The beauty of four organs

The beauty of four organs

The sounds of church organs were some of the most striking sounds in Sacred Spaces – today we wanted to take the time to highlight just four to you, which have some remarkably beautiful reimagined counterparts.

Working with the Churches Conservation Trust, we drove around to some remote corners of England to access some of their beautifully-maintained churches, and play some organ improvisations as source material for the project.

If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase ‘pulling out all the stops’ comes from, here’s the answer. In a church in Yazor, we pulled out each of the stops one by one, to sample how the organ sound went from a low, quiet pulse to a space-filling roar in just a couple of minutes.

Stanislav Nikolov took this as his raw material to produce a brand new musical composition, as he explains:

“The recording starts with the clatter of movement in the church. Once at the organ we hear, gently, a beautiful and richly textured chord.

“Gradually, we hear all the stops being pulled out as the chord dissolves into booming dissonance. Finally we come back again to that gentle chord, and the clatter.

“I picked this because I loved the narrative and the constituent sonic themes. I knew I wanted to make pad sounds with the gentle chord, a more ominous atmosphere using the dissonance, and percussive texture using the clatter.

“In the end, I made an electro track using these elements and an additional drum kit, as well as bass, and sub bass instruments. I also made a second bass instrument and a bleepy pitch-bent instrument from the recording using some extreme EQing.”

City version:

Memory version:

Next, in Fisherton, Nick St. George recorded the quiet sounds of harmonium playing, which Warren Daly transformed into something quite lovely:

“Recently I’ve been experimenting with the sound of airflow through different mediums, so I was instantly attracted to a recording that features a harmonium. I think the recording resembles a performance piece, it’s a treasure trove of sounds.

“I began my composition with dissonance, a call before the response. Finally a mesmerizing repetition is the acknowledgement.

“A conversation reflecting on the juxtaposition of the relaxed ambience and the surrounding commotion.”

City version:

Memory version:

Our next stop is Holy Cross in Burley – when we entered the church and saw the organ we were about to play, it was a breathtaking moment.

It’s a huge, 20-foot high, perfectly-preserved organ in a very large and beautifully-kept church – just playing it was quite a moving experience.

Andy Billington has experience of visiting this very location, which he brought to bear on the reimagined version:

“I was drawn to this recording having visited this Church as a child many years ago. I liked the fact that the field recording tells a micro journey as you listen to footsteps across the Church floor, then the playing of the organ and finally the retreat.

“I thought about everything that the Church had seen. Could the architecture soak up elements from the Services and all of emotions it had seen played out over the years?

“I then thought of what all of these would sound like layered over each other (like some of the video clips on You Tube of every episode of Friends played on top of each other).

“The field recording was loaded into a failing Mid 90’s sampler (name unknown). Random parts were then recorded and a pattern created from the parts spread across the various trigger pads and re played.

“This was then re recorded into an Teenage Engineering OP1 and further slowed and pitched down. Finally it was re-recorded into Logic 8 and re ordered.”

City version:

Memory version:

Our final stop is St. Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire, a remote church we visited in the dead of night after a long drive, only to find a beautiful space with an impressive organ waiting for us – well worth the trip.

Our organ improvisation was chosen by Nick St. George as the basis for his narrative piece “Sir Galahad and the Fiend”:

“I chose the organ playing from St Cuthbert’s Church in Herefordshire as I felt the slabs of sound would be good raw material for manipulation.

“I then delved a bit into the history of the church which it turns out contains a stained glass window featuring two of the Knights of the Round Table; one of whom is Sir Galahad.

“Thanks to the Gutenberg Project, I found a 1918 Longman’s school edition of the tales of King Arthur online, which included this tale of Galahad and the Fiend – a suitable story for this project with its comment on who may or may not merit being called a true Christian… Having been involved in gathering the field recordings for Sacred Spaces, I supplemented the basic track with some bell ringing and further organ playing that was recorded in two of Bristol’s redundant churches, but was surplus to Cities and Memory’s requirements.

“All the audio in this piece is, if you like, “organic” (sorry about the pun): organs, bells, Chinese Baoding balls, human voice. Treated, yes, but there are no sounds of purely digital origin present.”

City version:

Memory version:

Quiet Street: a tour of Thermae Bath Spa

Quiet Street: a tour of Thermae Bath Spa

Bath_Spas_01Where else could we start our sonic tour of Bath than at its most iconic location, and indeed the one from which it takes its name – the Bath Spa.

I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to represent Bath Spa without going inside (which comes at a fairly hefty price), but I was lucky enough to pass just as a walking tour of the city had stopped there, and the guide was explaining all about the spa water, its health-giving properties and the history of the spa buildings, which made for a great location-specific recording.

San Francisco contributor Stanislav Nikolov took this one on, bringing in a bed of beats and synths to sit under the description of the baths given to the tourist group.

A note on the sounds below – as usual, there’s the field recording and the memory version, but the installation mix is both sounds panned left and right to simulate what you’d hear if you came along to the physical installation, so you can hear how the sounds work together.

City version:

 

Memory version:

 

Installation version (best listened to on headphones):

 

3.00 am – Hans-Albers-Platz: party central

02_hh_reeper_hansalbersHans-Albers-Platz in the centre of the Reeperbahn area, is really party central, in a touristy sort of way – Irish bars, drinking in the square, singing, dancing and more drinking makes for a raucous atmosphere even on a weeknight.

San Francisco’s Stanislav Nikolov has taken this sound, plus one of a busker at Sternschanze (see 11.00pm’s sound!) and created a house track from them. Here he explains the imaginative and resourceful approach he took to blending these sounds into something entirely new, which he’s titled ‘Region of Attraction’:

“This piece is about the ludic and the liminal; play and transformation. Cities are playgrounds and we are transformed by playing in them. We play musical instruments; we play soccer; we participate in time-honoured rituals like getting roaring drunk and singing loudly in the streets. I was drawn to two sounds that relate to this theme: one of a busker playing electric bass followed by a group playing soccer, and another one of a group singing drunkenly near Reeperbahn.

“I used the sounds to make a house track. I love house that is punchy and propulsive, but also lush, hypnotic, introspective, and at times disorienting — the kind that, in rare combinations of circumstances, could lead to transcendence and transformation on the dance floor. I’ve been wanting to make something that approaches that ideal, and felt the thematic content of the sounds would be fitting. This is my humble attempt.

“From the sounds, I created bass (directly from the bass player!), pad, and string instruments using a combination of samplers and resonators in Ableton. I also played noises such as footsteps, as well as a long continuous section of the Reeperbahn sound. I generated one of the pads with the help of a program I wrote that loops a sound while introducing subtle variations each time. In addition to the sounds, I used Ableton’s 909 drum kit and a sample of a monologue from the 1957 sci-fi film “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

“Also, to be clear, all the parts except the drum kit and the monologue sample are from those two recordings, even if most are unrecognizable…”

City version:

 

Memory version:

 

11.00 pm – A house track made from busking and football

11.00 pm – A house track made from busking and football

23-2Eleven o’clock and we head out to the lively, studenty area of Sternschanze, always bustling with life. Leaving the station, we come across a busker playing bass guitar through an amp, and wandering up the road there’s a late-night game of football going on, echoing our first sound from 12 noon today.

Here, San Francisco’s Stanislav Nikolov has taken this sound, plus one of partying at Hans-Alberplatz (see 3.00 am’s sound!) and created a house track from them. Here he explains the imaginative and resourceful approach he took to blending these sounds into something entirely new, which he’s titled ‘Region of Attraction’:

“This piece is about the ludic and the liminal; play and transformation. Cities are playgrounds and we are transformed by playing in them. We play musical instruments; we play soccer; we participate in time-honoured rituals like getting roaring drunk and singing loudly in the streets. I was drawn to two sounds that relate to this theme: one of a busker playing electric bass followed by a group playing soccer, and another one of a group singing drunkenly near Reeperbahn.

“I used the sounds to make a house track. I love house that is punchy and propulsive, but also lush, hypnotic, introspective, and at times disorienting — the kind that, in rare combinations of circumstances, could lead to transcendence and transformation on the dance floor. I’ve been wanting to make something that approaches that ideal, and felt the thematic content of the sounds would be fitting. This is my humble attempt.

“From the sounds, I created bass (directly from the bass player!), pad, and string instruments using a combination of samplers and resonators in Ableton. I also played noises such as footsteps, as well as a long continuous section of the Reeperbahn sound. I generated one of the pads with the help of a program I wrote that loops a sound while introducing subtle variations each time. In addition to the sounds, I used Ableton’s 909 drum kit and a sample of a monologue from the 1957 sci-fi film “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

“Also, to be clear, all the parts except the drum kit and the monologue sample are from those two recordings, even if most are unrecognizable…”

City version:

 

Memory version:

 

A visit to some Californian caves

CAVESWe’re heading back to San Francisco today – the city has a thriving sound art scene, and the latest contribution from there comes via Stanislav Nikolov, who headed out to the secluded Sutro Baths caves on the coast to record some ambient sounds and improvised music. Later, he remixed the whole lot usinghis  field recordings and samplers in Ableton Live, to create this lovely 20-minute meditative piece, that transports you to a whole new place if you allow the whole thing to wash over you and give it time to unfold.

City version:

 

Memory version: 

 

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