Concrete Antenna is a digital download and a deluxe 12” vinyl album package of new music, a set of art prints, a series of short essays and a specially created tide table created by Tommy Perman, Simon Kirby and Rob St. John inspired by their sound installation in the new landmark tower at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, loosely based on the urban history, architecture and ecology of Newhaven in North Edinburgh.
Using sparse piano, site-specific field recordings and archive sound samples, alongside a number of production techniques derived from the architecture of the tower itself, the trio have produced an album which skirts modern classical composition, warm organic drones and flickering minimal electronica.
The trio explain...
"The triangular tower, constructed from poured concrete and brown brick, rises 28 metres high over the north Edinburgh skyline. It’s rare for a modern structure like this to be built, given that at first glance it has no obvious purpose – you can walk inside but cannot climb up to see what must be an incredible view of Edinburgh from the top. "
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"The tower stands on the site of the original sculpture workshop, an old tram shed, which was demolished to make way for the new building. The tower’s south wall faces on to a cycle path that runs along an old railway line leading to Leith docks. The tower is open to the elements and 22 meters up the south wall there is a large rectangular opening which funnels sound (and wind and rain) down to the ground and out the open doorway, like a giant resonating antenna.
We saw Concrete Antenna as an opportunity to work with sound as a means of sketching creative ways of making sited music and art.
On one hand, in using a variety of site-specific sound gathered from archives and new field recordings as its compositional clay, the work responds closely to the geographies and histories of the site and surrounding area.
Sound sources include the nearby docks and harbours (numerous foghorns weresampled to make an array of ‘fogorgans’), the disused railway - now a corridor for urban nature – which once ran past a blacksmith’s forge where the workshop now stands, and the new tower itself mirroring other tall signalling structures in the landscape, like church towers and lighthouses.
Many of the compositions are inspired by the unusual dimensions of the tower itself, using the lengths of its three sides to determine the lengths of loops which weave in and out of phase in pleasing and unexpected ways.
On the other hand, the piece variously alters, degrades and filters the context and character of much of these recordings to make something new, where only subtle hints and slight resonances of the source material remains.
This process involved both hi and lo fidelity approaches, combining digital sonifications, granulations and the creation of convolution reverbs with the splicing, manipulation – and periodic singeing – of physical tape loops.
You could therefore think of Concrete Antenna as a sonic topping-out ceremony: a process of imbuing the newly built tower with echoes of its past, present and imagined futures. One goal we had with Concrete Antenna was to blur the boundary between memories of the site’s past and the outside present - the sounds and activity that surround the tower, both natural and manmade.
In the installation, sensors detect body heat in the outside courtyard, and visitor movement within the tower. The installation reacts to passers by, calling them in with a few quiet words, like a half-remembered fragment of dialog. Then it rewards them with richer sounds and music as they investigate deeper inside its single triangular space.
The large-scale structure of the music is shaped by the local environment. As the weather in Newhaven changes, the sonic backdrop of the piece responds, providing different texture to fair and stormy days. The local tide also has a dramatic effect, remixing the music as it turns from high to low and back again. On the recorded album the sides are named Tide In and Tide Out. The listener is encouraged to check the tide table and select the appropriate side to play."