Me, Myself and MRI

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As sound artist my role was to create an audio portrait for each of our subjects in parallel to the video portrait being created by John (Oxley, video artist), photographic portraits taken by Kippa (Matthews, photographer) and the MRI images being prepared by Kirsty (Halliday, Project Manager).
Initially there was much discussion in terms of what these audio portraits were going to sound like and how they were going to be realised and delivered, much of which was done in collaboration with Mark (Hildred, Technical Producer).  A particular challenge was how the sound from the separate portraits would work together, and how it would work with the interactivity that was to be built into each exhibition piece, although these decisions were focused more directly in my role as Lead Artist than as sound artist and are discussed in more detail in my description of that role. I also took direction from our school group, and one of their requirements was that each individual portrait should make use of sounds from the MRI machine itself, as this process was the common theme that linked each of our individual subjects.  

In more practical and creative terms I've had responsibility for:

  • Running a workshop on audio recording, creativity and sound art for our school group.
  • Making an audio recording of the interview that Mark did with each of our subjects based on the questions proposed by our school group.
  • Editing this material (about an hour long) down to a few minutes of the most valuable and revealing insights as to the personality of each of these individuals.
  • Taking recordings of the YNIC MRI machine and turning them into a rhythmic backing track for each audio portrait.
  • Writing a melody tuned to the pitch of the MRI machine than can be used as a common theme to unify our six portraits as well as varied sufficiently to make each subject's audio portrait individual to them.
  • Arranging and mixing all of this material into two soundtracks for each subject - the backing track is a very basic, sparsely arranged version of the main soundtrack that is designed to be heard alongside all of the other audio portraits at the same time, to draw the visitor into the exhibition. The main track is the full audio portrait designed to be heard close up to the actual portrait display itself, as a visitor decides to go and interact with that particular individual and find out more about them. The close up nature of listening to this main soundtrack means the other audio portraits present in the space naturally fade into the background as the visitor focuses on what is being revealed in front of them in both images and sound.
  • Making final audio re-mixing decisions and changes as the exhibition is installed in each specific venue.

Tools I used

Aside from the general project tools we've all used (Email, Blogs, YouSentIt, DropBox etc.) I have relied on a number of audio software packages that I have used for many years now and so know very well enabling me to get results very quickly. I use a MacBook Pro laptop, that for audio work I run under Windows Bootcamp together with Steinberg Nuendo for recording, arranging, mixing and processing my audio material. I also use Adobe Audition for more detailed audio editing tasks. For the interview recordings we were able to use the University of York Department of Electronics recording studio performance space, that meant we had good control over the acoustic environment,  enabling good, clean recordings to be made, free from background noise and reverberation. We recorded Christine Talbot in the Yorkshire TV television studio which was a little less than ideal in terms of acoustics but still produced good quality results. All recordings were made directly to my laptop via an RME Fireface microphone preamp and soundcard although we backed up everything at the time by also recording to an Edirol R09HR portable digital recorder.