Artist’s Statement: Kaffe Matthews on her shark platform at the Bluecoat

Kaffe Matthews interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 08 May 2012
Colour photo of an artist
© Kaffe Matthews
Artist’' Statement: In her own words...Kaffe Matthews talks about a sound piece which takes you deep underwater to listen to sharks in the Pacific Ocean...

"There's a large room that's quite dark and there are speakers in the ceiling and speakers in the floor, so there's a big cube of speakers in the room and there's a huge platform which is covered in mats and steps which go up to it.

And if you take your shoes off and you go up the steps and lie down you'll have a completely different experience of the music.

I think I'm going to call the platform a shark platform and the reason I'm calling it a shark platform is that the music is made from the journeys that hammerhead sharks were taking out in the pacific ocean around Galápagos in April 2009, and it's six sharks and they were being tracked by Californian scientists who I met out there.

I had already been diving with sharks and had been completely blown away by how beautiful and magnificent and sophisticated they are.

They're not remotely frightening. They are just fascinating. They're kings of the underwater world.

We humans are really clumsy down there and there are these magnificent beasts swirling round in huge numbers and you're 30 metres under water and they're all there. It's really amazing.

So I decided that what I wanted to do was make a piece of music. I'm reluctant to use the word immersive, because immersive tends to mean that you kind go sit there, a little like watching the telly. You get swamped with something.

I wanted to make a piece that was three dimensional so you got the impression of being inside another space with shapes and actions and calm and fear and joy and love and all these things and that's really what the piece is.

It's a piece of music but I think it's quite an experience. I would encourage people to lie down on the platform and to close their eyes and let themselves be taken away by it, because the music changes all the time.

The way that it changes is the scientists gave me the data, which is the paths the sharks took through the ocean, and then I used these paths to drive digital oscillators.

The oscillators make pitches, they make tones that bend and move and fly around the room at different speeds and at different heights, dependent on what the sharks were doing.

Then I processed these oscillations, these tones, these bending tones with filters dependent on the temperature of the water and how deep the sharks were diving and how fast they were diving.

I did a zoology degree a long time ago and I was going to study medicine, but music's always been a big passion of mine and I didn't take the scientific route at all.

I took the music one, the creative one and now I'm doing lots of installations as well because I'm always trying to find other ways of getting more people to enjoy the experience of music in other ways.

It's not just about sitting down and listening to music through a pair of speakers, although generally it's through a pair of headphones now.

So this is about actually working with how sound appears to travel and can change shape within a space: about how it affects you, the listener - not only where you are in the space, but where the sound moves in your own body.

  • Matthews' shark platform, You Might Come out of the Water Every Time Singing, can be seen at the Bluecoat, Liverpool as part of the current Galápagos exhibition. See our Review.

  • Open Monday-Saturday 8am-6pm (10am-6pm Sunday). Admission free.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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