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  • Writer's pictureMurat Ali Cengiz

"Automation" at Van Nelle, a spatial piece, (2024)

Updated: Jun 14


In May 2024, I got an exciting assignment from OMI (Office of Metropolitan Information) for the day and night and architecture in Rotterdam. Here's a short read and some small details on how I developed the project that was finally named "Automation".



My topic was to be the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam. Built between 1925 and 1931, is a prime example of modernist industrial architecture. Designed by architects Johannes Brinkman and Leendert van der Vlugt, it exemplifies the New Objectivity movement, characterized by functionalism and minimalism. The factory was originally used for processing coffee, tea, and tobacco. Its innovative use of steel and glass, creating an open and light-filled space, influenced industrial design worldwide. Recognized for its historical and architectural significance, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.


Our short concert was scheduled as an ending point of the tour of the factory at the "Tea House". It had a fantastic view of the Rotterdam skyline, looking at the central station, the euromast tower. It's area defined by the neighboring Schie canal and train tracks.



As I entered the factory through the revolving doors, the soft humming of some kind of machinery welcomed me. I moved up along the stairs to the tea house as the humming got louder and louder. This was an idea I later borrowed for the composition.



When you reach the top floor, there is one last step you have to do before reaching the tea room. That's the spiral staircase that connects to the center of the circular room above. Thus, when you are in the tea room, the floor below works very well as a sound box. This is how I structured the music composition for guitar and trumpet with dear musicians, Prashant Samlal (https://prashantsamlal.com). and Daniel Clason (https://danielclason.com).



The concept I worked with for the piece was: "Automation". It is structured in three parts: 1. The factory, 2. The factory and the men, 3. Automation. It is a brief story of introducing machine sounds and non-human soundscapes. First the men gets introduced to the machine and all the movements are out of sync as the men floats and dances around while the machine is rigid and constant. Finally they sync together as the men loose their freedom and flexibility, they form a new unified sound with the machine.


For the first part I used 3 sounds as a reference. Sound of coffee beans being poured, which is one of the most dominant sounds in a coffee factory:


coffeebeans

The sound of the conveyor belts that create a loud humming noise all around the factory:



conveyorbelt




I transcribed this sound to create a drone effect from the guitar.








Finally the sound of a cigarette packing machine:



cigarette machine

Based on the humming noise of the conveyor belt, we made a loop on the guitar to serve as a drone for the entire piece with the pitches: C-F-E. The three different sections of the piece would then go for different harmonies but still utilizing these pitches. Where the first section would be based on a Cmaj7(add4), second section would be based on Bb7sus2#11 and finally the last piece would be on A7b13.


In this final section, I asked ChatGPT 4.0 to create a very basic melody within D melodic minor: F-G-A-D. Thus also adding in an automated aspect into the piece.




I curated the composition as a spatial experience from the audience's point of view. The piece already starts with the machine sounds as we get a cue that the audience has taken the elevator to the tea room. (1) When they exit the elevator, they are welcomed by a humming machine like guitar sound from upstairs.


When they reach the tea room, the great panoramic view takes over. (2) As they settle in, the guitarist starts to develop the machine sounds and begins to add harmony to it.


(3) Finally when all the audience has settled and taken their places, the trumpet starts to play from the floor below. The staircase acts as a vacuum that creates a very nice special effect for the trumpet. The trumpet players comes up to the tea room as he plays. In the end the guitar and the trumpet syncs completely and finish the piece on the A.I. generated melody.



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