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Swarm [2008]

‘Storing up digital information, they are set in motion at regular intervals, unleashing a sweet, sonic shower of Ambient electronica that hums volumes about the quiet joy of this location.’ The Wire

Swarm was a kinetic sound work designed for atrium spaces, consisting of a series of suspended motors from each of which were hung three loudspeakers. As the motors rotated the loudspeakers were swung out by centrifugal force and emitted electronic sounds above the audience who were free to move around underneath the rotating speakers. Originally commissioned by Muziek Centrum Nederland it was recomposed for FACT, Liverpool 2008.

 Swarm Version 1 was installed in the atrium of the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw. Ten suspended ‘swarm units’ were hung throughout the space and were activated by the presence of people walking underneath. The sounds activated were based on the sound world of Siren creating a choir of spinning drones filling the atrium with a constantly changing texture of pulsing sound.

Swarm Version 2 was installed in the atrium of FACT in Liverpool. Five units were suspended and this time the work was computer controlled with motors being activated at different times during the opening hours of the building. The sounds were activated by the rotation of the arms and triggered a series of digital sound stores which replayed samples of sound composed specially for the location. The intention was to create a swirling, throbbing hum of electromagnetic sound and noise that ebbed and flowed continuously.


In Version 1, three loudspeakers hung from motors suspended from the ceiling of the atrium. An individual PIR activated each of the ten units as the audience approached. As the motor rotated three oscillator circuits were activated by a reed switch. A timer switch kept the units rotating for one minute before switching them off. As the rotation ended the sounds were also stopped. The batteries in the suspended units needed to be changed every day.

In Version 2, the same motorised units had three digital sound stores instead of oscillators. This enabled short samples of electronic sound to be replayed while the units were rotating. The units were computer controlled spinning into action at specific times during the day. A system of electro-magnetic coils enabled the battery powered units to be charged wirelessly.


The sound world for Version 1 was similar to that of Siren. Simple electronic saw tooth waveforms were tuned to an Aeolian mode. The ten units, each with three separate loudspeakers produced a thirty note chord.

Version 2 replaced the waveforms with sounds generated and processed electronically. Raw material from electromagnetic recordings and a mini Moog synthesiser were treated to create a rich wash of sound. The sequence of each unit’s activation was computer controlled to allow for the composition to move from one unit at a time to duos, trios, a quartet and the full quintet of swarm units, each with three discrete sounds making a total of fifteen discrete sounds.

Touring and restaging:

Version 1: Atrium of Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands. 29/08/2008 – 07/09/2008

Version 2: Atrium of FACT, Liverpool. 12/12/2008 – 22/02/09

Supported by:

Muziek Centrum Nederland; FACT, Liverpool


Additional technical assistance: Graham Calvert


We are the Real Time Experiment, 2009, FACT  Liverpool p172