Seth Scott studied electronic music at Guildhall school of music and drama. Upon graduating he set out to create a free listening experience with artistic director Hannah Bruce via their app Edgelands.
Seth collected mundane sounds located from within the architectural space of the Barbican (Moorgate), which combined to produce a beautiful sound composition that serves as a visual aid around the Barbican cityscape. Seth describes the sounds he collected as being like “islands of sound”, as each space exposes a new layer of sound that we would usually take for granted.
Source: Barbican website
I recently interviewed Seth about Edgelands and where he gets his inspiration…
Edgelands grew out of a piece that I made whilst studying Electronic Music at the Guildhall. I had been thinking a lot about relationships between sound and buildings, and the possibilities of structuring music in space, and I made this mobile app that allowed the listener to explore a musical composition by moving around the Barbican Estate. It was something of a guerrilla operation: I couldn’t get permission to permanently install Bluetooth chips to track the users’ location, so I had to find suitable hiding places for them. Eventually, some producers at the Barbican Centre found out about it, but instead of shutting it down they asked me to develop a new piece for their indoor foyers. They put me in touch with Hannah Bruce & Co., a theatre company who specialise in immersive digital theatre, and together we made Edgelands.
I grew up in the Kentish countryside, and when I moved to London I noticed what seemed to be a really complicated relationship between Londoners and their public space. In a small village, the difference between public and private spaces is a non-issue, if nothing else because there is so much of both. In London though, on public transport for example or somewhere like the Barbican centre, you see such a mess of politics at play. Public space is so functional. It’s shopping space, or advertising space, or working space, always filled with sensory information and media. And so we try to reclaim control by mediating or blocking out our surroundings, often using sound: we put on the pair of headphones, pick some music and mark out our own private zone around us. Of course, in this sense, the iPod can be immensely empowering, but I’m not sure that escaping to the imaginary of a song is a long-term solution. I use these same ubiquitous technologies in my work to encourage the audience to engage with and to be subject to their surroundings, rather than to block them out.
I really like trains, especially the Great Northern route. I used to live just north of London and I took the train from New Barnet into Moorgate for work. Each train has a unique rhythm and quality of sound, and they’re quite beautiful. I remember one journey in particular where the train would let out this wail every time the driver sped up or slowed down. It was a really dense, shimmering chord, like the opening of a piece by Tristan Murail.
I enjoy working in unfamiliar territory. Learning to make apps was a lot of fun, and much of my current work involves collaboration with artists working with visual media. But I’m quickly frustrated if I can’t achieve what I want to in a new medium, and so I seem always to return to making music with computers.
I’m not sure. I don’t mean for it to be meditative, or not exclusively anyway! I think you can find space within it for self-communion or reflection, but I hope that the piece solicits a more active response. Active both in the sense that you need to move around to uncover different parts of the work, but also in that the listener completes the work through imaginative engagement with it. Whilst heightened awareness of or engagement with one’s surroundings might be meditative, it might also distance or alienate. The app makes a bricolage of material space and verbal and musical narratives, and so we view a familiar setting through a strange lens.
That’s not me (as far as I know)! I think you mean Hannah Bruce & Co. who I worked with on Edgelands?
Thanks! Those tracks were the first that I’d made using predominately electronically generated or synthesised sound. The bulk of my work to date has involved recording, arranging and manipulating ‘real-world’ sounds. Often I’ll limit my palette quite strictly, like in Edgelands for example, where all of the music was made from the sound that I recorded within the Barbican Estate. The limitation serves a conceptual purpose, but I also find it helpful to my own working process. I think most artists will tell you how debilitating it is to be faced with a blank canvas, and this is particularly pronounced in electronic music. Everything is a potentially musical material, from traditional instruments, through everyday sounds, to the infinity of ‘synthesizable’ sounds. For a long time, I shied away from generating sound electronically because I was so daunted by the endless options. Last year I grew interested in modular synthesisers and began building one, and Cathedral Ruins was my first attempt to make music with it.
I think I learned most about what interests me, and about how I work best. Like a lot of people, I went to university with very little idea of what I wanted to do in the long term. In the four years that I was there, I was encouraged to try out so many different ways of working with sound and technology, and eventually, I found a practice or cluster of praxes that suited me. I learned a lot about motivation and discipline. Coming from high school, you learn to set your own objectives, and to police yourself in working towards them. That ability to self-motivate, or to work regardless of how motivated you feel has been super important.
I’m not sure I could settle on just one, but I’ve always loved Bob Dylan’s voice. Particularly his recordings from 1961-63; he strikes this perfect balance of fragility and gruffness, which seems completely uncontrived.
I’m most creative when I’m working. I always liked Brian Eno’s view of creativity as a discipline, as opposed to the endlessly more romantic notion of ‘channeling inspiration’. He recounts this lovely proverb, of a fruit that takes a long time to ripen, then falls from the tree in an instant. Like Eno, my ideas form over time spent practising, working, getting frustrated, getting ecstatic, deleting, starting again. You know the drill.
I don’t have much of a plan at the moment, I’m just taking each project as it comes. The best thing about what I do is that I find myself making very different things week on week. At the moment I’m working on another app, I’m composing some short electroacoustic pieces for performance this spring, and I’m sound designing a short film. Next month, I hope to be doing something quite different!
Edgelands can be downloaded from AppStore and Google Play and free headphones can be borrowed from the Barbican shop. Why not experience the app for yourself and travel through the Barbican centre with a reignited love for sounds hidden within the city..?