The audio for Hydrosiren

Robert Godman (Artist)

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

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A competitively awarded commission from the Canal and River Trust, London, made in collaboration with Simeon Nelson and produced by Modus Operandi Art Consultants, Hydrosiren was built by Simeon Nelson and a large team of volunteers. The work is a performative acoustic sculptural boat responding to the sights and sounds of the locality around Regents Canal and Meanwhile Gardens, West London.

The sculptural acoustic boat references ceremonial barges and Polynesian catamarans. It was performed live with a soprano singing in the bow and a punter in the stern. The soundscape, composed by Godman, encompasses vocal and environmental recordings (including hydrophone recordings of the aquatic life of the canal) combined with the sound of the ‘siren’ – the voice of soprano Elizabeth Karani, who sang live from the structure as it progressed down the canal.

The structure uses two loudspeakers mounted into parabolic mirrors together with a central parabolic microphone. The system is based upon the principle of acoustic sound mirrors used in the first half of the 20th Century functioning as early warning listening devices to detect enemy aircraft flying over the English Channel. Whilst the mirrors at Denge, Kent and elsewhere, were soon rendered obsolete due to the much more effective radar, the concept still functioned and maintains an imposing structural impression.

Underwater and micro recording techniques were explored allowing us to hear the inaudible. The considerable challenge of creating a high-end audio system using 12v on a floating structure has been overcome (although the technology remains largely invisible to an audience or viewer).

The visual appeal of the sound mirrors also aided the sonic experience. The mirrors produced a ‘focused’ sound, allowing us to project the sound directionally. In this way, it mixed with environmental sound and place in a meaningful way.

“Hydrosiren had a powerful, almost eerie effect on bystanders and observers as it glided along the Regent’s Canal in the misty autumn afternoon, accompanied by the ethereal voice of the soprano Elizabeth Karanii and Rob Godman’s evocative soundscore. The work was stewarded by a large throng of local residents, volunteers and participants making stately progress to Meanwhile Gardens, creating a celebratory atmosphere that engaged those who witnessed its spectral passing at an enchanted distance.”
-Paul Hobson, Director, Modern Art Oxford
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationRegent’s Canal, London
PublisherModus Operandi
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
EventMeanwhile Hydrosiren - Meanwhile Gardens, Grand Union Canal, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Nov 201718 Dec 2019


  • sound mirrors, acoustic boat


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