Other artists

Jem Finer – Score for a hole in the ground

  • Text Hover
The work

Score for a hole in the ground is a structural sound installation, working in conjunction with its natural setting and the, in the UK, common natural phenomenon of rain. It is a mechanical sound making object, using simple physics and acoustics to create its sonic content. It creates its sonic content by allowing droplets of water to fall down a hole (in the ground, hence the name of the installation), and on its decent the droplets hit one of the several plates of stainless steel that are mounted in the hole. The sound of the ringing plates are then amplified by a 7 metre horn, reaching up from the ground, resembling a up-sized gramophone amplification system. The indeterminacy of the rhythms of dripping, in combination with the variation in what plates are being hit by the falling water, creates an unpredictable sonic output that, according to Finer, blends into the natural soundscape very transparently. There are references to the 15th century Japanese water instrument Suikinkutsu, which creates sound in a similar way, but is smaller in size. In the traditional Japanese version, a ceramic pot is hidden underground, and as hands are washed before a cermonial procedure, water drips into the pot and produces a sonically modulated version of the dripping sound.

Finer states

In The Guardian: “The starting point was the suikinkutsu, a Japanese water instrument. In Japan, rhythm was traditionally conceived of as obeying the unpredictable qualities of nature, like water dripping from a roof. The suikinkutsu is a literal manifestation of this idea: a buried ceramic pot containing a small pool of water forms an acoustic chamber into which water drips. The delicate sounds of water falling on to water percolate upward, creating a subtle, beautiful, minimal music. Honing one’s ears to catch these sounds, the sonic landscape of the surroundings is brought into sharp focus – leaves, rain, birdsong.”

“The frequency of the drips and their size define the phrasing and dynamics of the music. Too many, too often and the composition has no space. Too few and it evaporates into isolated sonic events. The solution lay in using a garden hosepipe, the kind designed to irrigate flowerbeds and vegetable patches. Drips seeping through a bed of loose stones maximise the randomness of their location and occurrence, breaking up the possibility of predictable rhythm and timbre.”

“Among the trees, the horn’s shape resembles the trumpet of an old gramophone or a giant lily, oxidising to an autumnal orange brown. The upright pipe is indistinguishable, from a distance, from the trunks of the surrounding beech trees. The sounds too, blend with the forest until the ear discerns something out of place and the eye resolves the horn as the sonic source. Weather changes the music. In a torrential downpour it reaches a crescendo, while the summer’s drought rendered it silent, save for the effects of the breeze gently brushing the instruments as it eddies around the chamber. It becomes one with the climatic forces of the forest, relying purely on gravity, water and wind for its energy.”

– https://www.theguardian.com/music/2006/sep/22/classicalmusicandopera


In conversation with Suzy Klein: “is, in a sense, a completion of a cycle that has seen the digitised exploration of sound and music return to its prehistoric roots – the harmonics of the environment”. He also states that “Score for a Hole in the Ground is both a piece in its own right and also a musical instrument.”

– http://www.newstatesman.com/node/164497

My response to the piece

The modulation of natural into synthetic is inspiring. The working alongside nature and natural phenomenon is likewise inspiring. Indeterminacy is greatly increased with the aid of computer technologies, however the simplicity of this piece is also what makes it easily accessible.

The work I am in the process of creating, has some clear similarities in terms of the physical aspects with water droplets being the main source for sonic triggers. The intention behind the work also holds some similarities, as both our pieces aim to inflict the listener with notions of naturalness, using non-organic materials in the creation of the sound matter. However, examining the pieces further, one will see a divergence in that the sonic output and the technicalities behind the sonic output are thoroughly different. Finers piece is a purely physical/mechanical, generating a steady, never changing sonic palette, while my piece is involving one more layer of indeterminacy and complexity, using computer aided sound manipulation and synthesis to generate the sonic content. By examining Score for a hole in the ground, I have gained interest in attempting to construct a piece for my installation that makes use of a way simpler generative system, allowing for the minimalist sonic approach to work for me, rather than possibly generating sonic material that is complex to the point where the listener might be confused, or the clarity of intentions are diffused.

Critics say

Maev Kennedy for The Guardian, 19 September 2006: Kennedy seems in her critisism to be focusing more on Finer as an already established artist, refferring in equal amounts to his day in The Pouges and his Longplayer installation, rather than actually discussing the piece that were in the spotlight for the article. However, in a short paragraph she comments “In the end, pond and hole performed beautifully. The wind and the clatter of cameras drowned out the horn’s echo into the treetops, but the sweet eerie notes welled up from the stones and leaves covering the mouth of the well. One listener was poetically reminded of the bells of a drowned cathedral: another thought it sounded like a gift shop selling Balinese wind chimes which had been buried alive.” 


Ending on a sour side note, she also concludes: “yesterday’s preview guests were served a picnic lunch of roast venison – an unnecessarily harsh reminder to the forest deer to keep off the art.”

– https://www.theguardian.com/culture/culturevultureblog/2006/sep/19/downinthegro

Unfortunately, the only other critic I could find after extensive online reading could not hear the piece upon visit, as the pipes had clogged with mud from the water supplying pool. This is however interesting, as this sculpture was an attempt to create a piece of work that would require no human intervention for its existance. 

– https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/score-for-a-hole-in-the-ground/

The scarcity of reviews/critics of the piece are surprising, as Finer as an artist and his earlier pieces are critiqued in plenty. I am guessing this could be related to the location of the piece, as it would be a days trip to travel there and back for a critic. 

I hope to have the time to go there myself at some point during the spring, and I hope that when I do, the installation will be up and running.