Fragmented Orchestra - A Multi Venue Sonic Art Installation

By Culture24 Staff | 09 December 2008
A picture of the three people who created The Fragmented Orchestra standing under an autumnal tree wearing black coats

John Matthias, Jane Grant and Nick Ryan have created The Fragmented Orchestra. © Maja Flink

Exhibition preview - The Fragmented Orchestra, various locations, from Friday, December 12, 2008.

In September 2008, John Matthias, the muso-geek behind a New Music Award (NMA)-winning structure which creates music via a computer-programmed brain, appealed for sites the ‘neuron units’ of the machine could fire from.

Three months later, positioned at locations from galleries and museums to football stadiums and seafront outposts, the UK’s most intellectual interactive installation is ready for public consumption.

Matthias has already toyed with the futuristic contraption, dabbling with an earlier version on tour as part of a classical concoction, Cortical Songs. His fascination lies in mirroring the functions of the brain, which is no surprise given his status as a theoretical physicist with a degree in quantum disciplines and a post teaching sonic arts at the University of Plymouth.

A picture of neon-coloured lights against a black background

Prototype audio played into the software used in the project created beautiful imagery thanks to live visualisation software. © Kin Design

BAFTA-winning composer Nick Ryan, a long-term collaborator of Matthias, was the other half of Cortical Songs, and their work was enhanced by visual artist Jane Grant for this project, The Fragmented Orchestra, which won the revered NMA (along with £50,000 towards all that technical innovation).

The precise nature of the operation involves attaching a sound box modelled on neurons found in the human brain to spots across the country. Sounds produced at each site will then fire signals to installations at fellow locations, stimulated by noise, before being streamed back to a central site at Liverpool’s FACT gallery.

A “weird and wonderful” score, formulated via the workings of the collective intelligent brain function formed between the corresponding ‘neurons’, will then materialise.

A picture of fuzzy green lights connected with thin beams

Each site acts like a neuron of the brain, transmitting signals to base at Liverpool's FACT gallery. © Kin Design

A plan of such ambition and complexity is undoubtedly suited to the academic prowess of Matthias, but his musical endeavours – he’s played with Thom Yorke and Radiohead, Coldcut and Matthew Herbert and produced successive solo albums – are unlikely to allow the overall effect to become anything less than the sum of its parts.

24 sites are involved in the two-month cycle, which begins on Friday, comprising schools, social centres, galleries and music venues. Visitors are encouraged to add their own sound effects or listen to the ongoing results.

A small kiosk at the end of Brighton’s old West Pier, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Everton Football Club’s Goodison Park ground, a Scottish cattle market and Manchester recording studios used by the likes of Johnny Marr and Elbow are the more quirky and glamorous settings submitting eclectic contributions.

Bronte Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire is one of the locations where visitors can contribute to the score

“This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of an innovative and imaginative arts project in a cathedral renowned for its magical acoustic,” said Reverend Nick Bury, Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, promising choral music, organ whirls, excited schoolchildren and hoovering for listeners.

“We hope the public will be intrigued to come and discover The Fragmented Orchestra for themselves,” added Jenna Holmes, Arts Officer at the more serene Bronte Parsonage Museum in West Yorkshire, echoing Matthias’s aspiration.

“There really is a special atmosphere at the museum at this time of year and it is incredible to think that the sounds here at the Parsonage, such as the church clock, wind whistling from the moors and the rooks that nest in the trees will be heard by thousands of people at sites across the country.”

The project runs until February 22 2009. Visit for a full list of participating venues.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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