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‘4th ought sing raved ink loud’ – Fraz Ireland on the ideas and processes behind their creative commission

Artist Fraz Ireland shares the inspiration and process behind their interactive soundscape, an artwork commissioned as part of our Covid-19 research conference.

What is ‘4th ought sing raved ink loud’?

The piece was inspired by the experience of leaving a venue and being immersed within a kind of tapestry of conversations between other audience members about whatever it is that you’ve just seen. This piece asked viewers to record their spoken thoughts in response to prompts, and these recordings were collected and used to make an interactive game-like environment as well as other short videos throughout the process.

You can try the game here. And you can see the final video, which contains moments from throughout the project, below.

What was the inspiration behind the piece?

I was drawn to apply to the creative commission because it offered a space where I could take my current practices in a different direction. As a composer I’m used to thinking in terms of concert hall audiences, I thought that it would be interesting to consider a different kind of audience and develop my creative vocabulary in a less familiar direction.

The word ‘composer’ has a lot of baggage. I’d certainly describe myself as a composer, but I don’t think it covers everything. A lot of my work is video-based or conceptual, often with a focus on sound, or a sonic implication, but at the moment certainly I’m most interested in the people involved.

I’m interested in the relationship between the roles – the communication between composer and performer, composer and audience, performer and audience – and the way that these relationships can shift and affect  each other. Within this I like to explore pacing and how material is revealed, often in a way that somehow subverts linearity. For me, the main thing that defines music is its framing within time. It is necessarily temporal. And this is why I think that this whole project has been music, even though it isn’t about notes or harmony or anything… it’s about pacing and time.

The connection between composition and game

One new thing that I’ve been exploring in this project is the game format – I’ve done similar, game-like pieces, but never actually using a game engine. I learnt to code a little when I built my website from scratch in the summer and this experience has been really useful in being able to think about programming, but I’m still very much in the shallow end!

I built the soundscape in Unity, a game engine, and was asked about the connection between composition and game. I don’t think that there’s really any important difference between gaming and composing software. Composers often use Sibelius or Dorico, or one of several other popular notation softwares for presenting sheet music, but that isn’t what the composition is. I’ve been experimenting with different softwares (MS Paint, Word, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, etc) to explore ways of engaging with performers and communicating my ideas.It re-contextualises the score as an important part of the piece.

Using Unity in this way is just the same. It doesn’t matter that I’m not an expert game developer, because it’s about the process. Research, guesswork, figuring out how to do what I want to do. It’s a lot more free than just using familiar software, because you’re not confined by what you’re used to. And there’s a freshness that comes with not knowing how to do every step (yet!), which allows happy accidents to happen. In ‘4th ought…’ the game environment isn’t just a tool for accessing the soundscape, it’s a performer.

What were the challenges in creating this artwork?

One of the main challenges that I encountered in this project was communicating what the piece was about to the audience – convincing them to engage with and contribute to the piece, and trust in the process, even though that’s not primarily why they were there. I think this was especially difficult since most of it was communicated in emails , which is exactly the sort of thing that people want to spend as little time engaging with as possible!

The project took on a phased approach for several reasons. The first reason being to focus the emphasis in creative practice on the process rather than it just being about the final product. A staged approach allows for different moments during the process to have their own importance – and not just as stepping stones towards the final thing, but as important moments in their own right. There is a ‘final’ video, and that video is partly a documentation of the points along the way that lead to it (as well as having some brand new material too).

This also allows for flexibility. At the start I had a feeling of the overarching shape of it, but I allowed each phase to influence how I approached the next one. It ended up having a structure that moves from the most external, and impersonal – reading the title – to more internal, introspective: giving opinions about events that you’ve been to, and then sharing things that the conference itself made you consider.

This staged approach meant that the piece could exist throughout the conference, and expand into the lead up and aftermath of it. Videos and prompts that were released in emails and on my webpage are like pins that attach the piece to moments in time outside of the two days of the actual conference.

What I have I learned that I’ll take into the rest of my practice?

I really enjoyed that the piece existed in several mediums – on the webpage, in emails, in videos and in the game. Creating a piece that sprawls into and between different boxes has been really fun. More specifically I’m planning to continue making work in game-like environments. One project that I’m planning at the moment is an opera that will exist as a game (but also sprawling into some of the corners of my website and maybe even offline!)

This is also one of the first things I’ve done that has focussed so heavily on contributions from the audience, which is something that I want to do more of, not just online but also in-person. I’m currently planning a live immersive event that will be almost like a big house party, in which it’ll be really important to engage an audience and to trust them to contribute!

There is a final piece for this project, which is a video. It includes footage from the interactive soundscape, clips from video prompts, snippets from the conference itself. And it will, unlike the other stages, show the trajectory of the project as a whole. You can watch that here.

Image: Screenshot from 4th ought sing raved ink loud interactive game. Photo: Fraz Ireland.

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