Collaborating by distance

The three-way collaborative creation of ‘Nests’ was for the most part a long-distance relationship (Ken and Rebecca in country Victoria, me in Melbourne).  Our first intensive in-person period of discussions and exploration, when we ran an informal workshop with a group of 3-5 year-olds at the Creswick Playscape, concluded with an agreed idea of what we each saw in mind’s eye when we pictured the installation. We each had differing mental images of the nests, for example, so needed to describe and discuss and establish a shared set of intentions. We looked at pictures of actual nests, and discussed the practicalities of rendering each in a human-size form that could still be packed down to fit in to the back of a car. By the end of the December development period, we each had clear tasks ahead of us, to work on in our respective homes.

Ken's leaf coloursKen set to work designing the nests for the installation, figuring out solutions to the materials needed, the construction process and the visual effect. He explored the idea of woven leaves, taking inspiration (shapes, colours) from the local landscape.

Rebecca and I turned our minds to the soundscape. We discussed an overall ‘narrative’ structure for the 30 minute installation experience that allowed time for children’s discovery and exploration of the instruments, leading to a massed ensemble experience in which everyone would be playing the same thing at the same time. The magical focus and mood that we had witnessed at the Creswick Playscape when we brought the wooden frog guiros out at the end of the session suggested to us that a ‘frog bog’ might be a nice way to draw the experience to a quiet, peaceful close.

We wanted the soundscape to create a sense of the bush or a forest. The installation space was to be theatrically lit, and the soundscape would enhance the children’s sense of entering ‘another world’. We also wanted it to encourage musical interactions between the children, where they might start to engage in patterns, sequences, and conversations. Therefore, it needed to include sounds from the natural world and sounds from the instruments the children would be playing in the nests.

Rebecca set to work recording natural environment sounds.

Ready to record... (Rebecca Russell)These included footsteps in crunchy leaves, all sorts of bird calls, early morning crickets and early evening frogs.

My recording tasks were to source some great storm sounds (I found these at freesound.org, an amazingly comprehensive resource thanks to a dedicated and committed community of sharers), and to record samples of all the instruments we intended to use.

I did this one sunny afternoon in the bathroom and wardrobe of my apartment – these were the quietest, deadest spaces. Here are the instruments all lined up, ready to play:

Recording 'Nests' sounds (G. Howell)

These were our January tasks. We had regular Skype meetings but because we live quite far apart (and because I was away for much of January), we needed to work separately on the assigned tasks, then share outcomes as they were ready.

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