Regular Programming Presentation No. 2
Ken Gregory, wind coil sound flow, October 1-31, 2009
Description: In collaboration with Gallery 1C03 at the University of Winnipeg, Video Pool presented wind coil sound flow. Gregory built an acoustic electro-mechanical system that poetically reproduced the processes involved in operating an Aeolian Kite Instrument in the field, (a wind instrument based on an Aeolian harp). The kite's towline is acoustically attached to a resonator which amplified the wind-induced vibrations of the towline and resonated harmonically. This process created a large one-stringed guitar played by the wind.
Receiving the audio recordings from this outdoor instrument, his electro-magnetic sculpture in the gallery not only became a poetic and kinetic representation of a sound speaker, but also mirrored the different components of the Aeolian Kite Instrument used to capture the wind’s voice.
Ken Gregory’s installation and performance work is centred on the exploration of the relationship between technology and humans. In an unscientific way and with an artist’s creative eye, his artworks look at how this relationship is manifested. His work process is an improvisational and intuitive application of tools and ideas. Raw materials such as discarded technology, electronics, programming code and found objects are manipulated through various processes and reconstituted into new structures, which play upon new meanings and interpretations. This practice started with an interest in audio sampling technologies and audio cut up methods, and has expanded to include almost anything: objects, electronic circuits, audio, video, computer code and mechanical systems. These elements are all combined using juxtapositions and other explorative processes in the creation of Gregory’s artwork.
From the original press release:
If the wind could speak to us, what might it say? wind coil sound flow is an acoustic electromechanical system built by Gregory that aims to find out by transforming wind-generated vibrations on a kite's towline into harmonic frequencies. The first stage of this multi-part project, based on the principles of an Aeolian Harp, involved a large, one-stringed guitar played by the wind outdoors. The sounds generated through this system were recorded digitally and will be used to activate the long strings in the sculptural installation presented in Gallery 1C03 that will, in turn, create new and complex sounds conveyed through kite-shaped audio speakers.
Gregory has long been interested in exploring the complex relationship between humans and technology, and extends his practice now to investigations concerning the state of the natural world. He began thinking about kites while re-introducing the notion of play into his work, which led him into a deeply interesting sphere of research about the physics of flight, the historic, spiritual, and cultural significance of kites, and their mysterious, poetic, and metaphoric aspects. This project is the outcome of five years of development, during which time Gregory learned to design, build, and fly kites with a view to creating wind instruments. The Aeolian Kite Instrument gives the wind a voice that is similar to our own vocal chords. Gregory asks: if we learn to listen to the wind in new ways, might we soon be able to decode its songs? In light of climate change and other ecological urgencies, it seems critical that we consider such possibilities with creative sensitivity.
Ken Gregory has been working with do-it-yourself interface design, hardware hacking, audio, video, and computer programming for over 20 years. His creative performance and installation work has shown publicly across Canada, and at many international media and sound art festivals. His works are presented in the form of gallery installations, live performances, live radio broadcasts, and audio compact discs. Recent career highlights, among others, include the acquisition of a large sound installation, 12 Motor Bells, by the National Gallery of Canada as well as a solo survey exhibition, Cheap Meat Dreams and Acorns, that has toured to The Confederation Centre in Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), The Art Gallery of Hamilton, and The Art Gallery of Windsor (both in Ontario). For more information about Gregory’s work, please visit: cheapmeats.net.
From the original publicity for the exhibition:
Ken Gregory: wind coil sound flow
For nearly as long as people have been consciously creating sounds/music, we have been utilizing strings (and later, wires) to generate and carry sound. The long history of stringed musical instruments illustrates this. In the world of sound art, the study of strings evolved from both musical and scientific curiosities. Oscillating tones sent vibrating down " a long thin wire"1 by American composer Alvin Lucier or the telephone wire recordings and continued explorations of Aeolian sound by Australian artist Alan Lamb are two examples of the ongoing investigation of the aural potential of wires by creative thinkers. Although wires are utilized extensively in sound creation today due to the inherent nature of electricity, the wire or string continues to lure as a medium for carrying sound, leading, at times, to an interplay with basic natural phenomena: the wind and the vibrations it can induce.
It's safe to say that most Canadians have been stopped in their tracks by the wind whistling through a crack in the door or window. During a snow or rain storm, gusts of wind are not only physical but have an aural presence that can either lull or incite unease. Theses sounds are vocalizations of the wind that we clearly recognize, but what about the rest of the wind's vocabulary?
Thanks to the keen sensibilities and creative approach of Winnipeg sound artist Ken Gregory, the wind and its many vocalizations have been given a stage at Gallery 1C03, and it all began with the strings of a kite.
In order to inject some playfulness into his ongoing artistic practice, Gregory decided to take up kite making and flying. What began as an exercise in kite construction led to a deeply profound relationship with kits and their rich history. Through this ongoing relationship Gregory dug deeper into the many uses of the kite, including its application as an instrument. Being a natural deep listener, Gregory picked up on a subtle aural phenomena that occurred as the kite's towline was yanked and tensed by the whims of the wind as it flew. The vibrations caused subtle drones, with punctuated hums and whirs, to travel along the taut line. Gregory was intrigued and he sought to make these subtle tones more audible.
Utilizing skills gained through previous explorations with resonating devices, Gregory tested a variety of approaches to amplify the sounds. He experimented with acoustic guitar bodies, tin cans, cardboard tubes and more. Each resonator and method of recording captured subtleties that had individual beauty.
Based on the principles of the Aeolian Harp, an ancient stringed instrument still used today in various permutations, Gregory's instrument is played by the wind's natural current, but unlike the traditional Aeolian Harp, it leaves more room for the imperfections and variations due to the nature of the kite and line. Whereas the traditional Aeolian Harp has several strings tuned to either the same or complimentary pitches, the Eddy Kite2 version constructed by Gregory varies in pitch based on the pick-up of the wind against the kite. The changing tension of the kite string directly affects the pitch and harmonics flowing along the string to create a variable tuning, meaning the results are completely different each time the instrument is played. All of the elements Gregory applied to the instrument and recording leave room for inconsistencies in the sonic outcome: the construction of the kite, the length of the towline, the method of amplification, the microphones used for recording and, of course, the impulses of the wind. This leaves the wind autonomous to create its own compositions with varying results each time.
After developing the Eddy Kite instrument and collecting sounds, Gregory faced the next challenge: developing a gallery installation that captured his process in a compelling way.
For this exhibition, Gregory built a structure that captures the essence of the outdoor system while, at the same time, reintroducing similar phenomena through yet another level of 'processing'. A soundboard lies at an angle on the floor and housed within it is a playback device containing a series of recordings accumulated in the field from the kite and various amplification sources. These recordings feed through a simple coil system that vibrate through the three taut piano strings stretching from the soundboard far across the gallery to connect with resonators at the other end. The resonators mimic the appearance of kites in flight.; they are beautifully crafted and capture a weightless grace while, all at once, amplifying the travelling sounds.
The final installation is superb. The gallery space is filled with a sculpture that resembles an enormous, bodiless, three-stringed violin. wind coil sound flow's aesthetics are whimsical and the hypnotic aural drone creates a mesmerizing ambiance for gallery visitors.
One of the unique aspects of Gregory's work is his DIY approach and his enthusiasm for utilizing simple 'old world' technologies. These systems although considered 'improved upon' these days, have an unexpected ability to mystify audiences. By using such simple technologies in thoughtful ways, Gregory's work illuminates the sense of magic within them.
wind coil sound flow is engaging from inception to installation. The technical exploration and play during the field recording is creative and challenging yet refreshingly lighthearted. The construction of the gallery installation is elegant in it's simplicity and clever in its reincorporation of old technologies, thus accomplishing a sophisticated beauty. The central focus of the work, the audio pieces culled from this multi-part process, is captivating and opens our ears to hear the wind's voice in a new way.
I sit listening to these recordings on headphones as I write. I find myself stopping often to listen without distraction to the evocative songs and fluctuating timbres. There are random inflections likely caused by the rattle of the tin can used as a resonator or by the sound of the string rubbing against the microphone, and these add dimension and texture to the already lush soundscapes. These recordings are available on Gregory's website, www.cheapmeat.net, and I recommend then highly.
crys cole is a sound artist and curator. She is currently the Artistic Director of Winnipeg's annual audio art festival, send + receive: a festival of sound, currently in it's 12th year.
1. "a long thin wire" refers to Alvin Lucier's work Music on a Long This Wire, conceived in 1977.
2. The Eddy Kite is a quadrilateral tailless kite with convex surfaces exposed to the wind, designed by American kite expert William A. Eddy.
From Uptown Magazine:
Wind Coil Sound Flow
Gallery 1C03, University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Ave.
October 1 – 31, 2009
Have you heard the wind? Artist Ken Gregory might point out that what you hear is not the wind, but the wind interacting with the physical world – it knocks leaves together and travels through resonating cavities, such as gaps in a wall. In short, wind doesn't make sound, but it causes other things to make sounds.
Co-presented by Gallery 1C03, Video Pool and send + receive, Gregory's Wind Coil Sound Flow is in part inspired by the Aeolian harp. Referencing the ancient Greek god of wind, Aeolis, an Aeolian harp consists of a sounding board and strings stretched between two bridges that are "played" by the wind. The action of the wind vibrates the strings producing sounds that range from a soft hum to a low howl. The wind is not a uniform force but plays upon the string's length with varying intensities, thus producing harmonic chords.
Known for works that respond to real-time data, such as the temperature of the gallery or how fast he swings a ball on a chain, through DIY computer programming and robotics,
Wind Coil Sound Flow is a uniquely 'Ken Gregory' take on the classic Aeolian harp. Gregory's instrument, which looks a little like a cross between an lute and a boat frame, is not animated by the wind directly.
Recordings of the capricious action of the wind on the strings of Gregory's handmade kites flown in various locales – the Winnipeg floodway, rural Ontario and Sackville, New Brunswick – stand in for Aeolis. The whooshing, humming and strangely pleasant screeches that emanate from the delicate-looking speakers are produced by the energy of the wind captured in digital recordings. The recordings are first transmitted as electronic information to three hand-made electromagnetic coils mounted on guitar pickups on the instrument's resonating body, where they are transformed into magnetic energy and finally kinetic energy, which vibrates three 20-foot lengths of piano wire, each punctuated with a parachute-like speaker made of traditional kite materials.
As the kinetic energy vibrates the strings it doubles and overlaps, creating new harmonics and shifting pitch. The electronic DJ's tricks are realized using primarily 18th Century technology.
Wind Coil Sound Flow is so large – the three wooden arms that support the strings stretch the length of the gallery floor then curl up to nearly touch the ceiling – that it seems that only a boundless entity such as the wind could play it. Gregory, however, thinks of Wind Coil Sound Flow as a body for the wind rather than an instrument. He compares the action of the resonating chamber and strings to that of the human voice box and vocal chords, musing that maybe we just haven't learned to understand the wind's language yet.
Wind Coil Sound Flow is presented as part of send + receive: a festival of sound [version 11] (