Artist’s Blog: Rita Evans reflects on ‘Theatre of Sound’

Posted on 25/11/2020

In this blog, our recent artist-in-residence, Rita Evans, shares her thoughts and reflections on hosting a series of family workshops at Towner Eastbourne in October.

 

Testing instruments made by families by adding them to my sonic structures. Theatre of Sound, Rita Evans, Commissioned by Towner Eastbourne. Photo © Benedict Johnson

 

In my work, I imagine new kinds of instruments and tools that I then make and attempt to play both solo and with others. The resulting ‘Instrument-Sculptures’ are playable objects that are continually evolving. They are collectively explored in improvisational workshops with participants, and I adapt them in response. They bring people together in live encounters with materials, including sound and space, to make moments of making, listening and being together. My film, Coil of Days is currently in Towner’s International Biennial. In the film, a collective of performers play my amplified sculptures and instruments.

This October, I was commissioned by Towner Eastbourne to devise a series of workshops in the gallery. Bubbles of children and their adults made and played their own objects to create sounds using loose exploratory prompts. These were categorised in three stages, ‘Tubular’, ‘Chambers’ and ‘Membranes’, which grew in complexity each time we delivered a new kit of corresponding materials. I started with a really physical warm-up called Human Guitars – which involved the groups connecting to each other using elastics, and then playing them as they moved together to alter the pitch. This set the tone for involving the whole body (and bubble) in the process.

 

Instruments based on ‘Membranes’. Theatre of Sound, Rita Evans, Commissioned by Towner Eastbourne. Photo © Benedict Johnson

 

Over the duration of the workshop, I used a webcam to project felt tip sketches of prompts of possible, or potential ideas for making sounds. These were less instructional, but responding to the room, they served as openings for exploration. In this way, the variety of instruments grew exponentially. 

Some appeared as instruments you might recognise, but buzzed and crackled in an unexpected way, some objects, close to my own practice, verged on being listening tools or communication systems. One workshop saw families incorporating the chairs and tables into architectural instruments that they entered with their whole body to listen to. One child made a kind of DIY ‘soundboard’ to organise textures to imagine sound.

After each stage of making, we lowered the lights to listen and play collectively across the room. With the webcam, I used handwritten propositions on bits of paper that acted as scores, projected live to the whole room. Single words such as ‘tickly’ described actions, textures and sensations to play. My personal favourite was ‘Only play a sound when you hear silence’ which created a heightened sense of suspense across the room with bursts of spatially arranged clattering.

 

Score projections. Theatre of Sound, Rita Evans, Commissioned by Towner Eastbourne. Photo © Benedict Johnson

 

Throughout, I was socially distanced from the bubbles of families, as we couldn’t touch the same materials, which was very unusual as an artist who likes to engage with things. Being socially distant in the space gave me the opportunity to see the dynamics of each bubble, which made a completely different set of outcomes for each workshop. Making is catching, it takes just one glimpse for one bubble to try an idea and it is shared across the room.

 

Bubbles of families listening to and playing their objects. Theatre of Sound, Rita Evans, Commissioned by Towner Eastbourne. Photo © Benedict Johnson

 

For two of the sessions the space became an Open Studio where the public could spectate as I experimented with the instruments the families made. I amplified them by attaching them to some of my own sonic structures. This made larger collaborative structures that really pushed their sounds into an orchestra of new relational instruments.

Theatre of Sound for me, blurred the boundaries of a families’ workshop – as a sonic sculpture, performance, installation and anthropological investigation, removing hierarchies between artist and participants.

 

Testing instruments made by families in an open studio, by adding them to my sonic structures. Theatre of Sound, Rita Evans, Commissioned by Towner Eastbourne. Photo © Benedict Johnson