Station X – an exhibition at MK Gallery

Photo: Rachael Marshall

Milton Keynes on a Saturday afternoon can be incredibly disorientating and disconcerting. So it was with some luck that I happened to stumble into the MK Gallery – or more precisely, the neighbouring Project Space – and the new Station X exhibition.

I’m interested in the history of Bletchley Park – also known as Station X – and the blurb on the door piqued my interest.

Inside I found a collaboration between four artists, each from a different background, which aims to document the ‘visual and aural histories’ of  some of the Park’s derelict  buildings.

I went from the usual Saturday afternoon hubbub – of people coming and going from the theatre and shopping centre, and of the blustery April weather – into a small but self-contained area which instantly began stimulating my senses.

On the walls of the gallery are photographs taken inside the derelict huts by Rachael Marshall – oh, but what’s this? That one isn’t a photograph, it seems to be a physical bit of wall itself.  Maya Ramsay‘s work includes actual pieces of the walls and associated debris, carefully lifted off in one piece and pasted to the wall of the gallery.

All around me I could hear the work of sound artist Caroline Devine – cacophonous sounds of… birds, were they? And then they morphed into reverberating rhythms which I couldn’t quite place. At times they rose to a climax that I found almost disconcerting, before subsiding again to an ambient throb and thrum.

I watched a video piece at this point too, nicely displayed on an old CRT television, and where the video itself has been left to decay a little, as though watching on an old VHS tape or a badly-tuned station. But the picture was occasionally clear enough to see that we were being shown around more of the derelict buildings – a guided tour of urban exploration.

Together with Luke Williams, the four artists have combined to make a small but neatly formed whole which does very well to remove you from the busy urban bustle of Milton Keynes on a Saturday afternoon, placing you firmly inside the dimly lit and derelict buildings of Station X before they are due to be renovated.

The combination of the, at once familiar, yet other worldly, sounds and atmospheric photographs of dust, cobwebs and the odd decaying bird, along with the physical ‘casts’ of the walls themselves all give a very peculiar overall feeling.

I visited Bletchley Park recently, and was awed as much by the beauty of the main buildings as by the technological ingenuity contained within when it was needed most.

But while a visit to the Park itself reveals objects and buildings being restored and brought out on display – as they should be – the Station X exhibition at MK Gallery does a good job of capturing the areas not seen by the public, and the associated sounds and sights which have been left to decay and evolve alone.

With my interests in history and in archiving and preserving lost objects and environments – and particularly in field recordings and photography – I was very grateful to have stumbled on the exhibition.

Station X is on at MK Gallery Project Space (to the right of the theatre entrance courtyard) until 27 May. Entry is free. The Gallery is open every day except Monday.

The Great Animal Orchestra – Bernie Krause’s aural odyssey intosoundscapes

I’ve been enchanted this week by a new book from musician-cum-author-cum-soundscapist Bernie Krause called The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.

I first caught him being interviewed on Monocle magazine’s radio station, on Monocle Weekly. It’s available to listen again – episode 143. He spoke warmly about his passion for making field recordings in some of earth’s wildest places, capturing the sounds of the surrounding wildlife with as much clarity as possible.

Very quickly, Krause realised that rather than just a random collection of sounds, patterns could be found in the frequency and volume of the seemingly disparate calls. He took his intricate, chaotic recordings and fed them through computer software which visualised the sounds, revealing the patterns he had suspected.

His book goes into great detail in describing his theories of seeing (or rather, hearing) the sounds of wildlife as not just a random chaos, but as something akin to a symphonic orchestra.

To be honest, it’s here that it gets a bit beyond me. But on top of Krause being a very engaging, modest and passionate speaker, Radio 4 has chosen The Great Animal Orchestra is its Book of the Week. And although it’s read by someone other than the author, it still makes for a fascinating listen, the narration is interwoven with his field recordings, and it all makes for some of the most sublime radio you could hope for.

All five fifteen-minute episodes of Book of the Week are, of course, available to hear again on iPlayer. Episode one is only online until late Monday night though, with each episode following suit a day later, so you’ll want to catch up as soon as possible.

There’s a whole lot more interviews and features about Krause and his book to be found online, and of course the book is available in paper form, or as an ebook, read by its author. I look forward to picking up a copy of the book itself.

In related stuff, there was a fascinating article on recently, following soundscapists staking out some of the most silent environments in Alaska – before it’s too late: