which flow through them, but even more fundamentally it is about time - the seasons and different measures of time. Previous proposals have been about specific events and even though we have put videos online the truth is that if you were not there you are not going to be so engaged with it. Wheras the new proposal concerns something that can be rolled out across many different groups.
JE. We are already beginning to see some viral performances, like Greta's friend presenting it at her composition class (at Leeds Uni)
NB. And Emmet Glynn mentioning it at his presentation at LCC. The Wolf Pack event happened because they found us on the internet.
JE. Lets reiterate the central components of the proposal. The thrust now is to develop the sensor robustly and permanently with a method of maintaining it too. Things that follow from that are the listening post at TBW and LiveNotation permanently accessible on the web. We will need to decide on the choices of ensembles that we support, or it could be much more flexible than that, a menu of instruments. We can invite users to engage with us and request a new instrument to be included. The other stem is some specific performances, like Barrow in Furness, NMM plus contacts with regional groups and others around the world.
NB. In terms of this proposal it's important to focus on the benefits generated in England, although that doesn't preclude good things happening elsewhere.
JE. Of course Lena and I may go off around the world and perform Floodtide where we stop over.
NB. That could be a strong aspect of the project, that it is self funded to some extent and a contribution from Informal to make performances around the world which will add value and feed into the interest in the UK. There is also some general development of the project, to promote the resource in different ways, and providing examples of ways that people can use Floodtide such as forming links between different groups, countries, people of different musical abilities etc.
JE. That is something to flag in the proposal. That Floodtide does not have to be performed by professionals, it can also be done with youth and amateur musicians. And we are looking into ways of involving people with disabilities, applying the idea of Floodtide to people across any level of ability and looking for the challenges that presents.