My brief career as a ‘Sonic artist’
I graduated from York University in 1998 with a post graduate degree in Music Technology, As a result of my studies, I was ‘fired up’ to start making ambient music and soundtracks for (art) installations. I’d become very interested in what I termed ‘Sound in Perspective’ (my dissertation topic), which was a consideration of the Sound / listener / environment interaction – particularly regarding how our perception doesn’t work in isolation regarding the senses, something that the standard scientific approach to auditory perception doesn’t take into account. I still think there is much to explore in this area.
Back in Leeds (my hometown at the time), I started working in art galleries and met some very interesting and stimulating artist types / curators and the like. I was very impressed with the almost religious zeal the more genuine artists had for their work. It’s something I’ve not seen anywhere else (outside of religion). I was fortunate to be able to show my work in a number of galleries in Leeds (around 2003 predominantly), in venues such as the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Metropolitan Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery etc. I was also involved in some rather diverse group shows, which made me realise that I mostly work best ‘solo’ ! (but not always). My work at the time was focused on surround sound installation work, soundtracks for cordless headphones, some short-film soundtracks and various pieces for a number of diverse installations. As a result of the exposure, I’d like to think a lot of people were able to experience the work at the time.
I found world of the Arts to be hugely different (not unsurprisingly) to the commercial world (electronics) I had worked in hitherto. Even though I had no background in the Arts, I picked things up pretty quickly, I realised that a lot of what passes for ‘art theory’ wasn’t exactly the highest form of abstract thinking known to man ! So it didn’t daunt me not to have the ‘background’, as I felt my ideas were vaild nonetheless. Art schools are responsible for a lot of second-hand ideas methinks and not having been to one actually helped me, I felt. I was much more inspired by the artists who had been working and thinking about their practice for years and had created their own world with their work, so to speak. From my observations, it seemed that you really have to ‘network’ and push yourself a lot in the art world in order to get decent shows / build up a body of exhibiting work and I really wasn’t motivated to do that, I was more interested in the work itself.
From my studies at York, it seemed that music making or being a ‘composer’ as it was referred to in the more ‘serious’ academic (electroacoustic music) world, was similarly fraught with issues. I observed that there was a rather ‘select’ group of composers playing / performing to each other at various conferences and festivals and entering competitions across the world. Out of interest, I did attend some of the more local events and at the Maxis sonic art conference (Sheffield 2003), I created a track called ‘Igneous Flame’ and decided to use that name as my recording moniker (it’s appropriate in a number of ways). I found these festivals to be quite stimulating, but more so in meeting interesting people rather than the work that was being presented. I assembled a computer based recording set-up and decided to start making my own ambient music – for it’s own sake, not trying to being considered to be a ‘composer’ or having any academic affiliations, as such.
I also decided that the art world was just too much effort for too little reward (and I’m not a lazy chap, by the way) and also moving out to the sticks (countryside), there were very few arty venues / organisations / opportunities to work with anyway. So, I have been almost totally concentrating on my music for the past seven years.
As for future installation work, I would never say never if the right project arose. I still have lots of ideas that weren’t realised, particularly with the creation of multi-sensory environments.
Finally, in comparison to being a ‘sound artist’ or trying to be known as a ‘composer’, I’ve found creating my music as an independent musician to be much more rewarding, in lots of ways – it reaches a lot more people, primarily.