Category: Musical Sculptures

The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture (Job No 1457) part 2


Maybe it is a bit old school, but I like to get pen and paper out and do a sort of technical drawing before I start making things. “Sort of” because I am not using 0.3mm and 0.5mm technical pens and following the strict methodology that I learned whilst at university, but for something like this sculpture I am using a drawing board, compasses, geotractors, rules and of course erasers. What I find is that the act of drawing helps me to understand the concept, or rather the limitations in my mathematical knowledge, so then I go back to the computer and draw it on there. After drawing it four times on the computer to obtain four different lots of results I got totally fed up and went back to pen and paper and just made some decisions like this angle will be 57.2° and started making stuff.

The first thing I did was to make the ring. I quickly decided to use steel square section instead of my original intention which was to use wire rope. Partly this was because I have the steel in stock, but mainly it was so that I could create a series of lines that would become reference points or datum lines. This enables me to orientate the ring and position the legs.

Now I know roughly where the legs will attach to the ring I can calculate roughly where they will meet at the top and start to make some visible progress.

With the top cone made I can now make the joints which connect the lower legs to the upper and ultimately connect to the ring.

The Northern Lights Musical Sculpture (job#1457) part 1

Some of the footage shown in the introduction video is repeated in the video included in this post, but only a small element. The previous video was edited by Nordic Music Days to satisfy their publicity requirements. Just how do you advertise and promote something that doesn’t even exist? I’ll leave that job for those that specialise in that area thank you very much! In contrast I edited this video for my purposes, which are to document and demonstrate how I approach the creative process.

A word of warning. Although I am trying to reduce the length of my videos, I just can’t help being a chatterbox – it is a curse! Anyway this is a bit longer than I wanted, but hopefully illuminating and entertaining.


The way I shot this video was literally to set the camera rolling and start drawing and talking about what I was doing. There was two to three hours of footage to wade through, so I won’t be doing that again! Inevitably there were several creative cul-de-sacs, which I omitted from the video. Some of these blind alleys were much longer than others. There are many things that are going through my mind simultaneously; I was thinking both about the visual and acoustic aspects of the aurora borealis as well as making decisions on whether that particular idea would translate into a sculpture that would look cool, and how practical or successful it would be to make. Gradually some of the concepts start to work and a design is created.

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A new thing for me with this project is having to justify myself. I couldn’t believe it! Normally with these projects (as well as my general work) what happens is that people ask, “Paul would you do this for me/us?” and I reply yes or no and with a price tag. I deliver whatever I have come up at the appropriate time and they are delighted with the results. So to be questioned about my capabilities came as a bit of a shock. So in order to satisfy the South Bank Centre which is the venue, I had to do some better drawings and thus certificate my professionalism. As you can probably tell, what I feel is a huge cultural void between people who work in a large organisation doing highly specialised roles and me, an instrument maker who works by himself and does everything to run his own business. What they fail to understand is that I fix things, but in order to fix something I need to know what the problem is and that requires speaking the same language, and I just don’t speak theirs.

However, I am not a negative person, the opposite, I will go out of my way to help people. Most people take advantage of my nature, but they the arseholes; those that don’t become my friends. It is not altruistic, I get something from the interaction too, be it feeling good about myself for helping a stranger in the street, or pride in my work because I always do my best. So because the South Bank needed help in visualising the concept, they needed sketches in context or some such jargon which meant, “Paul can you show us what it will look like outside the centre please?” Now I have an understanding of the problem, I can come up with a solution which was to draw it on the computer so I could insert the image into a photo. This avoids my inability to do pretty drawings quickly but also gave me the opportunity to work the design more, expose areas that didn’t work and fill in the gaps a bit more.

Northern Lights Concept drawing

And what a useful process this has proven to be. Only positives have come out of the time that I spent doing it. Oh the irony! When I start building the sculpture things will change and develop again, but it is such a useful reference point to show people. I forget that I am exceptionally good at visualisation, I can can close my eyes and go through a whole job; most of the time what I make in my imagination is realised in the material world. I make musical instruments, so of course I am good at it. But I forget that most people don’t have that skill and when questioned I get defensive and irritable, which makes me the arsehole!

sculpture in location

The Northern Lights (Job No: 1457)

Nordic Music Days host an annual festival to celebrate and promote music from all over that vast region. This year for the first time the event will be held somewhere else and they have chosen London. Running from September 28 to October 1 it will be held at the South Bank Centre. The theme for this years festival is the northern Lights.

To celebrate this event I have been commissioned to create a new instrument. Below is the promotional video using footage I shot at the very beginning of conceptualising my ideas.


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Brass ReMade (Job No: 1362)

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Things lead on, one from another.  As a result of doing the Scrapheap Orchestra television documentary I was approached to do the Smart Meter project, this in turn led onto being asked to do this project and the next project The Northern Lights.  All of these projects I have yet to write the posts for, maybe one day I will actually have the time to do it!

Brass Remade is a multi disciplinary project inspired by ‘Perpetual Canon’ by Cornelia Parker which was recently exhibited at The Civic in Barnsley as part of the Brassed Off exhibition in Autumn 2016.  There are loads of organisations dipping their fingers in the pie, but the project would not have been possible without funding by Art Council England.

Lucy Pankhurst created the musical score,  James Nash has written the performance poetry and I have created a selection of instruments made from recycling broken brass instruments.  Each of us, the “creative participants” held a series of workshops with four schools from around the area giving the children the opportunity to learn and experiment with writing music and poetry and designing instruments.  It was these workshops that the inspiration for the music and poetry came from, and (erm) the instruments.

The promotion above is advertising the performance.  Two of the schools involved seemingly fell off the face of the earth which is basically just rude and unprofessional but thankfully the other two schools stepped up to fill the breach.  As an aside it was amazing the difference between schools when We went around to deliver the instruments – some places were just bloody miserable, with surly staff, misbehaving kids and angry teachers, the next school really happy places with friendly staff, happy excitable kids and smiling teachers; chalk and cheese, I know which place I would choose to send my kids.  Anyway support the even if you can, and at some point I will post the videos showing in detail what I made.