Extract from Restart: New Systems in Graphic Design

2001, Thames & Hudson.

Emily King

The concern that runs through the work of Tonne - the experimental alter ego of the graphic designer Paul Farrington - is the relationship between sound and image. The traditional meeting between the two has been on the covers of CDs (and before that on the sleeves of vinyl records) and it was the disparity between the cover and contents of most commercial CDs that prompted Tonne to explore ways in which sound and image could be bound together more closely. In Tonne's work image does more than simply illustrate music. Rather, he creates visuals that are directly generated by sound or that generate sound themselves. These pieces - sound toys, installations and live music visuals - link noise and image in a manner that renders them completely inextricable.

In each of his projects, Tonne adopts a system through which to match the audible to the visual. In his last year as a student at the Royal College of Art in 1998, he created a set of experimental screen environments called Audible Communities. Entering an Audible Community, users are allowed to generate an audio/visual environment in which simple graphic forms and free-floating words and phrases - chosen to be elliptically descriptive of the piece itself - are partnered by pleasing, minimal sounds. Since then, Tonne has developed these ideas to create a series of imaginative sound toys which encourage playful interaction. Similarly playful are Tonne's experiments with theramins, a musical instrument which generates noise in response to movement. In his final year show at the RCA, Tonne created a space which contained three theramins, each connected to a computer screen. As they approached the piece, visitors became aware that their movement in the vicinity of these instruments controlled both the sound in the space and the images on the screens. In the case of relaxed participants, the outcome was a dance duet between human and computer.

Tonne has expanded upon these themes in his collaborations with the experimental sound artists Scanner, Pole and SpringHeel Jack. Accompanying sets by these artists at the Sonic Concrete event held at London's ICA in March 1999, he moved beyond traditional club visuals - suggestive imagery, made beforehand and projected alongside music - to create a set of visuals that were directly responsive to what was being heard. Since that event, Scanner and Tonne have collaborated frequently, both on live performances and in the creation of interactive audio/visual installations. Becoming Scanner + Tonne, amongst the duo's joint projects was the exhibit Sound Polaroids, shown at the ICA in October 1999. For this project, Scanner + Tonne asked members of the public to nominate important sites in London and then made digital sound and image recordings at the most popular of these locations. Returning to the studio, they processed these audio/visual recordings in a manner that made them mutually responsive - images would generate certain sections of sound and sound would prompt the appearance of certain images. A complex and highly technical business, Scanner + Tonne have argued that the aim of this exercise was to "re-assemble the fragments of a city into a language born from its wow and flutter".

The interaction of sound and image in the Sound Polaroids project is the outcome of the machinations of Scanner + Tonne's software. The assumption of the piece is that the product of this software program will reveal something significant, possibly some underlying truth, about the information with which it has been fed. Related assumptions are at work throughout Tonne's project and the matching of sound and image through the intervention of computer software raises questions about the nature of that intervention which cannot be ignored.

There are no absolutes in this kind of activity; the pairing of sound with image is entirely dependent on the predilections of the software program in question. This being the case, how do you assess whether the relationship between particular sounds and images makes sense? As Tonne himself has pointed out "it's not science"; the success of these pieces lies not in whether the matching of sounds and images make demonstrable sense, but rather in whether it makes experiential sense. If it works for you, then it works.