Q121 is like a temple to futurism, and it’s this play between spiritual reverence and wonder with the horror of total-war that underpins this work. Entrants are met with a rack of shoes & asked to replace theirs with slippers, the wall text reads “loose lips cost lives”. On entering emanating from a sculptural rig – suspended in place of the test plane – we hear a historic recording captured in 1942. – The day the BBC’s annual live Nightingale broadcast was cut short, when they accidentally picked up the sound of a whole fleet of WW2 bombers flying out to bomb Germany.. This source of nightingales alternating with bombers, interplays in a call and response with a retort of the human breath of choral voices singing their own version of the bombers, emanating from speakers hidden within the vast wind return tunnel. Gathering a male choir of men who used to work here, these voices quite literally breath life back into the tunnels (many them were part of FAST, who helped save the tunnels from demolition).
Bird/Human, human/machine, war/wonder, threat /hope, there is a dichotomy to our relationship with flight. Walking past the colossal 24’ fan and suspended rig, one enters the vast return tunnel and is offered the choice to walk into the light or dark. Padding into the dark end we can re-attune our senses and explore the semi preternatural experience of this place and piece.
The second Building R52, has a very different feel to the cathedral like qualities of Q121 - it felt like it needed a form of pallet cleanser - so utilising the anechoic padded entry chamber we worked with food artist Carolyn Hobkins to create a little moment to savour the acoustic qualities of these alcoves, creating a moment of anechoic silence punctuated with popping candy.
R52a houses a huge wooden wind tunnel, suspended on legs snaking around the building. Treating this wooden structure like a giant instrument this intervention explores the edge of breath and a note, using 7-channels of sound & video projection to focus on the darker sides of this research facility. This more complex composition includes the Double Bass player from Farnborough Symphony Orchestra, who – like the voices you hear recorded in-situ in Q121- offers his own interpretation of the “ark-of-the-bombers”.
The contemporary equivalent of ‘the sound of the bombers’ seemed to me to be that of ‘drone warfare’. The development of flight, film and surveillance are so interwoven, I felt this notion could be explored by adding a further layer of film. The video you see inside the tunnel, projects recent research from a wind tunnel at Aichi Institute of Technology in Japan – where they are studying the flight of a Drone Beetle, for the development of Nano-drone technology.
I love the way the Drone Beetle footage is almost like a Muybridge motion-picture, yet is filmed at 10,000 frames a second with the latest high speed digital camera. This ability to zoom into and disrupt the laws of time & space seemed to be what these vast apparatus’s are about.
Surrounding this tunnel we hear a multi-channel recording of a starling bird roost, just after dawn as they begin to rouse, stirring the air of the hanger around this vast wooden beast.
The last space R52b, was a bright empty hanger where a wind tunnel used to be. This felt like it should be a space for play and release. Here we’re invited to fold our exhibition guides into paper aeroplanes and launch them into the sonicaly stirred air.
In this final empty space any physical structure introduced, became a sculpture, even the cables. In one corner an original Tannoy horn still hung, so working with Tannoy we mounted 4 of their flagship hand built speakers (at the fore-front of their own research), atop wooden aeroplane inspection towers. -Deliberately arranged to disrupt the surround sound set-up, they are turned so they explore the reflections of the space, conversing with the walls, panels, windows and old relics of themselves. The idea being to encourage people to listen through the architecture..
I like the idea of these old original Tannoy horns still affixed to the walls here, conversing with their latest heavy-weight off-spring. These horns are very much a part of this pivotal period of history, they are what made ‘tannoy’ a noun in our lexicon like ‘hoover’. – They are what gave voice to air-raid drills and Winston Churchill’s infamous public address.
In this final space the thrill and dynamics of a roller-coaster morph with the swooping murmeration flight of a Starling birds (drawing on previous collaborative work I did with wild-life sound recordist Chris Watson, studying a derelict concert hall and its massive starling colony).
This final space felt a like a place to look at the other side of the dichotomy of flight, and here I wanted to ask the question:
“Do birds ever fly simply for the thrill of it?”