Wild is the wind (tunnel): Tannoy selected for Farnborough sound project

Tannoy Prestige, VX/VXP and Precision loudspeakers, as well as Lab.gruppen amplifiers feature in the evocative installation.

David Davies

A company called Artliner recently opened up an abandoned wind tunnel and aircraft testing station at Farnborough in Hampshire, England, for a ‘pop-up’ art/exhibition area. Into this unusual space, sound artist Thor McIntyre-Burnie has brought an innovative audio installation that involves previously unheard recordings of nightingales in the fields around Farnborough.

In these unique recordings, the birds’ sweet song is interrupted by the roar of approaching bombers during World War II. Delivering this particularly evocative audio – as well as a host of other content across the installation – is a variety of equipment from the TC family, including Tannoy Prestige, VX/VXP and Precision loudspeakers, as well as Lab.gruppen amplifiers to provide power where required.

As McInytre-Burnie relates, the Wind Tunnel project is actually set between two buildings. The first, known as Q121, is ” a purpose-built wind tunnel with a 24′ propellor that sucks air around a 40′ (H) x 300′ (L) return tunnel, blowing air onto actual suspended Spitfires, for instance.” Into this highly unusual space the artist has purpose-built a suspended sculptural rig in place of the test plane, projecting sound and focus back into the tunnel using both a gramophone horn and the altogether rather more contemporary Tannoy VX12 drivers. This configuration plays back the aforementioned historic recordings, while speakers hidden in the tunnels’ wind veins relay the sounds of a choir comprising men who used to work on the site.

The second building, meanwhile, features several distinct spaces that have benefited from McIntyre-Burnie’s creativity. One area features anechoic alcoves, whilst a second space incorporates a wooden tunnel. “Within this I’ve created a four-channel mix using Tannoy Precision 6.4s with their lovely bottom-end, video projection and three-channel exterior atmosphere,” he says. “Part of the composition [reproduced here] involved recording [a bassist] playing his fifth string (down to 30Hz) within the Q121 wind tunnel [and experiencing] its phenomenal acoustics.”

In this building’s third and final spaces, four Tannoy Prestige speakers are deployed as “both sculptural and acoustic pieces. Stood atop original wooden aeroplane inspection towers, they are arranged so they deliberately disrupt the quadrophonic circle and instead encourage people to listen through the architecture.”

This part of the installation uses recordings undertaken by McIntyre-Burnie in conjunction with acclaimed wildlife sound recordist (and former member of industrial music pioneers Cabaret Voltaire) Chris Watson. “These were captured in the former West Piers concert hall [in Brighton], prior to its collapse into the sea when it was a massive starling roost. Studying their murmeration flight and morphing this with a sonic study of the sister pier’s rollercoaster, [one is invited to ask the question], ‘do birds ever fly simply for the thrill of it”?” concludes McIntyre-Burnie with a suitably poetic flourish.