Dark Matter

Dark Matter: Theatre Sound With Live Mixing

In an ordinary garden something extraordinary is about to happen. Shadows lengthen; the contrast between dark and light intensifies. Suddenly you sense movement. Enveloped in a sound-scape and shielded by black umbrellas, our small audience will be immersed in a fantastical story that rises from the dark earth. A tale about the shadows creeping up from our subconscious.

Dark Matter is an outdoor, site-specific theatre production, produced by Vision Mechanics. Audience members wearing wireless headphones are seated around the perimeter of each garden which has been transformed into an unexpected stage for the evening.

The show premiered in gardens around the north of Scotland Oct-Nov 2011 and toured again at the Theatrezene Europa Scottish-German Theatre Festival in May 2012.

Dark Matter was selected to be part of the programme for the 2013 British Council Edinburgh Showcase. This biennial Showcase comprises new work that represents the very best of contemporary British theater and dance and is attended by promoters and programmers from all over the world.

Put on a pair of headphones to experience some of the bin-aural effects.

Design Aesthetic

Being a site specific show, Tam captured as much sound from the garden as possible before processing and mixing it live into the sound-scape for each performance. Given the unpredictable weather (especially in Scotland) this proved a rewarding strategy as there was no escaping the wind, rain, traffic noise etc from entering the audiences perspective. Rather than fight it Tam chose to embrace this noise and use this to his advantage. Surprisingly these adverse conditions actually added to the immersive nature of each performance. The show toured through a Scottish winter with no cancellations!

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Design Process

Three wireless microphones capture live sound from the garden environment and from the actor; Emma Anderson. The sound is then processed live in Max MSP using a combination of live sampling, granular synthesis and spatialization before being mixed into the bin-aural (3D) sound-scape. Some pre-recorded samples are also used for particular spot effects including some synthesized birdsong samples from Tams Birdsong Contextualizer.

Microphones: Garden Sound Capture

Tam housed microphones inside pipes for the live capture of garden sound. In addition to giving the microphones a little shelter from the wind and rain this provided an effective way to augment the sound through the natural resonance of each pipe. Pipes resonate around a particular frequency determined by their length and width, while the material from which they are made, affects the timbre.

Below are two sound files taken from one short plastic pipe (panned left) and a longer aluminum pipe (panned right). The first is a short compilation while the second is a longer compilation with a little sound from each performance in sequence from the beginning to the end of the highland tour 2011. No artificial effects have been added so what you hear is the pure garden sounds effected only by the resonances of the pipes.

Mic In A Pipe_LongMix

  • Reviewed by Mandy Haggith from a garden in Ullapool, 2 November 2011. (Read more….)
  • NxNE: An interview with Symon MacIntyre of Vision Mechanics. (Read more…)
  • NxNe: Kenny Mathieson hears how sound will lie at the heart of Dark Matter (Read more…)

Dark Matter, Vision MechanicsPhoto Credit: Intense Eyes – Symon Macintyre