University of Hertfordshire

By the same authors

Meanwhile Hydrosiren

Research output: Non-textual formExhibition

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Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationRegent’s Canal, London
PublisherModus Operandi
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2017


Hydrosiren (2017 )was a competitively awarded commission for the Canal and River Trust, London inc ollaboration with Rob Godman and produced by Modus Operandi Art Consultants. Built by Nelson and a large team of volunteers, Hydrosiren is a performative acoustic sculptural boat responding to the sights and sounds of the locality around Regents Canal and Meanwhile Gardens, West London. Its structure and ornament are a hybrid of the catamarans of the Māori Waka, Venetian Gondolas and River Boats (the Sàndolo da Barcariòl and Caorlìna) and various Polynesian forms.  Powered by a single quanter (using a 4 meter bamboo quant pole), the vessel carries the singer and acoustic mirrors for collecting and projecting sound. The soundscape composed by Godman encompasses vocal, environmental (including hydrophone recordings of the aquatic life of the canal) and steel pan samples combined with the sound of the siren – the voice of soprano Elizabeth Karani.  


We see Meanwhile as a manifold of natural, cultural and social forces, structures and networks including all visitors, and inhabitants hugging the Regents Canal which connects to a complex canal system that reaches north south east and west to much of the UK mainland and also connects to many of England’s ports and harbours thereby implying connection with all the oceans and ports of the entire world. The temporary and permanent inhabitants of the gardens and canal (humans, animals and micro-organisms) are transitory beings who live variously in the water, earth and air. The water has always occupied our imaginations. A nymph is traditionally seen as a female deity associated with a particular location or landform. Unlike goddesses and other spirits, nymphs are generally regarded as divine beings that animate nature. However, sirens were dangerous creatures, who sang beautiful songs to lull sailors to sleep, and then attack and kill them. Hence, those who allow themselves to become lost in worldly pleasures and the underworld will be vulnerable to evil forces… Alongside Meanwhile Gardens, the canal forms an analogue super-slow-way. It lives alongside the digital super-high-way of the fibre optics embedded in the towpath. The sound for our proposal explores our perception of time (from the very slow to the very fast) and our perception of scale (from the imperceptibly small to the human and to the urban). We will make the barge whisper and ‘sing’ with the sound of the voice of these multiple communities, underwater and other sounds invisible to the naked eye. In short – we will make the invisible audible. Technologically speaking, there are some significant research areas that have been explored to make Hydrosiren what it is. The sound mirrors (hyperbolic microphones and speakers) are based upon the principle of acoustic sound mirrors used in the first half of the 20th century as early warning listening devices to detect enemy planes flying over the English Channel. Whilst the systems at Denge, Kent and elsewhere were soon rendered obsolete due to the much more effective radar, the concept still functioned and has an imposing structural impression. Underwater and micro recording techniques have been explored allowing us to hear the inaudible. It should be noted that the considerable challenge of creating a high-end audio system using 12v on a floating structure have been over come. Whilst the technology is always largely invisible to an audience or viewer, the research should not be underestimated. The music consists of manipulated samples of 'the sound' of Meanwhile Gardens. This includes recordings of the humanoid residents, plus aquatic and insect! A score has been created for soprano Elizabeth Karani, who on selected dates will sing live from the structure as it progresses down the canal. Tim Eastop, executive producer of the Canal & River Trust’s Arts on the Waterways program comments: “We’re so pleased this amazing partnership project is coming to the canal. We hope it encourages people to reconsider and rediscover one of London’s secret waterway sanctuaries. It draws together the natural, cultural and social influences along this stretch of the Grand Union. It is an undoubtedly urban area, but discovering the peace and rich mix of Meanwhile Gardens and the waterway will be a real delight for many people. That is what Simeon, together with Rob and all those who have helped to build the boat, are reflecting. I can only encourage people to take a moment to step onto the towpath and discover it for themselves.” "It was a really great success and many congratulations to you both once again! The atmosphere was quite magical - a truly unique work of art and performance - a ‘gesamtkunstwerk' in every sense. I heard nothing but really positive feedback, walking along the towpath and at the event." Vivien Lovell FRSA Hon FRIBA Director, Modus Operandi

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