The Cybird Trilogy

‘Nina Whiteman produced a bloody blinding piece of music and art that laid bare the tragedy of automation and inner city living and its effects on nature, that was hilarious, whimsical, and often insane and disturbing. The only sentient being in the room. BRILLIANT.’ (Audience member at the Fuming premiere)

The Cybird Trilogy

I. Fuming (voice and multimedia, 20 minutes, 2022)

II. cybird cybird (piano and multimedia, 12 minutes, 2022)

III. Incandescent (trio and multimedia, 15 minutes [in progress] 2022)

Fuming grew from my feelings about crossing a busy ‘arterial’ city road to reach my local park every day. I recorded this soundwalk dozens of times, capturing the impact of the traffic on the acoustic environment, as well as the sounds of birds jostling to live alongside this anthropogenic noise. This ‘data’ was then fed to the Sample RNN computer by Dr Christopher Melen at the RNCM, who sent me a range of results. The machine had learned a variety of sonic features of my daily walk. Unsurprisingly, though, it couldn’t make qualitative judgements between ‘bird’ and ‘car’, and some interesting sonic hybrids emerged. These, along with ‘uncanny’ machine-learned environments form the basis for the fixed media electroacoustic audio in Fuming and cybird cybird

Video still from Fuming (2022)

Research tells us that birds find it harder to learn their songs against a backdrop of traffic noise, and that their songs tend to occupy a narrower and higher bandwidth as a result of these stresses (e.g. Drooling and Popper, 2007 and Moseley et al, 2019). I began to imagine birds as hybrids of technology, flesh, feather, and imposing chaotic environment. The Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy claims (satirically) that all birds have been replaced by robot drones. I began to wonder what it would be like if they had. 

The Cybird Trilogy of multimedia works with live performers has grown from this engagement with machine learning, artificial intelligence and the natural world, and charts the ‘adventures’ of a cybird character that is inhabited and portrayed differently in each work. Its concerns are ecological, musical, and technological.

Video still from cybird cybird

Further uses of technologies in the trilogy:

Holonic Systems (via the Holonist app) allows Movesense motion sensors to communicate with various software. The motion sensors are used to convert bird-like performer wing movements into audible phenomena, through control of playback speed (MaxMSP) and of a modular synthesiser app (MiRack). 

Holly+ https://holly.plus/ Holly Herndon’s voice model (deep neural network) was used to process real birdsong recordings. These feature in the in-ear soundtrack of Fuming and in the electroacoustic sound of cybird cybird.

AI images of birds were created for the videos using DALL-E mini, and later Craiyon.

AI videos were created using online generators such as Synthesia and Movio.

An analogue talkbox features in Fuming, where the output of the motion-sensor controlled modular synthesiser is fed into the performer’s mouth. Their mouth filters the noisy emissions, amplified by a microphone. 

Fuming was first performed at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester alongside other work created by the Machine Learning for Music (ML4M) working group in June 2022.

cybird cybird will be performed by Zubin Kanga in Sheffield on 8 October, and at Cafe Oto (London) on 13 October.

Incandescent will be performed for the first time at the University of Manchester lunchtime concert series on 10 November by Trio Atem.

The trilogy results from my work on Zubin Kanga’s UKRI Future Leaders project Cyborg Soloists. I’m grateful to Zubin for commissioning me to work on this fantastic project using new technologies: https://www.cyborgsoloists.com/

With enormous thanks also to Stephen Bradshaw for his assistance with MaxMSP programming for Fuming.

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Forbidden (Riot Ensemble commission)

I was delighted to be commissioned by Riot Ensemble during 2020-21 to create a solo work for their Zeitgeist series, funded by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.

During 2020-21, touching our faces has become a forbidden act that endangers our health. However, research tells us that spontaneous facial self touch is a comforting mechanism, and that we can touch our own faces up to 50 times an hour without necessarily being aware that we are doing so (e.g. see Mueller et al 2019). 

Forbidden presents simultaneously as an elegy to facial touch and a dangerous act of rebellion. 

The work extends my exploration of video as score and notation. Here, the vocalist is informed of their pitches from the part of the face that is touched, and the camera focus guides vocal timbre.

I’m so grateful to soprano Sarah Dacey for her exquisite performance!

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Noises with Nina

During the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve started a series of homemade experimental music videos. The series is a quirky antidote to a rather grave situation that has particularly affected the arts and live music-making. It was initially inspired in part by Björk’s eccentric tour of her television (you can view that here).
It’s been a lot of fun to make, and a welcome distraction from isolation. You can view the series on Facebook and Twitter @ninawhiteman, and on YouTube (click here for the link).

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Collaboration with Lauren Redhead and Alistair Zaldua

I’ve been working for some time now on a piece for organ and electronics. This develops my interest in creating maze-like notational environments for performers to navigate. In this work, provisionally titled Escape! the score is in the form of a video also visible to the audience. It comprises a series of rooms that performers (and audience) navigate in turn under differing time pressures. The organ and electronics performers have comparable actions in response to graphic symbols (octave changes, timbre changes, vibrato) and their interaction varies from one leading the other to races through rooms to slow explorations in tandem.

Here’s a video of us talking at the beginning of the project: https://vimeo.com/357779018

And here’s an example of one of the rooms performers explore in the piece:

The collaboration has been funded by Goldsmiths, University of London, and the work will tour a range of festivals from Spring 2020.

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‘Thread’ now available on HCR records

In 2017 Kathryn Williams asked me to write her a flute piece to be played in one breath for her project ‘Coming Up for Air’. My response was Thread, where the player’s breathing is controlled by an in-ear sound score, whilst their fingers simultaneously navigate maze-like notation. Kathryn has recently recorded over 40 pieces composed to this brief, and they’ve been released on the HCR label. You can listen to Thread and all of the other composers’ fantastic creations by buying the CD (https://www.nmcrec.co.uk/huddersfield-contemporary-records/coming-air) or on Spotify here.

Read more about Kathryn’s project here: http://www.kathryngwilliams.com/coming-up-for-air.html

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overcast

I’ve had a fabulous time working with the Vonnegut Collective on overcast. This was a commission from Kinetic (funded by Arts Council England) to create music to be experienced in a small space. You can read about my ideas in this interview: https://www.kineticmanchester.co.uk/nina-whiteman-interview

I really enjoyed writing a piece that was designed to be memorised so that performers could move, play in the dark, and have creative involvement in how the sounds unfold. This is something I’d very much like to explore again, along with use of lighting and strange string preparations! Thanks so much to everyone involved!

(Vonnegut Collective in rehearsal at Takk in Hatch, Manchester)

I’m now working on a piece for organ and electronics for Lauren Redhead and Alistair Zaldua, and this research is funded by Goldsmiths, University of London. The collaboration involves a number of exploratory sessions, which we have been filming to document the process. More on this to follow, along with performance dates!

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TOMB premiere

TOMB is a new piece for amplified alto flute, video and electronics commissioned by Gavin Osborn (with funds from the RVW Trust).

The first performance is on Thursday 13 December at 1.10pm at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, The University of Manchester. It’s a free event open to everyone, and also features music by Elizabeth Ditmanson, Kelly Jayne Jones, Rachel Graff and Sarah Keirle. Info here.

 

 

 

 

TOMB is an underground adventure, an exploration of an unknown location, an attempt to navigate, a discovery of lost things, a place to become lost…

Inspired in part by the fictional (?) house of changing dimensions in Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves (2000), TOMB places the performer in a disconcerting environment they may never leave.

An abandoned copper mine in Alderley Edge – Wood Mine – was the location for the film. A map of the mine informed the modular structure of TOMB: the flute player must navigate the interconnected regions of the mine, following a confusing array of signposts. These regions correspond to the areas of the mine seen in the video, and are named as follows in the score:

ENTRANCE ADIT/MAZE/FLUX/CAVERN/EXERTION/DEPTHS/DEAD END…

Areas may be explored in any order, and the work is designed to be of flexible duration.

TOMB is part of a collection of works exploring sonic realisations of ideas deriving from mazes and labyrinths (design, literature, psychology). The score employs idiosyncratic maze-like notation, and features a defaced ‘artefact’ page from my piece House of Mazes (2017).

TOMB was commissioned by Gavin Osborn with support from the RVW Trust and Royal Holloway University of London.

My thanks go to Stuart Spray for the camerawork and filming equipment, James Walker for editing the film, Derbyshire Caving Club and Nigel Dibben for our fascinating tour of the mine and access to film there, and Gavin Osborn for his generous collaboration.

 

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TIME-TRACE-PLACE

You can read and see what I was up to in St Ives in June here

Responding to our environment, we created a constantly evolving installation (sound, visual art) at the Porthmuir Studios in St Ives. There were daily performances, too, where all collaborators interacted with the installation with movement and sound. These performances were playful and improvisatory and I found it a really liberating experience to work in this way over the course of a week. I was also able to develop some of my performance work involving entangled twine, physical movement, and vocal responses to physical constraint. A few images and videos below:

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time-trace-place (installation and performance project in St. Ives this summer)

I’m involved in a really exciting project in St. Ives this summer. It’s a collaborative venture led by Gavin Osborn, and we’ll be making site-specific installation and performance work daily in artist studios in the town.

There’s more information here:

https://time-trace-place.weebly.com/

The project is funded by Arts Council England.

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‘Thread’ – performed by Kathryn Williams (flute)

I’m happy to be sharing this wonderful performance of my flute piece ‘Thread’ to be played IN ONE BREATH. This was commissioned and performed by Kathryn Williams in aid of Help Musicians.

I’ll borrow Kathryn’s excellent description: ‘”Thread” by Nina Whiteman is a labyrinth to navigate in a single breath, with an in-ear click track dictating the moments to inhale and exhale. Beginning with inhalation sounds with the head joint completely turned in, the exhale sounds span sharp bursts of air, flutter tongue, lip pizzicato, and tongue pizzicato as the head joint is gradually turned back out.’

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