Nithlight by Night, a Reflection

By September 5, 2019Events, Musings

By Philip Mairs

With the theme of this years Nithraid festival being salt and ritual – including salt’s local, historical and mythical uses – we thought of a way to combine all three of these things into something that could form the basis of Nithlight.

Upon finding out about the Celtic connection to the history of salt in the South-West Scotland region, we thought about using vibrational acoustic-phenomena to create patterns in the element of salt. A lot of these patterns appear surprisingly Celtic. For the Celts, the Earth and its elements, including all water and salt, were sacred.Nithlight 2019This idea was made possible by using a vibrating metal ‘Chladni’ plate, so called because following the pioneering experiments of Robert Hooke in the 1600s, it is the German physicist Ernst Chladni’s name that became most associated with these figures.

We set about filming the patterns emerging on our own plate, with the intention of beaming the projection over a maze of ship masts.

The ship masts were to replicate an old galleon ship, used for trading in the 1700’s. We then began to extend this narrative out by introducing reworked old seaman’s recipes and orientating our soundscape around water, grainy sounds and symmetrical patterning. We also wanted to give context to the projected video, and so thought that having the source for the images on site in an ‘obelisk’ type structure that people could sing into in order to create patterns themselves would be compelling; creating an immediate connection between creation and content.

Despite it looking like the event might have to be called off due to the Scottish summer in full flow, the event went ahead as planned. The ship sculpture provided an intriguing backdrop to people (and the occasional animal) singing and howling into the microphone, often watching patterns emerging as they would do so.

The feeling of old seafaring was enhanced by the provision of the some of the only kinds of food and drink that would last on voyages- in this case those being hard, salty biscuits; along with homemade ginger beer.

We also enjoyed the workshop we hosted earlier on in the day, where we were able to give people an up-close experience of Cymatics, from one of its original methods- bowing of metal plates with a violin bow; to one of its more recent related developments of the plate being driven by a loudspeaker. ___

Nithlight was a commission as part of Nithraid 2019, led by artists Emily Tough and Philip Mairs. The commission was supported by The Holywood Trust.

All image credits: Jamie Thomson, see his Facebook page here for details.