The Millennium Stadium will play a part in an innovative 24-hour music festival funded by The Wellcome Trust on Saturday 21, February.

The Fragmented Orchestra and The Local are putting on a unique show that takes places in 24 venues across the UK. Including Gloucester Cathedral, Goodison Park football ground, the Millennium Stadium Cardiff, and Brighton Pier.

The Fragmented Orchestra is a huge distributed musical instrument, modelled on the firing of the human brain’s neurons. Made possible by a £50,000 prize awarded to Jane Grant, John Matthias and Nick Ryan, as the winning project for the PRS Foundation’s New Music Award 2008, it is installed at the FACT Gallery Liverpool and 23 other sites across the UK and runs from December 12th 2008 to 22nd February 2009.

24 Fragments will run at all of these sites for 24 hours, from 10am on Saturday 21 February, ‘firing’ sounds from each of the locations, back to Gallery 1 at FACT, and online. This sprawling collaborative work, spanning music, art and science, has evolved from a fascination by its creators of the inherent sonic rhythms and adaptive learning of spiking neurons – ie. the electrical impulses of the human brain.

There will be performances, presentations and panels by Jane Grant, John Matthiasand Nick Ryan of The Fragmented Orchestra plus Adem, Philip Jeck, Professor Mark D’Inverno, Alasdair Roberts, Huw Stephens, Paul Broks, Liz Green, John Fairhurst, Dr Magnus Richardson and many more.

24 Fragments is a 24-hour festival funded by The Wellcome Trust, including all 24 sites of The Fragmented Orchestra, which are linked up by microphones that pick up sound at each site. The diverse locations which will host events include Gloucester Cathedral, Goodison Park football ground, Institute of Psychiatry London, Brighton Pier, National Portrait Gallery, The Rochelle School, Blueprint Recording Studios in Manchester, and a school in Devon. All of the events during the 24-hour festival are designed to be relayed through the distributed ‘neuronal system’ of The Fragmented Orchestra and via its website:

As each event is ticketed and open to the public, audience members will become part of this giant musical instrument or ‘firing of neurons’ by attending individual performances across the country, or experiencing the event online. 

The science:

When we hear, sound enters our ears. The information is translated into electrical signals via sensory neurons and is processed in the brain via cortical neurons. The majority of the processing of sensory information in our brains is thought to take place in the cerebral cortex, which contains a population of billions of neurons, each making thousands of connections with its neighbours. A single neuron can be thought of as a cell which generates a travelling ‘spike’ signal to connected neighbours when the voltage on its membrane exceeds a certain threshold value, a process which is called ‘firing’.

How it works with 24 Fragments:

In The Fragmented Orchestra, there are 24 neurons – or 24 locations, which will emit sound through performances. In a sense, The Fragmented Orchestra is a strange, tiny hybrid organism involving 24 cortical neurons, which are also crude sensory neurons (they are only stimulated by the volume of sound). This tiny organism is then spread across the 24 sites and online, and becomes a huge musical instrument.

Sound enters the microphone at each site and is streamed to the FACT gallery in Liverpool to a computer to one of the 24 neurons. If this neuron fires, it will send a tiny fragment of the sound through to one of the speakers in Gallery 1 at FACT and online. The firing of this neuron may also cause other neurons to fire causing ripples of sound to cascade across the gallery. These firing events can be represented by a dot on a diagram of neurons against time called a ‘raster plot’ –you can see this online on the 24 Fragments page on our website.

All the 24 channels of sound are then mixed together and sent back to the 24 sites where the sound can be heard from the soundboxes housed at location. This remixed version of all the recorded sounds will also be heard in the Gallery 1 installation at FACT, Liverpool.