While the BE OPEN Sound Portal may have adopted a bizarre presence in amongst one of London’s most iconic spaces – it is, after all, some sort of gigantic hockey puck plonked not far from the foot of Nelson’s Column – it’s also a faceless one, visually speaking. What resides inside the rubberised black object is left a mystery, thus coaxing an eclectic cross section of London’s passer-by’s inside: some already savvy to the music that lies within, most driven by spontaneous bewilderment and intrigue. The mysterious object is in fact a temporary exhibition venue for five sound pieces commission by the Sound And Music charity, with an additional advantage of its neutral appearance being that it also operates as a blank canvas onto which each artist is free to impose the sonic environment of their pleasing.
CoH opens the proceedings with the intention of turning “the space into a portable chapel, offering a universal religious experience to audiences of all nations and cultural backgrounds”. The end result manifests like some sort of alien ritual music, with layers of deep harmony (largely in sombre 5th intervals, elevated by the occasional glorious major 3rd) conveying an indecipherable language, interjected by the occasional electronic jitters of spaceship equipment.
Beyond being merely sufficient, the layout of the Portal feels absolutely ideal: four speakers sets beam down on the listener from the ceiling, with one placed in each corner so as to shower the entire space in audio. Initially I stand off to one side with my back up against one of the Portal’s walls – soaking up the beautifully rhythmic vocoder tones as they bellow above my head – before I’m compelled to lie on the circular bench at the Portal’s centre. The experience is completely transformed. Not only am I suddenly startlingly aware of the intricate panning that sends staccato synthesiser bleeps pinging across the ceiling, but I begin to feel those rushes of bass frequency that repeatedly surge into being, rumbling through the body like a blast of rocket jets. Beautiful stuff, and thanks to a stellar job on the soundproofing, a fantastic momentary escape from the bustle and noise that throttles the rest of the capital.