The £50,000 PRS New Music Award has been given to the Fragmented Orchestra, a project designed to work in reflection of the neural functions of our brains.
The Fragmented Orchestra is a huge distributed musical structure modeled on the firing of neurons within the brain’s cortex. It is designed by its composers to perform a profound and unique score to thousands of listeners across the UK. This instrument, a model of a brain, will be distributed across 24 public locations throughout the UK, and at least one central venue (FACT, Liverpool). The piece will operate continuously over the period of three months.
At 24 diverse locations, ranging from football stadia, motorway crash barriers, school playgrounds and an offshore buoy with a ringing bell, a small ‘neuron unit’ will be mechanically attached to the resonant surface of an existing physical structure. All of the neuron units are connected to each other, via the internet, to form a tiny ‘cortex’ and will ‘fire’ signals back and forth when stimulated by sound. The ‘neuron units’ will act as a musical interface and gateway into The Fragmented Orchestra.
When a ‘neuron’ fires, fragments of sounds from its location are transmitted to the central venue in which each neuron unit is represented by its own loudspeaker. Performers, including individuals and groups from each locality, can play each neuron unit and listeners can hear a unique array of rhythms, timbres and pulses created by the cortex at work. The music at the central venue will also be shared with listeners at each of the remote locations through the use of Feonic™ technology, which turns any resonant surface into a high quality loudspeaker. A website will also enable people to tune into each of the neurons as well as the central location.
Jane Grant is predominately a visual artist working with film, sound, video and installation. She has exhibited widely in the UK and is currently Principal Investigator at the University of Plymouth of an AHRC funded project, which merges the human voice and breath with neuronal firing patterns to be shown at ArtSway in 2008. John Matthias is a musician and physicist. He has worked with many artists including Radiohead, Matthew Herbert and Coldcut and has performed extensively in Europe including at the Pompidou Centre, Paris. He is a lecturer in Sonic Arts at University of Plymouth. Nick Ryan is a composer, producer and sound designer. He won a BAFTA for his ground breaking interactive radio drama The Dark House, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and has composed extensively for film and television.
“The sounds created at 24 resonant locations around the UK would be captured and transmit to each other in a collective composition, based on the same principles as the connections in the human brain. This is music writ large across the country and, through complex technology, we can all create, listen and play a part in it.”
This looks like it will be an interesting musical work to experience.