FATHOM ATLANTIC MARKS THE RETURN OF MARTIN AUDIO ‘SOUNDHENGE’
A unique concept known as ‘Fathom Atlantic’ — part of The Atlantic Project festival of contemporary art in Plymouth — has been wowing visitors to the Old Reservoir at the City’s Devil's Point.
The installation of an original work of sonic art, conceived by John Matthias and Jane Grant, explored the boundaries between water and air, using only sound. It was a reimagining of the ‘soundscape’ originally conceived in 2014 — and on both occasions Martin Audio’s MLA, with its unique multi-cellular control, provided the playback solution.
Once again, the project presented experienced sound recording engineer (and Martin Audio MLA ambassador) Simon Honywill, with one of his most challenging tasks ever.
Phase cancellation was used to produce a sonic surface, immersing visitors in an eerie above- and below-surface simulation. Pre-recorded underwater sound was mixed with live acoustic transmissions from the River Tamar, enabling the audience to ‘climb through the fathom’, via a platform 6ft above the ground.
Conventional loudspeakers would not have achieved the desired effect.
To deliver the sense of realism, technical director Simon Honywill again chose eight stacks of five MLA arrayed loudspeaker elements, in a 20-metre ring around a diamond shaped stage.
As Honywill put it, the installation gave visitors the sensation of surfacing from beneath the waters of Plymouth Sound, without getting wet — having experienced other-worldly noises of the local marine environment, as they happened, and hearing the sounds of passing craft from above and below the waves.
All were relayed via live hydrophones in the water at Devil's Point and a series of recorded multi-track loops, recorded by sound engineer Jay Auborn at the local dBS Studios.
The sound was relayed through the circle of MLA.Walking up the staging brought visitors out of the water into a soundscape generated by live microphones positioned above where the hydrophones were placed. This was played out using a ring of eight Martin Audio DD6, mounted on poles at exactly 1 fathom above the ground.
“Fathom was the first time I had ever designed a loudspeaker system intending to abuse the MLA software,” stated SImon. By this he meant he was tasking MLA to cover 7m of depth, presenting consistency of coverage to each visitor. “I then cranked up the Hard Avoid [function] to 100% and set some of the stacks out of phase, which was really effective.
“Conventional loudspeakers would not have achieved the desired effect that Jane Grant and John Matthias wanted, and from their own admissions they could never had envisaged it being as effective, and Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array™ technology not been available.”
“It was great to see people interacting in any way they wanted. Some people would lay down, others would wander about or use it as a meditational experience.
“Of all the things that Fathom achieved, for me the most significant was the way that it engaged people with sound.We are surrounded by it, yet we take it for granted because visual stimuli usually takes precedence at every opportunity.
“This was all about the sound for sound's sake, which for a cynical old engineerwas supremely refreshing.”