Captivating and deeply felt new audio work by Blanc Sceol, aka the duo of Stephen Shiell and Hannah White. Originally commissioned for broadcast on the deep sea 'Radio Amnion' sound project, the piece is written for and performed on the bespoke, one-of-a-kind Orbit instrument, designed and made by Stephen and Hannah in collaboration with master luthier Kai Tönjes. Over the course of thirty minutes the piece drifts and unfurls in an entrancing, enveloping flow, utilising the instrument's unique sonic qualities to create something truly special.
This recording is Blanc Sceol's response to a commission from Jol Thoms to create a new audio work for the June edition of his deep sea sound project 'Radio Amnion', where, each month at the time of the full moon, the abyssal waters of Cascadia Basin resonate with the deep frequencies and voices of invited artists, relayed in the sea through a submerged neutrino telescope experiment’s calibration system.
Through the duo's sound and ecology work with Surge Cooperative on the Channelsea river they have found connection to Abbey Mills pumping station, Joseph Bazalgette’s Victorian ‘cathedral of sewage’, his overground homage to the underground network of pipes, an operational site that still moves water and humanure beneath the city today.
This audio work captures the spinning frequencies of the Orbit, recorded in the chambers of the sewer substation, to be played out to the depths of the deep sea, creating a poetic resonance between these sounds and spaces, a spell of connection between the clear, linear, progressive features of our engineered water networks and the dark, wet, yielding, cyclical unknowns of the deep sea, where the sub station searches for neutrinos and on the full moon translates human-made frequencies into light and vibration for the seafloor.
The words in the piece are a series of ‘one word poems’ created by participants from Blanc Sceol's ‘Sonic Meditations with the Full Moon’ sessions over the last year. Working with moon time through our deep listening practice, and the tidal phases of the Channelsea river, Orbit coordinates these cyclical flows in celebration of the fullness of the cosmic body that holds the tension between the earth and its inhabitants, and gives us all rhythm.
Orbit the instrument:
The Orbit consists of a red cedar decagon body, the resonating chamber, which is spun by one set of hands, bringing rhythm and flow with the changing pace of the orbit, as the other hands hold a bow to the ten strings, seeking out the varying chords and harmonic frequencies. As the two work together so the orbit begins to sing and soar, a myriad of changing, whirling pitch shifting drones.
In 2017 Stephen created a prototype instrument, inspired by Uakti’s ‘torre’ and Walter Smetak’s ‘Ronda’, a plastic barrel strung with ten strings and played by two people - one who turns the barrel, and one who holds a bow to the strings. Many years and many tweaks later, in early 2023 we finally collaborated with master luthier Kai Tönjes to create an upgraded version, and ‘Orbit’ was born.
Mixed and mastered by Ian Thompson
Cover design by Oli Barrett from photos by Joe Thoms
Originally commissioned by and broadcast on Radio Anion: https://radioamnion.net/
Available as 320k MP3 or 24bit FLAC
1. Orbit - 29.30
Photo by Hannah Lovell
Photo by Duncan Stingemore
Blanc Sceol's practice has emerged and expanded through years of working together across performance, composition, participatory actions, deep listening facilitation, and somatic gatherings. They create performances reflecting attempts to expand themselves, through listening and sound, beyond their physical limits and to extend this personal/performance practice into the collective. Their compositions, interventions and performances express their experience of place, anchored in what is found in a landscape but re-imagined into new territories.