Our walk begins at goods in, where the sheet metal enters the factory through the roaring roller shutter performed by Danny P. We briefly pause at the entry to absorb the bustle of the delivery bay, until jolted by the alarming entry of Terry on the Lansing E15 moving a new delivery. Then we walk past Pete on the Masterplat Robopac who is gingerly enveloping a freshly assembled enclosure in its cellophane cocoon before it is sent on its way. Approaching the punching machine station, Jock is on the controls of the Trumpf Trumatic 5000R, heard slowly awakening, steaming and whirling while stretching its mechanical arm. With Jock retrieving the relevant programme from the Trumpf’s memory, it begins its first solo with a sequence of calm yet complex percussive patterns. The punched blanks then move on to the press brakes, where Dawid, Aadam, Jason, and Harry jangle them in the Edwards Pearson PR100. The menacing roar of the Bosch GWS 880 follows, while Andy and Oggi grind the steel sheets, before they are rolled to Tony and Ross in the welding booths, who provide an electrifying performance on the Thermal Arc 400SP. Moving deeper into the factory, we reach “No man’s land”, an area of rare calmness and eerie stillness. No performers are present. All we can hear is the factory’s heartbeat, the electricity regulator, with its minimalist pulses providing the whole operation with vital energy. Moving away from “No Man’s Land”, the calmness is broken by the ensemble of machines making up the paintshop, performed by Matt, Rhys, Filip, and Aaron. The quartet includes the clicking percussion of the overhead conveyor, the pressurised streams of the wash, and the compressed harmonies of the spray booth, while all are enveloped by the constant drone emanating from the stoves. The last piece in the process comes at assembly, where Pete, Paul, and Jan shape Ritherdon’s products into their final form, all under the monophonic songs played on the Technika Digitalradio. Walking through assembly, we reach our starting point, where the Trumpf greets us with its second solo, a pounding crescendo of industrial-strength beats. Stunned by the thunderous performance, we are then soothed by the familiar sounds coming from the Masterplat Robopac, where Pete packages the latest batch of steel enclosures. We follow them out on the loading bay, sent out the same route they came in as sheet metal though Danny P’s roller shutter.
please listen with headphones
Incidental Rendition is the first result from my collaboration with artist Nicola Ellis, who is completing a two-year placement at Ritherdon & Co Ltd, a manufacturer of steel enclosures in Darwen, Lancashire. Nicola’s placement aims to create opportunities for both artist and manufacturer to experience each other’s work. Exploring the factory’s sound as an artistic expression of the manufacturing process, this sound piece was an opportunity for both artists to investigate new lines of inquiry. Collecting recordings at Ritherdon through approaches from ‘soundwalks’ and ‘acoustic ecologies’, albeit in an unusual indoor context, Nicola was able to hear the factory with ‘fresh ears’, a space she has become familiar over her placement. Incidental Rendition is indicative of that push and pull between the new and the familiar, something which is an inherent condition of being an ‘Incidental Person’, a central focus of Nicola’s placement.
Commissioned and published by Castlefield Gallery ahead of Nicola’s solo exhibition in March 2021, the sound piece captures Ritherdon’s sonic environments, presented as a soundwalk in the factory’s different spaces through a route following the order of process. Composed for headphone listening, the piece presents the manufacturing process as a metaphorical symphony; the factory’s tools and machines are the instruments, the people working in Ritherdon are the ensemble performers, the background noise is the reverberant concert hall resulting from the factory’s architecture, and the order of the process is the conductor.
Read below the two artists’ perspectives on Incidental Rendition, and visit the Castlefield Gallery website to view Nicola’s collection of essays, photographs, and paintings during her time at Ritherdon.