Semorphonic Orchestra

Expo 2007 Sonic Picnic

Sunday June 24th – Plymouth

The world premiere of the Semorphonic Orchestra

Semorphonics is a combination of the three Greek roots sema (sign), morphe (form) and phone (sound). The semorphonic orchestra uses semaphores flags to communicate between musical stations so that its performers can sculpt sound over a large area.

Background/Project Brief

The London to Plymouth ‘shutter telegraph’ line was the longest of a series of military communication lines developed in the UK between 1795 and 1847. By the time it was erected, with a total of 32 stations, in 1796, a message could be relayed from the naval base at Plymouth to the admiralty in London in less than half an hour. An early form of telegraph, it depended upon semaphore – an optical sign-bearing system – to convey its information. The hand-held system of two flags came into being at about the same time – its use was recorded during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Hand-held flag semaphore provides a set of 28 signs, arranged as a series of seven subsets of diminishing size (seven members, six members, five members and so on to a final set with only one member).

These 28 signs form the basic ‘score’ of the semorphonic orchestra – each sign, or pair of signs, refers to a singular analogue electronic sound texture, or mode of transformation or a correspondence between individual sonic stations.

The work consists of a number of sonic stations distributed across a large space of performance. The size of the space is variable and depends upon the number of performers; it wants to be sufficiently large that two performers at opposite sides of the space are not within hearing distance of one another, yet small enough that any one station can hear what its immediate neighbours are doing. Each sonic station comprises between one and three performers armed with analogue synthesis equipment, independent speaker and flags. Each performer also has a copy of the score – a code book detailing the modes of communication, but the textures are devised in rehearsal.

The rehearsal process consists of two one-hour rehearsals in the run up to the performance in which a commonvocabulary of sound textures is devised and the system of semaphore communication is practised.

The Instigators

Mike McInerney is senior lecturer in music for the University of Plymouth. He is currently completing a Ph D in issues of coding and notation in respect of the musical event. He works frequently with electronic sounds, natural sounds and other sound paradigms which lie at, or beyond, the boundary prescribed by a pitch/time lattice approach to musical articulation.

Duncan Chapman is a freelance Composer, Sound Artist, Educator and Performer. He regularly works with many of the leading music organisations in Britain including The Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, LSO, Britten Sinfonia, Royal Festival Hall, CBSO, BCMG, Wigmore Hall, Huddersfield Contemporary music festival, BBC and Sonic Arts Network. Much of his work involves collaborations with other artists and often results in sound installations, CDs and multi-media performances.

Analogorak is a south Devon analogue electronic ensemble which performs intermittently in local pubs.
more info

20 minutes.

Technical Requirements

Performers will be expected to bring their own synthesizers. If you have a battery powered amp set-up or a busking amp please bring it along.

Rehearsal Schedule
Two rehearsals of one hour duration during EXPO (June 22nd – 24th 2007) in the run up to the performance. Performers in the piece will be sent detailed information prior to the weekend in order for them to plan the sonic material that they will contribute.

What do we do if it rains ?
Umbrellas at the ready (precipitation within sight)
Golfing umbrellas shielding the players (continuous moderate drizzle)
Indoors in the shelters (heavy rain)