Sound & Instrumentation

(This was written before the completion of the project. However all these ideas – and more – are still active and further refinements may occur in the future.)

The instrumentation was originally conceived of as being Tibetan singing bowls, played by water dripping onto them. Pivoted about their centers of gravity, they would gently rock modulating the note as the water gathering within them

Suspended on pivots, the note would gently modulate as they slowly rocked about their centers of gravity, the water gathering within them rolling from side to side.

Further thinking has led to a number of other possibilities, however until the horn is in place, completing the acoustic architecture and enabling a period of experimentation, nothing can be finalised.

The basic principle at play is based on the suikinkutsu. Water dripping into water held within an acoustic chamber, in the form of an upturned ceramic pot, buried in the ground.

Regardless of whatever else is used as instrumentation this will be ever present.

Research continues in various directions:

1. Floating bells, ideally spherical or flying saucer shaped (though there is considerable debate as to whether this is possible).

Hemispherical free floating resonant objects : played by falling drips and random collisions, like tea cups in a sink.

2. An approach modeled on the principle of a mobile. Instead of water directly striking the instrument – as in the bowl scenario – it strikes the end of one of a mobiles many arms, disrupting a delicately balanced system. From the arms of the mobile would hang chime bars and strings of bells which, once set in motion by the movement of the arm from which they hung, would strike one another.

The mobile being a complete system, the disruption of one part would cause a reaction through the rest of the structure, a more efficient use of a drips energy.

3. I’ve started to look at the possibility of custom building the instruments. There are various properties that they would ideally possess :

– longevity and durability
– resistant to water
– tunable
– maximum loudness from minimum impact
– resonant
– sinusoidal waveform

4. The idea of cutting a “labium”, the angle edged square cut into the mouthpiece of a whistle, into the pipe below the horn, would add a new sonic dimension, turning the whole construction into a massive whistle. The possible extension of the downpipe from the flared horn right down into the water would allow fluctuating water levels to modulate the pitch. Alternatively a swanee whistle like device, a sliding stop within the tube governed by water levels would have the same effect.

5. A water organ, inspired by the writings and designs of Jacques Dudon in “La Musique de L’eau” ( as is the whistle idea above). Vertical pipes of differing lengths stand with their bases in the water at the bottom of the chamber. Their tops are half covered with some form of waterproof membrane. Drips sound these skins, the tone dependant on the length of the pipe and the changing levels of water within.


Whatever form the instrumentation takes an important part of the compositional aspect of Score for a Hole in the Ground is the tuning.

I’m investigating diverse tuning systems at present looking for a series of pitches that will harmonise in any combination, for example a progression of overtones from a harmonic series.


The size, frequency and distribution of the drips falling into the hole is crucial to achieving maximum volume.

In looking at ways to maximise the size of drips one crosses into the realm where water is stored in a cavity of some description, at the end of a pole, Once a certain amount of water is collected it unbalances the pole, pivoted around its center, falls downwards, releases the water and then flips back up again.

This is in fact the principle of a device used in Japanese gardens, a deer scarer, made from bamboo.

Advantages are twofold – it can be balanced so as to collect any amount of water before it flips and releases it, and on flipping back can be arranged so as to strike an instrument.

A cascading arrangement of such devices leads to further possibilities.

Paul Gillieron is consultant acoustician on the project.

Marc Thomas and Matt Ridsdale (of millimetre) worked on the design and fabrication of the instruments.