A 12 minute piece for large-scale wave tank, water drummers and electronics, by Alexis Kirke and Sam Freeman commissioned by the Plymouth Marine Institute for the opening of their new building at Plymouth University. Premiere 30th Oct 2012 with Alexis Kirke playing wave-tank and water drummers Josie Boucharde, Philip J. Kendall, Magdalena Walker and Jennie Pinhey.

The premiere is preceded by an opening ceremony with HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

[Above is the gantry Alexis will stand on to play the Wave Tank instrument, to the right are the large wave paddles]

[The above is a short vertical film of some of the larger wave patterns the tank can generate, which will then be converted into electronic sounds]

[The above shows Baaka water drummers]

Plymouth University will be celebrating the opening its new Marine Building on October 30th 2012 with a performance by Alexis Kirke and technologist Samuel Freeman. The building’s large wave tank is the most advanced in the UK – as deep as a swimming pool and almost as large – yet precise enough to create big and small waves, chaotic or smooth. Standing on a gantry over the tank Alexis will “conduct” the waves using arm motions that send data controlling the big wave paddles in the tank. The resulting water waves will be detected by special gauges which feed into a musical synthesizer creating electronic sounds to accompany the water sounds. In a smaller coastal tank to the side, students will be “water drumming” in accompaniment, emulating the African Baaka-tribe water drummers.

[The above shows some of the hand signals sensors will pick up to control waves]

Alexis is composer-in-residence at Plymouth Marine Institute. “It’s been a dream of mine for a while to turn water patterns into sound live on a large scale,” says Alexis. “When I heard about the the wave tank I immediately realised the opportunity to actually control the water more dynamically, as well as turn it into sound. Initially I had visions of raising my arms like Moses and parting the water! Of course it will be less dramatic than that but nevertheless very exciting for me. I’ve seen the tank in action and it blew me away.” Alexis approached technologist and composer Sam Freeman from Huddersfield (who had worked with him on a previous performance Fast Travel) to turn his vision into a reality. He has also received support and expertise from the Coastal Engineering Research Group who are part of the Marine Institute.

[The above shows the corner of the smaller 'coastal' wave tank where the water drummers will be]

So how is a wave tank turned into a musical instrument? Alexis will wear motion detectors on his hands and arms. Moving his hands and arms will send signals to Sam’s computer which in turn will send control signals to the wave tank’s controlling computer. The tank computer has a wave design system which Alexis, Sam and Marine Institute experts have set-up to allow Alexis to trigger various patterns using his arm movements. The waves are built up by large wave paddles at one end of the tank, so there will be a delay between Alexis’ arm movements and the wave generation. To make up for this, Alexis’ movements will also be transmitted directly to a sound synthesizer to create more immediate sounds. These sounds will include samples of actual water sounds as well as more electronic effects. In the second movement of the three movement Sound-Wave piece, four Plymouth University students positioned in the shallower coastal wave tank above the main tank, will emulate the water drumming of the African Baaka tribe. Based on drumming techniques and a score produced by Alexis, they will duet with his body gestures to create a water and electronics second movement. In the final movement the drummers, the electronic sounds, and the main wave tank controlled sounds will combine to create a large wave climax.

[Above shows more of the hand signal design document that Alexis and Sam are working on]

“Sound-Wave” was commissioned by Plymouth University Marine Institute, and is a partnership project between the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research, and Peninsula Arts. The piece will be premiered at the Marine Building, Plymouth University on October 30th 2012. It will also be videoed and web-cast to the University’s Jill Craigie Cinema. The ICCMR is formed of scholars from various departments across the University of Plymouth and is chiefly interested in computational modelling of music. They are developing new intelligent musical systems that will be able to evolve their own rules for musical composition and ability to interact with musicians and listeners. Alexis Kirke – Sam Freeman – Marine Institute - ICCMR – Peninsula Arts –

[The large wave paddles, which are the 'hammers' or 'plectrum' of this giant marine instrument]