Speaking Tubes & Vortex – Scunthorpe

Inspired by the extraordinary sound of vortex rings travelling through the atmosphere at supersonic speed, Speaking Tubes is a unique way to experience sound as it travels through space.

Speaking Tubes is a sculptural sound installation made of large air-ducting tubes and giant cones that emit a chorus of soundscapes into special listening zones.

Created by an explosion chamber at the narrow end of the cone-shaped cannon filled with acetylene gas, Speaking Tubes creates a unique and immersive sound experience. When ignited, a supersonic pulse of gas and air is created which forms a vortex ring and causes the sound to travel through space. It was installed in Huddersfield, and performed with a live ensemble, Vortex.

Inspired by the sound of high velocity vortex rings, which are created using a special vortex cannon. These rings of spinning air travel at speeds in the region of 200 mph and create a unique and beautiful sound. It can be heard rising in pitch as it travels to the edge of our breathable atmosphere. 

Woman stands beside one of the speaking tubes, listening.

The original concept was devised and designed by David Wheeler and developed with Amsterdam based composer Yannis Kyriakides, recent winner of the Johann Wagenaar Oeuvre prize. It was first commissioned by Junction, Google in 2012, and then toured across the UK at Barnsley Civic, The University of Huddersfield and 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe. It was also exhibited at the IOU studio in Dean Clough.

Composer Yannis Kyriakides working on Speaking Tubes

For this initial tour IOU developed Vortex, a live musical performance delivered within the installation. This was performed at the Civic in Barnsley and Huddersfield University. View the recordings of this below.

Vortex performed at Barnsley Civic and University of Huddersfield

In Spring 2020 IOU delivered Speaking Tubes: Online  featuring spatial recordings and 360 filming so audiences could immerse themselves in the sculpture online, and in their own home. For this three new soundscapes were commissioned to be played through the virtual speaking tubes from composers Loui Binns, Jo Thomas and Katie English.