Aeolus Online – a Journey

Aeolus Cabinet

Thank you for visiting Aeolus Online.

This website is an interactive virtual version of a real sound sculpture called Aeolus’ Cabinet, that I made in 2013. Imagining and making the work has been quite a journey, and one in which I have had plenty of help and advice along the way and have many people to thank - especially those mentioned below. What follows is the story of Aeolus’ Cabinet, both real and virtual.

The idea for the original Aeolus’ Cabinet appeared one night in 2012, on a long drive home from a long afternoon meeting in Oxford. I was working with Oxford Contemporary Music on a project called Audible Forces which brought together seven artists to make outdoor sound works that responded to the wind. That evening, I was thinking about the different pieces in the show and whether it was possible to make an indoor gallery work about wind, when I imagined a collector – one who didn’t collect rocks or butterflies, but winds from around the world. The idea of a cabinet with drawers containing the sound of winds appeared, more or less out of nowhere, and more or less complete. The piece I ended up building was almost identical to the original idea I had that evening (this is a good example of the creative strategy called ‘immersion’ – think deeply about a problem for a while, and then go out for a walk, or a drive, and let your brain work on the problem in the background...)

Although the idea came quickly, building the piece turned out to be quite the opposite. I bought an old library index card cabinet which had obviously been superceded by computer filing systems, and spent several months at KARST Studios in Plymouth refitting it; building up the sides of the drawers, fitting false backs behind which mp3 players, amplifiers and speakers were hidden, and experimenting with power and switching systems. The sounds were sourced from my own collection, from friends and from online libraries, and given wind names on the front of the drawers. I wanted the cabinet to be a real collection of famous wind sounds from all over the world, but I did not have the resources to gather those recordings at the time, so by necessity some of the sounds were masquerading as famous winds. The finished cabinet was shown at a number of events around the UK between 2013 and 2018, including Waterman’s Gallery in London (2013), the Cheltenham Jazz Festival (2015), the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (2016), and Fort Process sound art show at Newhaven Fort in Sussex (2018).

Time and life moved on. In 2020, with me now living in Japan, the cabinet in storage in the UK and an unprecedented global pandemic raging, an unexpected new chapter in the story emerged. I had been working for many years with arts producer Edmund Harcourt, and he wanted to explore online work as a response to the lockdown situation. We successfully applied for funding from Arts Council England to make a virtual version of the cabinet, and working with programmer Chris Hunt of Controlled Frenzy Ltd we developed the piece that you can experience on this site.

The final benefit of this funding was that the work is no longer a fabrication; all the sounds are exactly what they say and were sourced by an open call that went out to sound artists and wildlife sound recordists around the world in 2020. We had wind recordings submitted from all over the world, some with names, some without, some fierce and some playful, some blowing though trees and some resonating in pipes or old stone huts. The sheer variety of sounds is wonderful, and in fact we have more recordings than drawers in the cabinet, so you will find that the sounds change each time you visit the work. My only regret is that we couldn't include more of them. I hope that especially in challenging times they bring us a sense of togetherness. No matter where in the world it is from, the wind is familiar to all of us, and speaks of distant origins and destinations, of the past and of the future.

Perhaps one day I can take the wind recordings I have been sent from around the world, put them in the real cabinet, and the original piece will at last be complete, as I imagined it nearly ten years ago.

Mike Blow
Yamanashi, Japan
March 2021

Aeolus Online in Development