Continuous Drift, a sound installation in Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square conceived by Sven Anderson launched at the start of July, with a performance by Japanese sound artist Miki Yui, whose work features amongst in Continuous Drift, in the nearby Project Arts Centre. However in spite of its accessibility – it only requires you having an internet ready mobile device to access the installation’s control panel at www.continuousdrift.com – it has remained a bit of a secret, a slow-burning discovery for those beyond Dublin’s art-crowd. The aim is to remedy this with soon to be installed public signage alerting a more general public to its existence and operation, on a (hopefully) permanent basis.
Sitting with Anderson in the square, it’s remarkable how immediate and essentially how fun this high-brow work is and also what a strange refuge Meeting House Square becomes from the tumult of Temple Bar during weekdays, where its purpose seems more refuge than rendez-vous. At the press of a button on the website, eight speakers, concealed within the four umbrellas designed by Seán Harrington Architects, play audio works ranging from field recordings that last more than an hour, to sweetly pulsing synth arpeggios (Wolfgang Voigt’s Zukunft Ohne Menschen), to a recording of Lou Reed’s amp as he plays Candy Says (Russell Hart’s Guitars, Planets and Other Noises) that compete with the chatter of kids hanging out here, and the sounds of work and life whirling around beyond the square (in our case an industrial saw) that leap out of the background layer when one stops to consider your acoustic environment in the way that Continuous Drift encourages you to.
Anderson found himself with this canvas to play with by virtue of a position he applied for and essentially created within Dublin City Council, that of Urban Acoustic Planner. ‘In 2012 I made a proposal, when they had this amazing call for works. It was a new thing for Dublin City Council, and a lot of artists went for it. It was a bigger commissioning scheme than we had seen for a long time. I went to one of the meetings that they had and Ruairi Ó Cuív, who’s the Public Art Manager, wanted people to suggest projects that were process-based, that would work with different council resources.’
‘The most interesting thing about it,’ says Anderson, ‘is that it’s not the kind of artist placement where you’re inventing a role for yourself that doesn’t otherwise exist. It’s actually putting yourself in a role *[of urban sound planner]* that frankly *should* exist, and that in some cities *does* exist, but here, currently doesn’t exist… It would be one thing if I was going in asking for their help in trying to revise the way they do something that they are already doing, but because they’re not doing it, there’s an openness. When I mentioned these kind of installations, people in the Council were suddenly asking “Oh, what’s that all about?” and there was momentum behind the idea. The logic I’ve come up with at the end is when you’re starting something like that within a city council, you *have* to work to the scale of the city. That’s what was so great about this commission, is that I wrote my job. I wrote my objectives. And pretty much the first line was, “I will develop my objectives in response to what people [within DCC] are interested in”.’ Anderson’s submission, ‘Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design (MAP)’ won the 2014 European Soundscape Award from the European Environment Agency.
Continuous Drift allows anybody armed with the commonplace technology of a mobile phone to shape the sonic space of Meeting House Square, and the idea of control is central to the work: ‘I sent everybody a brief where I described the project’s theme: this architect Constant Nieuwenhuys had this idea of controlling the environment around you, and I really wanted *[the artists]* to test that idea out. Some of the artists asked me lots of questions, and some people just had an intuition like, “I want this, I know what would be perfect there”. Anybody else can come in and turn it off – that’s why it’s about control. That’s an intrinsic part of what I wanted it to be. I didn’t want it to be a space where we all contributed to some sound collage. I wanted it to be a blocky democracy of on-off.’
‘I wanted to make this piece specifically in Temple Bar,’ explains Anderson, ‘because, along with many other issue that it grapples with, it grapples with a soundscape that’s very unregulated, and that many people have an antagonistic, or non-participatory relationship with. This piece is about giving people the power to add sounds and take away sounds… It’s not about only being here on it’s own, it’s about other things happening around it. But I do think it’s interesting the way the restaurant *[The Meeting House]* is evolving in the square. It’s a good illustration of how Temple Bar evolves in different directions and struggles between beings a cultural quarter and a commercial space.’
To experiment with Continuous Drift, go to Meeting House Square, visit continuousdrift.com on a mobile device and follow the simple instructions on the site, where you can also find information about the artists and works that are available and a schedule for the installation’s availability for the next ten days.
Words: Ian Lamont
Photos: Killian Broderick