A composer, performer and sound historian, Sarah Angliss taps into her obsessions with scientific oddities, obsolete machines, faded variety acts and the darkest European folk tales to create her work.
Sarah’s music mixes her own software patches (using Max/MSP, Supercollider, PRAAT and other tools) with her samples, field recordings and live performance on theremin, saw, recorder, waterphone, keyboard, handbells and other instruments. On stage, she’s often accompanied by musical automata – machines she’s been devising and building since 2005 as she’s been seeking a more theatrical alternative to the laptop, sampler and loop pedal.
Many of Sarah’s performances and machines are inspired by her discoveries in the archives. Centre stage is Hugo, a roboticised 1930s ventriloquist’s dummy with whom Sarah invites the audience to experience the reputed ‘uncanny valley’. Sarah’s Ealing Feeder is a polyphonic robotic carillon, inspired by a control panel in Battersea Power Station. It’s ornamented with an eerie electric lullaby which Sarah discovered in the archives of the Electrical Association for Women, 1930. Regularly featured in Sarah’s live act, The Ealing Feeder was first exhibited at Kinetica, London, February 2010.
Sarah’s music and sound installations have been seen and heard in the Purcell Room, BEAM, Supersonix, Transfer, The Green Man Festival, the De La Warr Pavilion, Interesting, Kinetica, BAFTA, the Sonic Arts Expo, Lovebytes and the Port Eliot Festival as well as dozens of other electronics festivals, cabaret nights, hacker events and the reverberation chambers of the National Physical Laboratory (Reverb Jam, 2006). Funded by the Sciart Consortium, her collaborative project Soundless Music (aka Infrasonic, May 2003) incorporated a live experiment in the Purcell Room, London, in which music was laced with infrasound. Infrasonic led to a further collaboration with Punchdrunk, with whom Sarah deployed a new, visceral special effect in It Felt Like a Kiss, Adam Curtis’ immersive documentary for The Manchester International Festival (2010).
With performer Caroline Radcliffe, Sarah created Revolution, a dance, sound and video piece which mixed Lancashire clog steps with machine sounds from a working 19th-century cotton mill, inviting the audience to reappraise clog dancing as a steam powered precursor of Detroit techno. First performed at the Repeat Repeat conference, Chester, their collaboration received a Quake Dance Award in 2007.
Sarah is also in demand as a a speaker at hacker events, music and science festivals, radio shows, podcasts and salons. She’s spoken at TEDx Brighton, the Last Tuesday Society, the Science Museum, BEAM festival of electronic music, the Catalyst Club and Dorkbot London. She’s also been called in occasionally by BBC Radio 4 and the World Service to share her expertise on the phonograph and other early music machines. In September 2011 she appeared on the 10th birthday edition of Click where she performed live to a worldwide audience and spoke about the future of technology. Her salon talk on the use of birds as primordial, feathered sound recorders led to a collaboration with BBC Radio 4. They commissioned her to write and present the documentary The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, broadcast July 2011 (with producer Neil McCarthy).
Despite their informality, Sarah’s talks are packed with her own archival finds, some of which have also found their way into academic works. Alongside her TEDx talk on the topic, for example, Sarah’s recently completed a peer-reviewed chapter on early attitudes to drum machines and samplers. This will be appearing in a book published by the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with the Science Museum at December 2012. Her collaboration with Caroline Radcliffe is about to be published in a volume of Performance Research (due for publication early 2013).
In November 2012, Sarah wrote an electronic score for The Effect, a new play by Lucy Prebble at the Cottesloe, National Theatre (directed by Rupert Goold). In this, she deployed field recordings of MRI scanners, processed with Max/MSP to musical effect, and an undercurrent of infrasound (with sound designer Chris Shutt). Always busy, Sarah is currently researching a book about sound, is sound designing an exhibition on a 1940s submarine, composing tracks for a solo album and working on a 7” record for Ghost Box (one of their Study Series, due for release spring 2013). Sarah’s documentary on singing birds led to her being featured on a new album by fellow electronic artist Moon Wiring Club (Gecophonic – details coming soon).
Last updated November 2012
Hard to pigeonhole as an engineer, musician or kinetic artist, Sarah’s actually a little of all three. In fact, she’s been combing these interests since she was a child in the 1970s, building mini cable cars across the garden and put together soundtracks, on a portable Phillips cassette recorder, about futuristic trips to the Moon. Sarah’s first degree in engineering (electroacoustics) was followed by a masters in biologically-inspired robotics (evolutionary and adaptive systems) and an Associateship in Early Music Performance from the Royal College of Music. On graduating as an engineer, Sarah had a brief spell in the building industry, where she assisted the chief acoustician in a busy London engineering company, There, she fell for the peculiar charms of vintage electronics, when she was asked to work on an ancient, hybrid thermal-modelling computer. She later found her way to the Science Museum, London, where she was encouraged to combine her interests in the history of technology, interactive design and live performance. In 1995, Sarah opted to leave the Science Museum and work independently, focusing on performance, writing and the sonic arts. She worked solo and collaborated with other makers, most notably the sculptor and cartoonist Tim Hunkin who introduced her to PLCs and other control systems for machines.
Sarah honed her live skills as a teenager, playing Early Music and performing with her sister in folk clubs – these two influences have never left her music. Today, she performs solo and with her award-winning ensemble Spacedog, the only live band on the circuit to give equal billing to its human and robot performers (fellow humans are vocalist Jenny Angliss and percussionist Stephen Hiscock). Spacedog’s highly original act has been embraced by audiences in diverse venues – from folk clubs and esoteric electronica festivals to burlesque nights, maker faires and science museums. Their set may be a technical marvel but it’s far more than a geek act. In May 2011, their show Televisor was awarded Best Music Event of Brighton Festival and Fringe. And in 2011, they were awarded a coveted Research & Development Grant from PRS for Music.