Organ of Corti

West Country collaboration picks up top music prize

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Organ of Corti

An instrument that will recycle unwanted sound in the environment to create an unfolding musical composition has won the Performing Rights Society for Music Foundation (PRSF) New Music Award – the concept comes from University College Falmouth’s associated professor of music and sound art, Dr David Prior and co-collaborator and Devon-based architect, Frances Crow.

Their proposal, The Organ of Corti, stands at 1.5m tall, but a much larger scale version will now be developed in order to premier during the 2011 City of London Festival.

It will then tour the country where it will ‘listen to’ and recycle sounds including those of traffic on the M6 in Cumbria, the Tebay Gorge in the Lake District, the edge of the A419 in the Cotswold Water Park, Wiltshire and finally, on the national cycle network, Route 45, next to Diglis Weir in Worcester.

Dr David Prior told ArtsCulture: “We are thrilled to win the award and really appreciate the support received from both the people of Cornwall and University College Falmouth. We now have an exciting nine months ahead during which we will realise the project working alongside the Open University.”

In a world saturated with sounds, the Organ of Corti questions whether we need any more noise and instead offers a new frame through which to listen to the sounds that already surround us.

David and Frances worked collaboratively with funding from the Wellcome Trust, under the name of Liminal, to explore the relationship between sound, health, wellbeing and the environment. Their research group included two acousticians, a computational neuroscientist and a clinical audiologist. During this research, they came across the technology of sonic crystals and from this arose their proposal for The Organ of Corti.

Taking its name from the organ of hearing in the inner ear, The Organ of Corti is a mobile structure that filters the noise of its current surroundings to create subtle shifting harmonies depending on the source of the external sounds and the position of the listener in relation to the Organ of Corti itself. By carefully designing the Organ of Corti according to the sound character of the site in which it is intended to be placed, locations visited by the Organ of Corti can have a piece of music specifically composed for them.

The New Music Award was launched five years ago by the PRS for Music Foundation and aims to promote and stimulate a universally accepted and motivated culture of musical innovation, plus it’s got prize money of £50,000.