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Being there

By Martin Parker, senior lecturer in Sound Design at Edinburgh College of Art

There’s nothing quite like being there, standing next to friends, family, and strangers, listening and looking, absorbing an experience as it happens. Music especially has a way of engaging us with the now - it reminds us of where we were and simultaneously suggests where we’re going.

Given the extraordinary logistics of closing Lothian Road, installing projectors in rooms at the Sheraton Hotel and controlling the weather gods, Edinburgh International Festival’s The Harmonium Project is definitely one to be there for.  

If you’re not there however, there will be many forms of documentation capturing and explaining the event that you missed. You’ll get to see official videos from the Festival, but also the unofficial documentation from audiences capturing myriad angles and perspectives of different moments as they happen - shared almost immediately for consumption around the world via social media. These perspectives are incredibly important. 

I’ve been working with mobile phones for the last year, exploring their musical and expressive potential. Usually, they are communication and capture devices, but the on-board sensors, which give location, orientation and movement information, have the potential to be musically expressive. I’m interested in the intimate sonic connection between headphone and brain and the link that can be made between movement, travel and the sounds we hear. I don’t want to just play mp3 files back in a linear fashion, but rather to allow the listener’s journey to be part of the performance and for this to be different each time. 

The Harmonium Experience App (it is a working title for now) will attempt to get us somewhere towards a hear-and-now listening experience by connecting the array of sensors on your smart phone with sonic parameters. I’ll be there on the night with microphones and a recorder along with four students on the MSc Sound Design ( We’ll be recording the audience perspective from multiple locations, logging GPS coordinates and then remapping everything.

Rather than try to relay the event exactly as it was however, we’re going to make something new. The app should take you back to Festival Square to listen and explore. You may hear tiny fragments of John Adams’ piece as heard around the Usher Hall, but you’ll also compose your own sound experience based on your journey through the space, hopefully helping you to be there, again, and again, and again. 

To share your recordings and photos, tag them #Harmonium @edintfest.

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