From Birdsong to Light is an exhibition of sound installations by Nicholas G. Brown. It was on show at Hungate Medieval Art, Norwich, from May 25 to June 16, 2013.
Click here for an introductory essay on the exhibition in the ‘Writing’ section of this website.
The exhibition comprises three sound installations designed to be displayed in a church. Each installation explores medieval ideas about music, especially the relationship between music, science and architecture. The installations are arranged according to the church’s cruciform design. Each section – nave, transept, chancel – is used a metaphor for one of the three kinds of music in the Middle Ages, from the ‘lowest’ form of music-making (musica instrumentalis) to the ‘highest’ (musica mundana).
The nave contains a new version of An Audience with the Trees (2005), created especially for this exhibition. Four handmade bird boxes are attached to four trees that mark a pathway through the church. Each bird box contains a small loudspeaker and broadcasts the sound of a bird singing the melodic lines of the medieval song, Sumer is Icumen In, in canon with the other ‘birds’ in the other bird boxes.
The transept contains a new work, Medicatio (2013), which is divided into two parts. In the south transept, there is an automated monochord, a display cabinet containing a collection of spectrogram readings of vocal samples and an accompanying audio work, Chant (2013). In the north transept, visitors may interact with a live audio feed of the monochord from the south transept by intoning a matching pitch into a microphone
The final work in the exhibition is a multichannel sound/video installation titled, On the Operations of the Sun. It uses the structure of a medieval rose window to give musical form to the sounds of a twelve-part choir. The title comes from De Operationibus Solis by Robert Grosseteste, a medieval philosopher who wrote extensively about light.
A digital animation of the South Rose Window at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is projected at the far end of a bespoke screening room. Gradually, the animation grows from the centre to the circumference of the rose, synchronized with the sounds of the voices. The slow rate at which the rose is revealed allows visitors a greatly ‘expanded’ sense of time. Indeed, this ‘highest’ section of the exhibition sets medieval notions of a transcendent ‘music’ of the universe against the pace and ephemerality of our daily lives.
Here is an excerpt from On the Operations of the Sun, performed by Musica Beata: