Collaborations - Shakespeare Metamorphosis

Leverhulme Trust Sound Art Residency 2016 - Artist's participation in the life of the library


14th April to 17th September

International Shakespeare Sound Installations

Click here to access the Audio Gallery

Click here to access additional footage of the sounds of International Shakespeare in Senate House

The Shakespeare exhibition stretched from the vestibule at the entrance of Senate House, up the staircase in the grand hall, to the grand lobby and an Othello room on the first floor, and into the library exhibition spaces. Talks, seminars, workshops and events were held with Senate House librarians and eminent invited guests, covering a range of subjects which highlighted Shakespeare’s influence in Britain and beyond through seven ages since his death, for example Shakespeare in Holland, in “Remaking Shakespeare in Dutch.”

The sound dimension was added to the exhibition to bring to life the text on the page in the present, using voices so often unheard in the silence of the library - of staff from the library and across the institutions of the School of Advanced Study. The breadth of Shakespeare's influence was reflected by combining recitations in English with translations into languages from across the world. These were played back in motion-activated audio players, designed and built for the exhibition, sited in the lifts and across the exhibition spaces, and drawing visitors up to the library and exhibitions like sonic-signposts. Readers were invited to quote their favorite Shakespeare lines, encouraging visitors at the physical exhibition to view the online 'digital age' on the Shakespeare microsite (where the audio gallery above is found), and social media. Website visitors were also invited to post video clips of their favourite quotations on Instagram.

Shakespeare In Dutch

It was a great opportunity to engage with library staff, to introduce them to the sound project in the weekly Open Studios, and to demonstrate the possibilities in sound art, for those who may be sceptical, particularly in a workplace where silence is so important. It was particularly inspiring, in 2016 when political division loomed, to create sound installations that combined many of the languages spoken across the institution, from Europe and beyond, including mandarin and two aural dialects - one from West Africa and the other from Luxenborg - and of course Dutch, not to mention recording the Senate House Choir. A set of Othello monologues and dialogues were also created for the Othello room. This was possible due to the high volume of contributors. Audio was activated when people came into the range of the devices, and the content was updated through the months of the exhibition.

Building the Installation.

Two collections were created for the lifts, programmed in Arduino (see image below):

  1. Uplifting, comic or heaven-bound content for the lift going up
  2. Tragic, hellish content for the lift as it went down.

A barometric sensor was added to detect the lift motion up or down so that, once the infrared detector activated the device on detecting people, the samples were then only triggered once the positive or negative differential in the air pressure was detected as the lift moved between the floors.

Three more collections were processed, for a device to sonify the 'Elsinore Exhibit' in the membership hall and two further devices for the main exhibition, using atmospheric effects on the voices, and creating background sonic-auras to enhance a 'library-level volume' of the gentle voices of the players. These carried up through the windy, echo-chamber of the 4th floor exhibition space, in the heart of the library.

Shakespeare in the Senate House Library Main Lifts - phase 1 (April - June) 2016

Recording and Editing Audio.

An extensive recording schedule was drawn up by the artist, whenever possible, in the sound-proofed recording booth in the Institute of Philosophy's CenSes center for the study of the senses, juxtaposing comparative pitch perception tests with am-dram enthusiasm as the project took on a momentuum of it's own thanks to a fabulous response.

The artist was able to assist with the ongoing research as a 'trained musician', although as the recording schedule peaked the artist was suddenly called away for an unexpected, unavoidable family comitment. Nonetheless the audio collections were regularly updated with fresh samples for the duration of the exhibition.

Recordings were edited, processed, grouped and saved to SD cards, and mounted in the microcontrollers, to be played back from the six discrete, battery-powered motion-activated audio devices with small active rechargeable speakers (and rechargeable batteries), mounted in the lifts, two library exhibition spaces and the Othello room.

Over 300 samples were created from the recordings (see image on the left), across 6 devices, all with infrared motion-detectors to trigger the audio as people passed through the range of each device. The devices were initially setup in the lifts for the launch event and the first week. Having anticipated installing the devices for events and key dates through the exhibition period, it was requested that the devices remain installed in the lifts and the two exhibition spaces in the library itself, throughout the duration of the exhibition. Therefore, the enclosures were replaced in the lifts to minimise tampering, and a timer was added to automate power on/off in addition to the manual switches.

Installation Development - Phase II

Automation was added to the manual on/off switches by adding a timer, programmed in 12-hour cycles. With installations sited in open access areas of a public building, security and tampering with devices was an issue, with one theft and sporadic tampering. The devices therefore had to be repaired and maintained on a regular basis and all batteries and speakers recharged on alternate days.

A numerical display was added to the devices in the lifts, triggered with a number that tallied with the relevent number in the online audio gallery. A bit-ly was therefore included in the information provided, encouraging visitors to find translations and references for the audio being played back.

It was with relief (and a little bit of joy) when the devices were finally taken down and the audio on them could be replaced with audio from Senate House Library with quotations from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, for the residency sound project. However, two devices were also used for a second collaboration with the Institute of Historical Research in their Night At the Library event in Being Human 2016 (go to Blog post Collaborations II for details).

Blog post details

  • 17 Sep 2016

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