Giant Plymouth wave tank to be turned into musical instrument
A contemporary music composer is set to transform the country’s most technologically advanced wave tank into a giant swimming pool-sized instrument at a unique performance this month.
Dr Alexis Kirke will conduct an ‘orchestra of waves’ within the main tank of the £19m Marine Building at Plymouth University, shortly after its royal opening by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on Tuesday 30th October.
Alexis will exchange the conductor’s baton for motion sensing pads strapped to his arms and hands, so that he can control the powerful wave-generating paddles. Gauges placed around the pool will measure the size and direction of the waves that Alexis creates, and these will feed into a musical synthesizer, which will generate electronic sounds to accompany the aquatic acoustics.
The 12-minute performance – entitled Sound-Wave – is the latest innovative creation from Alexis, who is a member of Plymouth University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), and the composer-in-residence at the University’s Marine Institute. He has worked with technologist and composer Samuel Freeman, as well as technicians in the building, to devise the piece.
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He has previously attracted national acclaim for his innovative approach to composition, including Cloud Chamber, in which a violinist dueted with sub-atomic particles; and The Sunlight Symphony, where he used light censors on a building to create music as the sun rose over the city of Plymouth.
Alexis said: “It’s been a dream of mine for a while to turn water patterns into sound, live on a large scale. When I heard about the wave tank I immediately realised the opportunity to actually control the water more dynamically, as well as turn it into sound.
“Initially I had visions of raising my arms like Moses and parting the water! Of course it will be less dramatic than that but nevertheless very exciting for me. I’ve seen the tank in action and it blew me away.”
The Marine Building contains a number of wave tanks and flumes that can replicate ocean and coastal conditions, thanks to wave, current and wind-generating capabilities. It is set to be at the heart of the new South West Marine Energy Park, and a hub for testing marine renewable energy equipment and technology.
With its state-of-the-art ship simulator, the building will also be the centre of the University’s maritime education provision, facilitating training and development to the nautical industry.
In the second Sound-Wave movement of the three, four Plymouth University students positioned in the shallower coastal wave tank will emulate the water drumming of the African Baaka tribe. In the final movement the drummers, the electronic sounds, and the main wave tank-controlled sounds will combine to create a 'large wave crescendo'.
Alexis, whp has devoted the composition to his father Nicholas, added: “The Marine Institute has several artists-in-residence, and our role it is to communicate the power of marine science through the medium of art. It’s my hope that this performance engages people with the building and the potential of this technology.”