Spectres of Place (2018)

Spectres of Place is a site-specific composition that was created for St Martin’s Church, Belfast. It was performed on 11 August 2018 during the ‘Framewerk Sleepover’, a curated night of exploratory sounds that took from 8pm to 8am. 

The composition was created by using found tape cassette recordings of church bells, choirs and sermons from around Northern Ireland. This source material was then edited and digitally sculpted to create the finished composition. In using these outmoded forms of technology as the basis for the work – and by contorting them using modern digital techniques – I intended to show the conflict between the past projections of the future and their death in the present. Much like the St Martin’s Church – which is now deconsecrated and used as a community hall – the influence and hopes of religion is waning, as is prevalence of sectarian violence within the city. Spectres of Place is an ideation on the ghosts that echo through old spaces.

The event was covered by The Quietus. Read the review here

Fjord Melt / Cold Hands (2018)

Fjord Melt / Cold Hands is an audiovisual collaboration between myself and musician and DJ Liam McCartan.

Fjord Melt is a beat-less composition made by McCartan, that is pulsed – nonetheless – through suggestions of ‘performance’ (or ‘playing’) within it’s structure. All of this hints at a sense of human agency within an otherwise glacially-paced and hybrid-timbral world.

Cold Hands an audio-reactive video work created by Christopher Steenson to accompany McCartan’s composition. It uses archival and bespoke video material that is algorithmically edited in real-time to the musical information present within Fjord Melt. Akin to suggestions of performance and agency present in the McCartan’s composition, Cold Hands points to the idea of creative reactivity possible through algorithmic process, typified by the presence of two dancing and interacting hands on-screen.

Fjord Melt / Cold Hands was originally presented as part of ‘In the Stairwell’, an anthology event organised by the Umbrella sound art collective. This event took place on 12 December 2017 at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast. The video was projected onto the roof of the stairwell within the building.

Subsequently, Fjord Melt / Cold Hands was presented as an extended one-night installation on 1 February 2018 at the Art Department, as part of Belfast’s Late Night Art (which happens on the first Thursday of every month).  

Below is a short audience-filmed video of Fjord Melt / Cold Hands at ‘In the Stairwell’. 

Talbot St (2018)

Talbot St was a soundscape piece presented at the Imagine Festival of Politics and Ideas, as part of Ben Weir’s socially-engaged architectural installation, titled The Public Pulpit.The Public Pulpit was erected outside St Anne’s Cathedral, Talbot St., Belfast, on 17 March 2018. The Pulpit measured 3.6 metres in height and stood for the duration of the day to be used by the public as they saw fit.

As part of the installation Weir invited a number of writers, activists and artists to present work to the public. As one of the selected artists, I presented a specially made sound piece titled Talbot St. The work was made by recording the sounds of Talbot St in Dublin – a street located in the heart of the city, which contains a great variety of different people and social activities. From a Dart and Luas line, a plethora of local shops, bars, tourist shops and people of every nationality, this Dublin street represents something of a totem to the modern city. Talbot St in Belfast, where The Public Pulpit was located, resides on the opposite end of this spectrum – a quiet, relatively short and narrow street that has few remarkable features, minus the magnificent cathedral that graces it’s side.

The differences between the streets of these two Irish capital cities poetically demonstrates the divergent trajectories both cities have taken over the past few decades. One has become a hyper-connected, multicultural epicenter that is being quickly eaten up by tech-giants and property investors. The other – stained by a turbulent and ‘troubled’ past – has grown slowly and is only picking up speed now, many years after Northern Ireland conflict has ended.

By transplanting the sounds of Talbot St, Dublin, to Talbot St, Belfast, I aimed shine a light on these differences, reflecting on both cities present lives and what the future might hold for Belfast in the coming years. 

Listen to Talbot St below:

I am Sitting in a Vault (2017)

I am Sitting a Vault was a site-specific sound art performance, which took place on 12 August 2017 in a disused bank vault in East Belfast, as part of the Eastside Arts Festival.

The performance was based on the influential work, I am Sitting in a Room (1969/1970) by Alvin Lucier and Mary Lucier, in which a performer narrates text alone in a room, which is recorded and then played back into the room over several iterations. With each iteration of playback and (re)recording, the sound of performer’s voice is slowly transformed into an articulation of the resonant frequencies of the room, revealing the inherent sonic architecture of the performance space.

Using the unique setting of a bank vault, I am Sitting in a Vault sought to highlight how the hidden processes of positive feedback systems are used to shape our modern society. Present in the ideology of the free market, to the mechanics of social media algorithms, feedback systems encourage and afford the accumulation of excessive amounts of wealth and private data. As a result of these processes, power is increasingly handed over to a privileged few who can shape society to their own ends. By manifesting this process of positive feedback as a durational sound work, I am Sitting in a Vault invited a public audience to reflect on how veiled and hidden forces can influence our socioeconomic world and the present hierarchies within it.

For the performance on the night, Constance Keane recited the spoken world text from inside the closed bank vault. The sound inside the bank vault was then played out into the reception area of the bank, to the audience. A live CCTV feed from inside the vault was also displayed on CRT monitors in the reception area, which also presented a positive feedback loop of their own image as the piece progressed, taking influence from Mary Lucier’s visual aspect of the work. Local artist Richard Baille facilitated this visual component.

The event was covered by the Art Show on BBC Radio Ulster. You can listen to this segment here.

All content © Christopher Steenson 2020