Composition, Audio Production and Sound Design

Cotton Panic


Ben Eyes is currently working as sound designer and sound engineer for the Jane Horrocks show “Cotton Panic” at Manchester International Festival.

The show, based on the story of the cotton famine in Lancashire in 1861, when cotton mill workers came out in solidarity with the emancipation of slaves in the USA, is a fully multi-modal performance with Jane Horrocks and the electronic band “Wrangler” (Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter) playing a fully electronic industrial soundscape to accompany the piece. The show consists of various spoken word using historical texts, clog dancing, lighting and video projections. The band’s lineup consisting of modular synthesisers, vocoders, analogue drum machines, vintage analog synthesisers and effects. Six 4K projectors provide immersive visuals around the audience with various films supporting the narrative with performances from John Grant and Glenda Jackson.
Ben says of his work: “The piece is a really new mixture of theatre, video, dance and an electronic music concert. The initial work was specifying a speaker system that would be able to convey all the auditory information to the audience in the venue, Upper Campfield Market, which is a large glass ceilinged Victorian market hall.  I worked closely with the PA company to get a sound system that would be capable of reproducing the low frequencies from the analogue synths and drum machines. We used  D and B Infra Subs which have have three eighteen inch speakers so when the modular synth swoops down you feel the whole room vibrate – just like in a factory! The whole piece is about what happens to the people working in cotton mills and lots of the sounds are low rumbles, high end clanks and samples of looms made into percussive loops. There are moments with loud sirens too where we use a real siren on stage which is then processed through my laptop to repeat around the venue and is then pitch shifted.
Pre-production work involved recording and treating narrative elements of the piece using voice actors and some pre-recorded music. I used a Sound Devices USB Pre2 to do this and got very high quality recordings that could then be treated to sound “of the time”. Many of the recordings were made in difficult environments and so I had to think on my feet to dampen reflections, often using costume racks as sound absorbers.
For the live sound I am using a Yamaha CL5 desk, using a large rack of inbuilt reverbs and delays to treat different portions of the show. I have also incorporated Ableton running on my laptop as an effect send from the desk and at various points am treating vocals with vocoder, delay and convolution based reverbs. These are all manipulated in real time to add an extra live feel to the show. In terms of my own research I have used some of the convolution impulses I use in my own compositions to shape the sound of the music and live vocals and use some of the live processing techniques I use in my own performances. It is a great way to prove some of the concepts I am working on in a real full scale production. Although we are still in rehearsals the show is really coming together and we are working with a great team of creatives to realise it. Chris Turner who directed all the video elements, Choreography by Lorena Randy, Andreas Fuchs who has designed the lighting and Wils Wilson who is directing. It has also been a great pleasure to work with Jane Horrocks who has managed to realise an unknown story close to her heart in a really new and exciting way. It has been a great experience working on the show and I thank the Department of Music for the support they have given me in this endeavour. “