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Dan Tobin Smith and NYX: Void at London Design Festival

Work / Film

Dan Tobin Smith and NYX reveal the etherial physicality of gemstones in new collaborative track

Formed in London at the end of 2017, NYX is a collective of vocalists that make otherworldly, often wordless music inspired by drone and the layering of voices. Some of the all-female choir are classically trained while others come from performance or visual arts backgrounds, and together they use a mix of acoustic and digital experimentations to create their haunting sound.

This year the choir began a collaboration with photographer Dan Tobin Smith, which resulted in Void, a spine-tingling installation during London Design Festival that took in film, photography, interior design and live performance. If you missed this in September, never fear, a new six-minute film and single re-imagines the project, where the choir responded to Dan’s microscopic films of precious stones. “The music came as an invocation from the centre of a crystalline universe,” NYX’s Sian O’Gorman tells It’s Nice That, “bringing to life the ancient, ecstatic and elemental energy of gemstones in all of their bright colours and unique imperfections.”

Dan began shooting gemstones around a year ago, developing a process to combine gemological microscopes and digital cinema cameras that allowed him to achieve the technically challenging but exquisite footage. Then it became a case of sourcing varied and interesting stones and exploring them using light and movement. Dan tells us, “Gemstones can hold very different qualities depending on the light so a lot of the creative process is exploration and experimentation in the studio. You have to be patient.”

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Dan Tobin Smith: Void

Sian then used Dan’s films to respond with her voice, composing “fractured lines of melody, drones, harmonies and whispers” in correspondence with the the geological formations of the stones. “I could hear the sounds of a cave inside my mouth – pushing the gain to its limits to find water shaping soft rock at the back of my tongue,” she says. “As new areas of colour or crystal fragments would sing out visually, I could hear warped manipulations come through as reversed voices or pieces of ‘vocal fry’ pitch shifted down and time stretched out to represent the core of the earth expanding and contracting.”

Once Sian had developed the idea and composition, the choir then recorded a collection of sonic layers in the studio, with Sian later weaving and building the voices together digitally. The new six-minute track is a remix of the much-longer original piece, featuring unused voices from that original session. Dan says, “The music and footage always fitted really well because of a calmness that comes from the music and the meditative feeling when watching the inclusions.” When creating the final music video for the track, which launches today (31 October), Dan wanted to include a little glimpse of his process, so at the beginning and end we witness his studio and the lab-like set-up that makes the gem exploration possible.

For Sian and the choir, the project has been an opportunity to explore the connection between the varying landscapes of the human voice and the interplay of dark and light in nature. “The glitchy imperfections within the crystals are augmented through light and manipulated vocal tones – it’s exploring the spaces between and inside us that connect, refract, contract and expand,” she explains. Void is an impressive collaboration that shows the exciting possibilities of cross-disciplinary connections, where creatives of different strokes can bounce off each others’ practices and imaginations. Sian concludes, “The project is the sense of ‘otherworldliness’ that we can sometimes forget and perceive as somehow outside or apart from us – the expansive, eternal light and the infinite void within.”

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Dan Tobin Smith: Void

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Dan Tobin Smith and NYX: Void at London Design Festival