Jane Grant John Matthias (2013)
The Fathom sound installation created a sonic surface, 6ft above the floor of in Royal William Yard, at the mouth of the River Tamar, September 2013. Fathom was commissioned by the River Tamar Project as part of the Plymouth Ocean City Festival and was featured on Nick Luscombe’s BBC 3 radio show Late Junction in 2013. The film of Fathom was featured in the It Sounds Like Art exhibition at the Kasa Galeri, Istanbul, 2014.
On entering the building, visitors were immersed in an underwater sound-environment where the minute fluctuations of the sea are heard as they moved around the space. These fluctuations were marked by waves of live and recorded sound moving across the building triggered by environmental events, the tides in confluence with the Tamar Estuary.
These fluctuations and sound events included the massive change of vibration of the cross-channel ferries as they manoeuvred into Mill Bay, the smaller sonic events of the many other vessels that use the estuary, set against the fascinating soundscape of the tidal estuary. All of these events made up an underwater sonic representation of the Tamar Estuary and Plymouth Sound.
Above the fathom, over the 6ft surface of water, airborne atmospheric sounds were just detectable, drawn from birds and human-made sounds. Those who wished to elevate themselves above the surface were able to stand on small steps lifting their head above the ‘fathom’, above the watery sonic surface and into the volume of ‘air’.
The sonic boundary between air and water was created using cutting edge technology in an unusual way. The sound system used Multi-cellular Array™ technology to generate a very precise sound field, through the manipulation of phase, amplitude and equalisation. The system is more often used for localising sound at large-scale events, such as the recent concerts in London’s Hyde Park, where the audience experience has to be delivered with minimal disturbance to local residents. It is the only one of its kind, and is at the absolute forefront of modern professional audio.
Sound is thought of as pervasive, it is everywhere and unlike vision we cannot turn away from it. Fathom shifts our perception of this phenomenon, creating a vast but specific volume of sound, with a definite but mutable boundary that differentiates the world of water from our world of air.