The Sonic Breakfast Plate, SOUNDBANK and graphic scores

I was intrigued recently to note that at the same time that Love is Awesome was taking place, Grupat – a show featuring many installations and works relating to sound and objects – was running in Ireland. It is just my luck that an incredible, not-to-be-missed show was on at the same time as my own exhibition but Caro (who was very involved with the show) very kindly sent me one of the complete catalogues from Grupat and I have been poring over it ever since.

The object/sound bias in many of the works is especially fascinating to me since – as readers of this blog will know – the overlap between different forms and objects (visual, paper-based, sculptural etc.) and sound is something I consider constantly. I am interested by how images and objects can contextualise sounds in ways that change how we hear them, and in sound itself as a material that can be described by other materials, like how one can use the form of a photograph to describe the form of a piece of fruit.

The Grupat show was apparently opened by a very interesting address on the history of the graphic score. I would love to understand more thoroughly this history, as it is one I am interested in contributing to myself. I was seriously excited by the developments on the idea of the graphic score provided by the Grupat show. How amazing is the idea of a score comprised of rosettes? How does one ‘play’ rosettes?

As impressive and intriguing to me as the rosette score shown at Grupat, was the interactive score developed by members of the public using stickers of notes etc. upon photographs of telegraph wires that look very like traditional, musical staves. A huge collage of photos of telegraph wires acted like a piece of environmental or geographical manuscript paper, and exhibition visitors were encouraged to place sticker-notes upon the staves. The eventual result of this interactivity will be played as a musical score in Barcelona.

This very visual representation of wires in sky as the basis for a stave is an idea that was also picked up on by artist Kathy Hinde in her works (Piano Migration) that combined software, a piano, and a score comprised of video footage of birds moving between telegraph wires.

Piano Migration by Kathy Hinde. M8, 2008, Ovada Gallery, Oxford.

The footage of the birds on the wires acts as a musical score that is read by a piece of software and translated into audible music. A moving field tracks the position of the black dots or notes constituted by the birds in the film, and translates these to a mechanism by which corresponding notes are physically played on the piano strings attached to the back of the filmscreen. A serious montage of film, software, hardware and piano-parts, this piece is a really interesting translation of image into sound, and of the idea of a ‘found’ musical score in the environment.

I really enjoyed Kathy Hinde’s piece at M8 and the idea of wires in the sky being a kind of available manuscript paper. But the idea of being able to interact with such an idea, as in the Grupat show, is really exciting in a different way.

The notion of the audience creating a score – the play and randomness and joy of that – strikes me as being a more successful application of the ideas I was exploring when I set up the Fantastical Reality Radio Show DIY score station. I loved that people came and made scores using the station – especially the genius of Musical Chairs, which you can see here. But the interactivity provided by the photowall, the invitation of stickers and the extra imaginative dimension provided by blue skies seems to me to be more inviting of audience participation than the inky world of the rubber stamping station.

The rubber stamping station of Love is Awesome worked so much better as a DIY Valentine’s day card kiosk than as a situation in which to develop graphic scores. I think that successful participatory works make sense without too much explanation, and are immediately accessible. As a card-making station, the rubber-stamping kit is pretty self-explanatory; there are stamps, there are cards, there is ink. Help yourself. Likewise at Grupat, I think that the photocollage of many wires all looking like exploded manuscript paper with attendant piles of sticker-notes, is a sort of self-explanatory exercise. I love the playfulness of the idea, the experience that this lends to an audience: you can make the music, you can influence how it will sound and how it will be played: you are the author of the work.

This seems very generous and also very exciting. And I wonder how many people who stuck stickers on the lovely photographed-sky manuscript paper subsequently went on to see music of some sort in the sky next time they passed by some telegraph wires?

SOUNDBANK as an interactive work in Love is Awesome failed in many respects to be self-explanatory. Many things besides sounds got collected in the glassine envelopes and I am left pondering the ways in which I can make that work more successful as an interactive piece.

There is much for me to learn from the Grupat show and I am excited to see that other work is being made at this time which explores sound and its representation outside of the accepted forms of the printed musical score and the concert.

I have made a plate score this week. The Sonic Breakfast Plate is my own nod in the direction of depicting everyday sounds in quotidian formats. I made today’s Sound Diaries post on the theme of the plate, so if you want to hear the baked beans I made the other day bubbling for yourselves you can go over there.

If you only want to imagine the lovely sounds of bacon, eggs, sausages mushrooms and beans all cooking with their respective aural qualities, you can allow my sonic breakfast plate to speak to your ears by just seeing it here!

A full english breakfast never sounded so good; I am very pleased with how its turned out; celebratory, sonic, pleasingly useful and suggestive of sounds.

You can hear the grand unveiling of The Sonic Breakfast Plate on BBC Oxford’s The Hub this Sunday at 9pm, and if you tweet, you can keep up to date with the other sonic doings of The Hub on Twitter at

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