Reservoir 13

An Orchestra of Smart Phones: a communal surround-sound experience to accompany Jon McGregor’s book tour readings.

Jon McGregor commissioned me write some music to accompany his live readings on the book tour for Reservoir 13, as well as coming up with a way that this could be played without any musicians or audio equipment.

This is the concept we developed:

  • 1. Write and record the soundtrack.
  • 2. Take each separate instrument from a piece of music as a STEM MP3 file e.g. piano. So you can only hear the full piece by playing all STEM MP3s at once.
  • 3. Ask the audience to visit the performance website and keep phone volume turned up.
  • 4. Buffer a random STEM MP3, on each phone.
  • 5. Trigger the webpage to play the audio.
  • 6. Hear different instruments playing from each phone, reassembling the piece of music in the room.

Since each phone would potentially take longer to load audio than others depending on signal and memory, I re-wrote the music with Haiku Salut, which we performed in a more ambient way that didn’t rely on the instruments being exactly in sync.

Different strands of the music play from different phones at different times as McGregor reads and controls the music from his phone. The sound moves amongst and around and between us. Sometimes just one repetitive jingling noise is loud in your lap and sometimes there are only plaintive wisps from behind you. It is gentle and lovely. This performance inverts that private act in a public venue but evokes similar questions about the internal worlds we carry into the public domain.

Tessa Harris, Manchester Literature Festival

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