East Tower

A video artwork comissioned by White Noise City, in response to the ‘East Tower’ at the old BBC site in White City London. Work was made in collaboration with Hannah Dargavel-Leafe.

An interview with white noise, detailing the project

It was two months ago now that we threw out a challenge: transform, interpret and creatively destroy the former BBC East Tower. Encircled by diggers and construction workers, this tower is a still and quiet point amidst the bustle of the Television Centre building site. But only for now. At the end of this month, the building will be demolished.

We’re excited to give you a first glimpse of art that’s being created in response to this extraordinary place. Jack West and Hannah Dargavel-Leafe are crafting a CGI short film inspired by the East Tower, and here they share with you a taster of their work in progress.

West and Dargavel-Leafe describe their work as sculpture. But don’t expect to see lumps of marble or chisels in their workroom. Instead, they sculpt shapes and sounds in digital form. West makes the visuals and Dargavel-Leafe collects sounds that she processes until their sources are unrecognisable. The noises you catch in their work-in-progress video below, for example, are produced from the flicker of lights turning on and off. You’d never guess.

How are you finding the tower? I had a roam around the empty floors yesterday and it’s bloody creepy in here. It’s really eerie. 

Jack: If you go in the toilet blocks, it feels like an apocalyptic zombie film. There is a history of this building that isn’t that, but you come to it and it’s very much this emptiness.

Hannah: We were talking today about how static it was. It’s not what it was, it’s not what it’s going to be. It’s in this weird in-between state.

Jack: You have no idea about how long it’s been abandoned for.

Hannah: We’re also fascinated by on the other side: the diggers and the rock crunchers that are breaking down the foundations outside.

Jack: It’s been a lot of looking. Even the pin boards are very interesting.

I notice they’re in the work-in-progress video that you sent.

Jack: They’re very small actions that seem to represent this place. It’s been a lot of looking so far.

Hannah: A lot of looking and also getting the mood of it. A lot of children’s TV went on here, but we can’t help but make our film creepy. We’re really trying to pull that back a bit, but all my sound recordings… Well, the one that’s on the work-in-progress sample is actually the sound of the lights flickering on and off. I’ve got a special microphone that records the electricity turning on and off. I’m trying to get into the fabric of the building, and work with that to make the sound. There are these great little holes in the windows where I can stick a microphone out and record the building site below, and get the relationship between the building and the building site. I want to get contact microphones that will record the vibrations of the building.

Wow, that’s fascinating. You’re listening to the resting sounds of the building.

Hannah: Yes, but also what I’m picking up is a lot of building work that’s going on outside is affecting the building. Putting microphones on the glass acts as a sort of amplifier of what’s going on outside. So the building can become a listening device for what happens outside. Where does this building sit between its past and future? I think as a listening device.

You describe the Tower as static, and it is static, but it’s also this still point that’s subject to a lot of change.

Jack: A huge amount of action’s going to happen; something’s going to come down. This thing is full of potential energy.

Hannah: Over the years, how many people must have passed through! My aunt used to work as a set designer for the BBC and I said, “What did you know about the East Tower?” She said, “Hated that building.” She said it was really drab and a bit depressing.

And it’s only got more depressing now it’s been abandoned!

Jack: It’s funny looking at things like abandoned offices. You see the little remains of what people have done, like pin boards going up. There was once such a decision in doing that.

Hannah: And the pin board is always where you put the ideas, and the floors are covered in pin boards.

Jack: The pin board seems to be a constant theme in every single space. All these marks – marks of that was a thought or an idea.

I like the thought that these are a marker of people’s ideas. 

Jack: This pin board becomes almost a landscape. If you invert it, suddenly you’ve almost got this playing board. It does bring it back into this childlike thing. I don’t want the film to be like creepy Teletubbies! But there are elements of that, and having this slightly kids TV feel is perfectly appropriate.

Hannah: Sometimes you’ve got to let the building dictate that.

Jack: I keep coming back to this sense of a computer game, the slight sense of being lost and going, “Well, what’s in here?”

Hannah: Trying doors. Oh, that door’s locked. This one opens. Ooh, I wasn’t expecting that behind the door.

Your project is very much a work in progress, but what’s your current feel about the final piece?

Jack: What we’re finding quite interesting is this idea of placing things next to each other. Watching these machines outside, and then having that next to these very simple actions like pin push or a wheel turn.

Hannah: There’s the outside, the inside; the future and the still point of where it is now; the huge scale and the tiny scale.

Jack: It’s a study of the building at the point in time.