Experimenting with sound: Together! 2017 Filmmaking workshop


The Together! 2017 Disability History Month Festival took place across East London 23 October – 15 December with a programme of performances, exhibitions and workshops. It also included the 2017 Together! Disability film festival, alongside which there was a two-day tactile filmmaking workshop led by Julie Newman for disabled filmmakers on 7 & 8 December. The workshops focused on experimentation with sound in filmmaking. Elinor Rowlands reports.

A filmmaking workshop with 4 participants

Experimenting with sound sources at the tactile film sound workshop led by Julie Newman (pictured using a wheelchair) at Vicarage Lane Community Centre.

Upon my arrival at the Vicarage Lane Community Centre, Julie reminded the group of the previous day where they had watched films on Sound* which described how sound waves are generated. She explained that sound is ultimately vibration and that how vibration interacts with the textures and the frequency of the noise is dependent on how the sound waves are formed. The creation of sound depends on the textures reacting against the microphone.

She invited us to pick up instruments or textured materials to experiment with what kind of vibrations each of them gave off against the microphone. The textures of sound were startling and the sound that struck the group the most was when we put a microphone inside a tin can while speaking near it.

The echo and vibrations of sound was haunting and effective. There was a plastic sheet which Julie crinkled in her hand over the microphone and it began to create such a creepy vibration of noise that the whole group gasped.

Photo of the author in a room lit by sunlight

Elinor during the visit to Julie’s studio at Trinity Buoy Wharf. Photo by Julie Newman

Julie then put a tambourine filled with tiny pellets over the loudspeaker and while we experimented with noise from the percussion instruments and textured materials over the microphone the way the tambourine affected the loud speaker was also interesting and gave us ideas on how we can change sound by simply adding simple tools to the loudspeaker as well as the microphone.

Afterwards, we were then driven to Julie’s studio in Trinity Buoy Wharf which has the only working lighthouse in London. Her tiny studio is in a hut by the river Thames which overlooks the O2 stadium. There were six of us and it was a tight squeeze. Julie drew our attention to the effect of transducers. By putting a transducer onto the door of her hut we can hear the vibrations of noise echoing from the walls. We leave the hut and put our hands and ears to the hut and sure enough we can feel the whole hut vibrate with sound.

For the next part of the workshop, three of us remain in the hut and are filmed by Julie’s support worker. I’m given the role of film director, and direct a poet and a singer to perform together. We use the microphone in the tin can because the haunting echo is effective and then I add my voice to the melody. Julie’s support worker films the three of us perform and before we know it we have drawn an audience of strangers to the hut who have gone ahead and touched the walls and taken in the sounds believing we are an installation.

This outcome of the workshop is striking because it demonstrates how powerful sound is and how it can draw people in. The three of us were strangers and together through experimenting with sound, we composed and performed a poetic soundscape without instruments by devising new ways of capturing sound. This ultimately drew in a crowd and we had an audience for the duration of our sound-making experience which vibrated in and around the hut.

*Sound Recording and Reproduction (1943), The Nature of Sound (1948) and Sound Waves Their Sources (1933)

For more information about Together! And their future programmes, visit the Together! website.