of exhibits dealt with the so – called Peterloo Massacre, which, while not actually taking place in Oldham, was felt to be a relevant indicator of the political climate in the Manchester area at the time.
The sound – installation has (in common with Living Steam) a time based structure with a clear beginning and end and a duration of 15 minutes. It was heard in alternation with a Vox-Pop video documentary examining contemporary political attitudes in Oldham, and consequently ran every 40 minutes for the 7 month duration of the exhibition. The curator’s brief was very open: to respond in some way to the theme of the exhibition and enliven a largely text-based presentation through the use of sound.
The space in which the exhibition took place was a square room at the top of a large staircase with double doors in the centre of one of the shorter walls and another smaller door in the corner on the wall opposite, leading to the rest of the anniversary exhibition, rooms devoted to industry, multicultural life and entertainment. The Radical Thinkers room was the first room one came to (after a video piece in the stairwell).
One prominent feature of the space that was of immediate appeal was that the longer pair of walls, which were free of doorways, had a false wall built out in front of the original wall to conceal recently installed air conditioning. Three buttresses on either side connected the ceiling to the original walls and where these met, there were 6 small niches in the false walls, three in each, roughly at ear height, in which loudspeakers could be placed flush with the exhibition wall.
Another notable aspect of the space was the fact that the centre of the room was inaccessible due to a covered glass ceiling of the Library below, so while visually, and aurally, spacious, the architecture restricted movement to a narrow corridor around the sides of the room. This became an important consideration in the composition of the musical space as the audience was forced to file past the loudspeakers and was never at an equal distance from each speaker. This seeming limitation was turned to an advantage and became a major part of the overall conception and form of the work.
The usefulness of the niches to conceal loudspeakers was confirmed in my mind when, in the curator’s office, I saw a photograph of the inside of a textile mill with rows and rows of industrial looms. The idea of recreating the sound of multiple looms through multiple loudspeakers in a similar configuration along parallel walls sprung immediately to mind along with the sound of many voices, symbolising the massed political activity that led to reform. It was decided then to place small loudspeakers in each of the six niches and four larger speakers (partly to compensate for the poor bass response of the wall speakers) at the four corners of the room. Car speakers were used in the wall niches and these were covered with speaker baffle material. A set of four Warfdale Hi-Fi speakers were used for the four corners.
The piece was conceived to run off 4 CD players, one for the four corner speakers and three for the six wall speakers. The piece was composed in such a way as to