Helicopter Study ’83 for Paul Devlin

Helicopter Study ’83 for Paul Devlin (13’53)

Our talks about sound frequently came back to the helicopters. I remember you telling me that you grew up next to a busy heliport. You even went so far as to get up on the roof of your house to watch them take off and land; not the safest thing to do!

I can only imagine what the sound must have been like; so this is an attempt at an impressionistic soundscape of a ‘flock’ of helicopters.

We’d also chat about the various types of presence of helicopters in today’s soundscape in Derry. At least I have some idea what this sounds like!

We’d talk about the particularly diffuse, yet immersive sound quality as a helicopter would draw farther away; a sense of omnipresence replacing a singular location, almost synaesthetically blending with the clouds.

And all the better to blend with memories, I suppose, but you’d have a better way to put that and understand that than I would, Paul!

Take care, mate.

Call for submissions: ISSTA International Festival and Conference (Derry/Londonderry, 7th-9th September)



Professor Leigh Landy (De Montfort University, Editor of Organised Sound)
Dr Liz Dobson (Yorkshire Womens’ Sound Network, University of Huddersfield)

Headline Workshop:
Gregory Taylor (Education R&D, Cycling 74)


Full call details: http://issta.ie/call-for-submission-2016/


One of the reasons we value sound as a perceptual and phenomenological event is that it allows for the creation of new types of sensory engagement with space. Creative processes of sounding allow us to design different types of sound worlds; places which can become autonomous zones. Lefebvre, in his seminal text The Production of Space, alludes to the concept of autonomous zones or imagined spaces; places which are imagined and created by community.

The idea of how we create and respond to autonomous zones is the subject of this year’s ISSTA festival as it comes to Northern Ireland for the first time, fostering a range of artistic, technological and academic interventions in Derry/Londonderry entitled Temporary Autonomous Zones 2016. A Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), as defined by the poet and anarchist cultural theorist Hakim Bey, is more than just a distinct space; it is a space in control of itself, in that it does not recognise outside authority.

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Bey suggests that a festival or event has the potential to act as a moment of intense uprising and creative disruption, which allows for the creation of a TAZ, a guerrilla moment of positive revolutionary acts and art. In our present period of geopolitical and economic uncertainty, mass movements of people across territories are coinciding with the beginnings of exclusionary zones in Europe. It is in this context that this year’s ISSTA festival seeks to create a series of Temporary Autonomous Zones–new unmapped and self-determining sonic, conceptual and social spaces–which assert, for a time, their independence from existing structures through discussions of creative and technological practices and research, and through the artistic works themselves.

We look forward to inviting artists, scholars, technologists and other practitioners to Derry/Londonderry to investigate and play with some of these questions. From the historic autonomous zones of the 17th–century walled city of Londonderry to the autonomous commune of Free Derry (1969–72) to the highs, lows and contradictions of becoming the first UK City of Culture and even to its contested name and identity, we hope that Derry/Londonderry will offer a stimulating context for sharing participants’ work and ideas.

This year, we are seeking works of art, research papers, performances, compositions and workshops that engage with the concept of autonomous zones and the social spaces of sound and technology:

  • We hope that designers and technologists will take advantage of the temporary autonomous zones of our interdisciplinary conference to engage with more ‘blue sky’, speculative or conceptual aspects of their work.
  • We hope that artists, cultural researchers and thinkers will find inspiration from these various perspectives on space as defined, expressed and contested through sound, technology and culture.

We will be working in the city of Derry/Londonderry, a space traditionally defined by zones of ethno–religious and political difference, spaces that are mapped, marked and articulated by performances of difference, but also by creative communities. We are therefore particularly open to the idea of collaborative projects which have a community outreach aspect to them.

We propose to take the approach of the TAZ guerrilla ontologist: making a mark, a difference, without violence!

Artists are encouraged to submit proposals for site-specific work involving Derry/Londonderry as urban environment (we will be circulating more information about the environs). We will also have partnerships with local galleries and may also provide for situating pieces at various sites in the city in consultation with artists. Supplementary details will be made available on some of the sites and spaces.

The call is open to all practitioners regardless of nationality. Participants are responsible for their own travel and accommodation. Registration for ISSTC 2016 is required for participation.

Submissions will be due April 4th, 2016. Notifications will be sent by June 4th, 2016.

Further details here: http://issta.ie/call-for-submission-2016/

Infographics for assignment briefs

I’m on a bit of an infographics buzz at the moment…so I’ve made some infographic versions of assignment briefs to help students rememeber what they’re meant to be doing.

I’ve had a few responses to my (addmittedly small-scale) survey on this and the response has been pretty positive when the infographics have been used to support the traditional text-based brief, rather than in isolation from it. (I’ll have more information about how successful it’s been in drawing attention to key assignment components when I get through my semester 1 corrections!)

I will be presenting on this topic at the annual conference of Ulster’s Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice; more details will be updated here soon.

CRE317 FPC Assignment 1 infographic

CRE305 infographic brief assignment 1

Paul Devlin (the start of a tribute)

I recently lost a close friend and colleague, Dr Paul Devlin from Drama at Magee. I had previously written here that we were collaborating on projects, so I thought I’d write something about him here. It’s not a proper tribute yet, it’s just the start of one right now…

Paul was a major creative force in the university and the city…playful, spontaneous and insightful. We’d started work together on a project (and, in typical Paul fashion, an ongoing set of themed conversations) we called SITUS (Sound in the Urban Space). Paul had interests in site–specific practices, but was also starting to form great conceptual ideas about sound and memory. I worked with him on his Austins: Memory and Place project, presented in December 2013 as part of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013. That project was based on responses to Austins department store (one of the oldest in the world) and its place as a central social focal point in Derry. But there were so many other ideas we’d started to throw around and I’m just one of the people who he was starting conversations and projects with. He was a focal point himself and I count myself lucky to have known him…

ISSTC2015 paper: Embodied Resonances and Thoughts of Electroacoustic Music

I’m due to go to the Irish Sound, Science and Technology Convocation in Limerick next week to present another paper from my collaboration with Ricky Graham, entitled, Embodied Resonances and Thoughts of Electroacoustic Music.

You can find the abstract below.

If you’re interested, my previous posts on ‘Embodied Thinking and Music’ relate to the same general subject matter.



Embodied Resonances and Thoughts of Electroacoustic Music: What can we learn from theorising disembodied sound using embodied schemas?

Brian Bridges, Ulster University

Ricky Graham, Stevens Institute of Technology



Music technologies have frequently been conceptualised in terms of how they break or creatively challenge the normal causality of sounding actions. Sound recording and processing technologies, by their very definition, modify the temporality of sounds through encoding, processing and diffusion. They also disturb gestural causality, making sounds available using gestures which may be far removed from the effort, force or structure of action involved in the original sound event.

Fixed–media acousmatic presentations are one extreme on this scale. However, even when describing the most disembodied acousmatic presentations, embodied resonances haunt our discourses. The abstracting imperatives of reduced listening may nonetheless be seen as drawing attention to the basic articulatory acoustics of sound events; in particular, archetypal envelope structures and stages. In addition, when we turn to describing larger–scale form in electroacoustic music, there is a frequent tendency to apply embodied and environmental metaphors and force–based models. For example, Smalley’s (1986, 1997) influential theory of spectromorphology describes a variety of prototypical schemas for joining individual sound objects based on apparent causality. Even with unfamiliar sound materials (or, arguably, especially with unfamiliar materials, which may promote reduced listening) an implicit assumption of such theories of electroacoustic music is that perceived connections between sound materials may echo a ‘gestural grammar’ of causal schemas drawn from our everyday environmental and embodied experience.

This descriptive strategy may be of more significance than mere rhetorical convenience (i.e., the use of familiar metaphors as convenient approximations when describing the unfamiliar). An influential strand of theory within contemporary cognitive science, embodied cognition, argues that our thought processes are shaped by learned embodied and environmentally–derived schemas. The embodied image schema theories of Lakoff and Johnson (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; 1999) propose a series of common embodied forms as structural primitives for cognition, including the conceptualisation of formal relations. A growing interdisciplinary interest in these theories has seen them being applied to common practice music (Brower, 2000; Johnson, 2007; Wilkie, Holland and Mulholland, 2010). However, we consider such theories to be even more directly applicable to electroacoustic music and related forms. We identify parallels between some of Smalley’s formal structuring and dynamic principles and image schema theories. The identification of embodied resonances in electroacoustic music may allow us to extend our current descriptive theories by comparing them with broader theories of embodied cognition. Furthermore, certain specifics our sounded forms may provide insights which extend the image–schematic theories of Lakoff and Johnson and other embodied cognition theorists. Such an approach also has the potential to inform developments in design, such as the development of music performance and production systems which provide models of musical structure appropriate to electroacoustic music.


Spectromorphology, embodied cognition, schemas, environment, form, structure, theory

Selected references

Brower, C. (2000). A Cognitive Theory of Musical Meaning. Journal of Music Theory, 44(2), pp. 323–379.

Johnson, M. (2007). The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Smalley, D. (1986). Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes. In: Emmerson, S. (ed.) The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan, pp. 61–93.

Smalley, D. (1997). Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes. Organised Sound, 2(2), pp 107-126.

Wilkie, K., Holland, S., and Mulholland, P. (2010). What Can the Language of Musicians Tell Us about Music Interaction Design? Computer Music Journal, 34(40), pp. 34–48.