Tony Myatt/Chris Watson Talk and Performance (16th October)

On Thursday 16th October I attended Professor Tony Myatt’s inaugural lecture, entitled “A new age of surround sound: spatial audio at the frontiers of contemporary art, technology and science”. It was followed by a performance which was a collaboration between Tony Myatt and soundscape artist, Chris Watson. I think I’ll use this blog post to reflect mainly on the soundscape performance, as although I found the talk very interesting, much of it is not directly relevant to my research!

I will start by saying that I was a little sceptical of the value of soundscapes, especially as a form of music. However, there was a lot of excitement, particularly from the academic staff in the music department about the performance, so I decided to try to gain as much as possible from it. I was glad I had done some reading before going to the event as it informed how I should approach listening to the piece.

The title of the soundscape was “In Britten’s Footsteps” and was in four parts: spring, summer, autumn and winter. All of the recordings, Chris Watson informed us, had been collected from the area in the appropriate seasons. There was also a live cello performance of one of Britten’s pieces (I forget the name of the piece) which interacted with the soundscape.

During the performance, I walked round the room and interacted with the soundscape, listening to how it changed as I moved about the room. I believe there were over 20 speakers creating a real depth of sound and it was interesting to walk from one side to the other and hear different sounds becoming more prominent as I changed my own position within the soundscape.

At various points I sat still and closed my eyes and I was transported to my imagined version of Aldeburgh (I never been there or seen a photo) and The Red House. I also thought about my own experiences of Britten’s music, particularly seeing his War Requiem performed in Guildford Cathedral a couple of years ago.

I used it as an opportunity to reflect on how I listen to sounds. This is where I feel I learned my most valuable lesson. I first was intent on listening to the sounds coming from the speakers and imagining what was creating them and building up a picture of where they might have been recorded. I then found that I wasn’t listening to the sounds and imagining their source or their location and was actually just appreciating them for what they were on their own without an object behind them. I have never been able to disassociate from the sound source before, so I felt really pleased that I had finally done what Pierre Schaeffer would refer to as “reduced listening”!

All in all, it was a really interesting evening and I’m very glad that I went along. I felt more inclined to listen to more soundscapes and build my competency in the genre as a direct result of the performance.