Brunel 200 Legacy Triangulation.
South West Arts Projects
Bristol Arts Projects
Brunel 200 Events & Activities
Brunel 200 Main Site Spacer
Bristol Arts Projects Overview > Triangulation

Heading – Triangulation

A celebration of three of Brunel’s lesser-known sites

Developed by three artists – Reuben Knutson, Pete Judge and Bob Walton – working in three media – image, sound, language – the TRIANGULATION project was a celebration of three of Brunel’s lesser-known sites in the vicinity of the Cumberland Basin: Brunel Lock, the Underfall sluices and the tubular wrought-iron swing bridge lying out of commission on the quay beside Howard Lock.

There were three main phases to the project:

1. Research and composition
2. Community participation
3. Final presentation and evening performance

Pupils from schools in Ashton and Hotwells had field visits to explore sonic and visual environments using digital technology. The sonic postcards that the children created were emailed to over 50 schools throughout the UK. Community walks and workshops were held to generate poetry from adults. Also a multi media free public event was held at Brunel Lock. Work was displayed and performed, featuring a newly formed ensemble of seven new-music musicians. The performance took place on the Brunel birthday weekend, 8/9 April 2006.

TRIANGULATION took place in the stark spaces created by the Cumberland Basin flyover in Hotwells. This is a highly resonant site, not just in its natural acoustics and eerily booming traffic drones, but also in its situation at the edge of the harbour Brunel helped to create, with a grandstanding view up towards his Suspension Bridge. On the evening of Sunday April 9 (Brunel’s 200th birthday, and the day after the new Suspension Bridge lighting system was turned on), TRIANGULATION transformed this site using a combination of multiple film and slide projections, spoken word, and music from a specially formed seven-piece ensemble (the TRIANGULATION ORCHESTRA). From 7.30pm, the audience assembled beside the anchor next to Brunel Lock car park (in front of the Nova Scotia pub), and were shepherded along the dockside pathways to a viewing point beneath the flyover. Here, the performance began with experimental audio-visual pieces produced by Year 5 schoolchildren from nearby Hotwells Primary School. These were created in February 2006 during a Sonic Postcards project (led by Artic) as part of the UK-wide Sonic Arts Network programme. The pieces combine field recordings and digital video film, which the children recorded and edited themselves. The resulting industrial soundscapes and abstract loops of film offer a unique insight into this environment and, as well as being projected in large-scale form for the TRIANGULATION event, are permanent features on the Sonic Postcards website.

As sunset began to plunge the site into further gloom (approx 7.57pm), the Sonic Postcards merged into TRIANGULATION itself. The voice of Bob Walton summoned the ghost of Brunel; Reuben Knutson’s flickering films and slides played across the waters of the dock and the undersides of the flyover; and the otherworldly music of the TRIANGULATION ORCHESTRA joined the clatterings and rumbles of traffic overhead. TRIANGULATION comprised three movements, responding obliquely to Brunel’s lock gates, sluice system, and tubular footbridge. After about 40 minutes, the performance merged back into the looped Sonic Postcards and the audience dispersed along the now dark quaysides.


The artists in TRIANGULATION

TRIANGULATION was a collaboration between three members of the much-missed mopti collective: poet Bob Walton, visual artist Reuben Knutson and composer Pete Judge. mopti took their early inspiration from the jazz & world music pioneer Don Cherry, and used it as the basis for atmospheric multi-media performances, especially during their year-long residency at The CREATE Centre. Since then, Bob has been an active force on the poetry scene in Brighton, before returning to Bristol in 2004, whilst Reuben and Pete’s environmental arts project Artic has had residencies in Portland and Shetland, the latter culminating in simultaneous installations in Bristol’s Architecture Centre and Shetland’s Bonhoga Gallery.

The poetry of Hotwells-based Bob Walton (founder member of The South and Footwork poetry organisations in Brighton, former winner of the Welsh Arts Council's New Poet Award) evoked images of Bristol Docks in the 1830s and in the 21st century, focusing on the engineering challenges of Brunel Lock and the Underfall sluices as well as Brunel's tubular iron footbridge now lying abandoned on the nearby quayside.

The atmosphere of the space inspired photographer & filmmaker Reuben Knutson's visuals to explore a world of trading and commerce which might have sunk without Brunel's work there. Featuring dancer Tony Bailey, loose narratives pit Brunel's determination against the forces of tides, time and silting rivers. Led by Pete Judge (trumpeter with two of the South West’s finest bands, Organelles and The Blessing, and recently multi-instrumentalist with Travelling Light Theatre Company), the TRIANGULATION ORCHESTRA assembled a unique sound world from some of the region’s best-kept musical secrets. Savio Pacini (trombone) is trombonist of choice for everyone from Super Furry Animals to Moonshot. Liz Purnell (trombone), along with Savio a key member of UltraSound Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, is a highly regarded composer / arranger/sound-designer for film, TV and theatre. Dan Marcus (bass guitar) is the quietly authoritative lynchpin of the uncategorisable Organelles. Andy Tween (vibraphone) is an outstanding drummer, touring with both Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley, but less well-known for his virtuosic vibes playing. Paul Wigens (drums) is also an outstanding drummer, performing with the likes of Blurt, The Blue Aeroplanes, physical theatre company Earthfall, and jazz collective Limbo. Rasha Shaheen (laptop etc) is, to quote Plan B, “a rare talent”, driving force behind the acclaimed Mooz, bassist & vocalist with The Liftmen, and currently touring with both Male & Nik Young.

The process

1. Research and Composition took a number of forms:

Visits to the Brunel Archive in University of Bristol library, examining Brunel’s letter books, general notebooks and sketchbooks.
Visits to Bristol Record Office (coincidentally located alongside Brunel’s Lock) to study Brunel’s reports to the Docks Company and other relevant texts.
Numerous site visits to observe, record and respond to the location as well as to consider the practical aspects of the field visit, workshops and the final event.
Meetings with the staff of the Harbour Master’s department, in particular General Manager Richard Smith and John Edwards.
Over a number of months Pete Judge developed the musical composition, Reuben Knutson the film and visual images and Bob Walton the sequence of poems, each working individually and collectively.
A website was produced to provide information about the development of the project. It is maintained to include images and text from the project. Visit

2. Community participation was in two parts:

Part 1 – Sonic postcards:

Sonic Postcards involved the participation of pupils, staff and families from Hotwells Primary School. Sonic Postcards is a national educational project run by the London-based Sonic Arts Network, for whom Pete Judge and Reuben Knutson have previously completed several successful commissions. The aim is to encourage young people to become more aware of the sounds in their environment and to learn how these sounds can be transformed creatively through digital technology.
The choice of Hotwells School was self-evident: it is the nearest to the key sites, being just a few hundred metres from Cumberland Basin. Following consultation with the head teacher, it was agreed that the project would involve mainly the 30 pupils in year 5 class. Firstly, Dan Stone, the National Co-ordinator for Sonic Postcards, together with Pete Judge and Reuben Knutson, ran an INSET session with key staff. This was followed by five half day workshops (February 2 – 11), introducing pupils to the software programmes and equipment, conducting a full day’s field visit to the Cumberland Basin site for children to record sounds and images, and further sessions for the children to use their data creatively to produce the Sonic Postcards. At the end of the week, a presentation was given to the whole school so that all 250 pupils and staff had the opportunity to appreciate the experimental sounds and images that had been created by the year 5 pupils.
A Sonic Postcards Drop-In Family Evening was held at the School on 8 March. Parents and families were invited to visit the school’s computer suite where the Postcards were presented and there was an opportunity for the children to demonstrate the software, equipment and skills to parents and siblings. Very much a hands-on event, it was extremely successful and generated considerable enthusiasm.
To maintain the sustainability of this project, the year 5 class teacher, Virginia Perrin, ran an INSET session for all the staff at Hotwells Primary School. The Audacity and Moviemaker software has been installed on the school’s network so that is available for other teachers to use with their classes.
The Sonic Postcards from Hotwells School can be accessed on the Sonic Postcards website by going to

Part 2 – Creative Writing Workshops:

Two free creative writing workshops were run by Bob Walton on Saturday 25 March and Saturday 1 April 2006. Meeting in the Harbour Master’s Yard, the workshops involved an observational ‘walkabout’ around the three focus sites, with Bob Walton giving background information and relevant anecdotes from Brunel’s life, followed by a writing session in the local Nova Scotia pub. Although attendance was low, the response from participants was positive and they went away with work-in-progress they intended to develop.

3. The final presentation and performance was on Sunday 9 April:

A free, open air, multi-media event, its aim was to transform the stark landscape under the Cumberland Basin flyover into a magical landscape of shifting projections, atmospheric live music and sounds and the spoken, sung and written word.
Members of the public were asked to assemble in the Brunel Lock car park at 7.30pm. A safety briefing was given and Bob Walton outlined the nature of the event before reading his introductory poem. The audience was then invited to walk the length of the Cumberland Basin at dusk, taking in the atmosphere of the place as they approached the performance location under the flyover under Howard Lock. The audience stood on one side of the lock, directly alongside Brunel’s tubular swing bridge, while the performers and ‘screen’ were on the opposite sides of the water.
The first part, as the light faded, was the presentation of the Sonic Postcards produced by the children from Hotwells School.
The second part was a performance of the 40 minute TRIANGULATION suite, in three parts – Lock, Bridge and Sluice. A seven piece mini-orchestra, combining brass, vibes, bass, drums and digital treatments, performed Pete Judge’s musical composition while Bob Walton read his poems for each section and Reuben Knutson’s films and images were projected onto the piers, Harbour Master’s Office and underside of the flyover.
Over 150 people attended the event and subsequent feedback was extremely enthusiastic. It was a very cold evening but the breeze had dropped and the dusk brought a beautiful play of light, so that the conditions and atmosphere were as hoped for the event fully met their aspirations.



Sonic Postcards at Hotwells Primary School:
30 children from year 5 participated in workshops, the field trip and making work
250 children attended the Sonic Postcards whole-school assembly
4 staff took part in the field trip
15 staff at Sonic Postcards assembly and took part in INSET
25 parents attended the Family Evening with approx. 15 siblings

Creative Writing Workshops:
5 adults and one child attended

TRIANGULATION performance:
Over 150 adults and children attended

Evaluation of the final project against our original proposal

We retained the core of the original proposal with the priority intention of maintaining the quality of process and production. The £3,000 disparity between our budget bid and the funding allocation was the main reason for scaling down certain elements of the original proposal. However, other changes occurred during the project development.


Sonic Postcards took place in one school rather than two. Instead of a £1,500 contribution towards the cost, we have provided £750, though the Hotwells project involved an additional Family Evening and more workshops than Sonic Arts Network usually provides.
Three creative writing workshops were originally proposed. A personal rather than financial factor came into play here: the illness and death of Bob Walton’s mother delayed and reduced the time available for running the workshops. A small booklet of writing from the workshops was envisaged but this did not transpire.
For budgetary reasons, seven musicians rather than nine were employed for the ‘mini orchestra’ for the final performance. However, this decision was taken at an early stage so that the musical score was written for seven instruments from the outset.
We changed the location of the final performance event. Originally we had intended it to be at Brunel Lock itself. A number of site meetings gave us concern about the audience being more exposed to the prevailing south westerly winds at Brunel Lock. For aesthetic reasons, too, we felt that the dramatic relationship created by having the musicians and poet on one side of the water and the audience on the other made the Howard Lock site preferable for atmosphere.
It was originally proposed that the for the final event, the audience would approach the performance site from three different assembly locations and that they would encounter listening posts playing the sounds of Sonic Postcards en route. This changed for several reasons: we decided that we could present Sonic Postcards on a larger, more powerful scale by using the PA and projector at the performance site; we also had health and safety concerns about three different groups being shepherded around the waterside at night; finally, the financial, technical and security factors involved in setting up six-nine listening posts weighed against them in the light of the opportunity to present the Postcards at the Howard Lock site.
In the end, we did not develop the involvement of the Architecture Centre in Sonic Postcards as had originally been envisaged. There would have been a cost implication that we could not meet and the commitment and knowledge of the staff at Hotwells School made an additional input unnecessary.
St John’s Ambulance was unable to attend the final event. Since the final numbers attending were unpredictable, this was of some concern. However, the Harbourmaster agreed to have his rescue boat available and we had several stewards with first aid training.


The Sonic Postcards element of community involvement was hugely successful. As someone who has witnessed Sonic Postcards projects taking place across the country, Dan Stone (Sonic Arts Network) thought it was “fantastic”. In particular, while other Sonic Postcards projects have focused on sound, the combination of sound and image at Hotwells School made the children’s work particularly potent. The pupils engaged in it with enthusiasm, intelligence and imagination, while their role at the Family Evening empowered them through the demonstrations and teaching that they gave to visitors. The Headteacher, Jenny Taylor, and class teacher, Ginny Perrin, were hugely impressed by the learning that had taken place and by its impact on the children’s lives – “they will never forget it”. Parents expressed great appreciation of their children’s enjoyment and participation.

In addition, involvement in Sonic Postcards gives an additional national profile to Brunel 200 since the children’s work is accessible on the internet. Half the participants were girls, meeting one of Brunel 200’s aims of introducing girls to engineering and technology, while more mothers than fathers attended the Family Evening. For everyone who saw it, as well as for pupils taking part, Sonic Postcards combined engineering, environment and digital technology in a creative and educational relationship.

The Creative Writing Workshops were the least successful element of the whole project. A number of reasons for this may be proposed. Although the workshops were publicised in the Books listings of ‘Venue’ magazine and through flyers and a poster at the Central Library, publicity could probably have been more extensive. This being his first writing workshop in Bristol, Bob Walton is not “known” as a workshop leader and reputation is a factor. A number of other, higher-profile Brunel 200 writing workshops were available in February and March, particularly those at the Central Library, so the “market” may have already been met.

Nevertheless, the response of the few participants was positive. Bob Walton is of the view that the structure of a walkabout-followed-by-writing-workshop can be successful, particularly in this striking location. He is currently considering offering further free writing workshops on the Brunel sites theme during the summer.

In our view, the final Triangulation event was as successful as we could possibly have imagined. Above all, we believe that it used high quality, contemporary cross-art-form methods to make an impact upon the audience; raised public awareness, knowledge and appreciation of Brunel’s work with regard to the three lesser-known sites; and achieved an exciting interface between history, engineering, artistic creativity, technology and environment. From audience feedback, we believe that the quality of the composition stands up to artistic scrutiny and meets the central Brunel 200 criteria both for community involvement and for artistic merit. We had no idea how many would attend the event and were fully aware that inclement weather could devastate attendance numbers, but in the final outcome we were very pleased by the size of the audience.

Our proposal stated that we would involve some of Bristol’s leading musicians and we believe that the group that was drawn together for this event fulfilled that aim entirely, as their CVs testify (see below). Their engagement in the process was rewarding: in rehearsals, in developing their improvised parts, in their working relationships (they had not worked together before, Pete Judge being their only common link), in their enthusiasm for the cutting-edge nature of the project and the location, and in their final performance, they were an example of professional excellence. In the end, they were all asking, “When are we going to do it again?”

Finally, we believe that we produced a Brunel 200 event that will be remembered by all involved. Despite the cold, it turned out to be atmospheric, engaging and impacting. The performance achieved a balance between being both cutting-edge/cross-art-form and being accessible.


Feedback – some comments received

On Sonic Postcards:

“I thought it looked and sounded fantastic! I also chatted to quite a few parents who attended the family drop-in session who all really thought it was great. Also, I bumped into a guy from the BBC who is part of their learning and Interactive : Innovation team which was great as he was really excited about the project.”

“It was a truly amazing project.”
Both from Dan Stone, Sonic Arts Network, National Co-ordinator Sonic Postcards.

I think they all got so much out of the project - new ICT skills, new ways of looking at the world and the freedom to be creative. It's something they will never forget.”
Virginia Perrin, Year 5 class teacher, Hotwells Primary School.

From audience at TRIANGULATION event:

“Thank you so much. It was great. What a tremendous atmosphere you created and I loved the mental image of a hornpipe-dancing moth.”

“I’ve never seen an event like that in Bristol – site specific with a performance, drawing attention to the space.”

“What I thought was lovely was that as the light was going down, you could see the lights on the Suspension Bridge coming on. It was really well placed for the whole Brunel experience.”

“Congratulations to everyone involved in a magnificently ambitious enterprise - worthy of Brunel himself.”

“Wonderful and very atmospheric.”

“Visually it was a joy, and a surprising one, full of exclamation marks and gentle arrests, full of beauty without being Beautiful.”

“It was gorgeous, evocative, moody stuff, transport for the senses (ironic idea, under a flyover) and utilising the physical and intellectual context perfectly.”

“It's given me a sense of joy through the week. And of all the all-singin, all-dancin Brunel extravaganzas on at the w/e, yours was real and exciting.”

"Magical! I loved the way all the layers and textures of sound and images slowly built up throughout the piece."

On the Creative Writing Workshops:

“I found the workshop interesting, inspiring and I’m really glad I bothered to turn up! Although some of the facts weren't of huge interest to me, I’m glad of any knowledge about Bristol that is passed on to me, and above all I have been back to the Lock because I went to the Records Office, and I looked at the place from a whole new perspective. It was also useful how you described the possible process you personally would go through to create some writing on the given topic.”

Our learning

As three individuals co-ordinating the project, we have learnt a great deal about the life, work and significance of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Our research has taken us not only into the fascinating detail of his daily life but also into the language of his letters and reports, the minutiae of his calculations and designs, the technicalities of construction and the operational strictures of locks and sluices. We have become much more aware, too, of Brunel’s vast, prolific vision and of the way in which he combined that vision with rigorous attention to detail. We will never be able to look at Brunel Lock, the swivel footbridge, the Underfall sluices, and indeed the whole of the Cumberland Basin in the same way again! We hope that we have passed on as much as possible of this learning to the community, young people and other artists with whom we have worked.
We have learnt how to operate within a large-scale civic festival. We have had to keep the aims of Brunel 200 at the forefront of our thinking through the organisational and the creative process. We have recognised the importance of operating within the guidelines established by Brunel 200 and maintaining communication and liaison with the festival organisers.
We have learnt more about the logistics of staging an ambitious open-air event. This has involved applications for licences, undertaking risk assessments and putting safety measures in place, site meetings and correspondence on a much larger and more sophisticated scale than we have encountered previously. As such, we have gained confidence in our ability to plan, explain and be flexible in our response to others involved.
Over the months, we have learnt a great deal about the complex nature of responding to sites. When we drew up our proposal, we thought we knew quite a lot about Brunel Lock and the Cumberland Basin. Historical research deepened that knowledge. However, our meetings and work on site, observing, discussing, evaluating, have all had an impact upon our creative responses as well as upon our ideas for staging a performance. We have had to take account of weather, tides, light, assessing their implications for audience and performers, as well as the range of possible effects on the ambience and their relationship to the aesthetic experience.
Artistically, the project has enabled us to take a number of important developmental steps forward. While we have worked together on a number of projects and events in the past, this has enabled us to take on the challenges of something that is more ambitious than anything we have previously done. In retrospect, we think that we might have held a few more “signpost” meetings to achieve a little more integration of sound/image/text - without compromising the genre-specific elements in each composition. Many of our meetings became involved in dealing with the practicalities and while this was essential, and while there were some personal family occurrences which had to take precedence, we think the final piece would probably have benefited from a slightly stronger relationship between the three strands.
In writing the music, Pete Judge learnt about composing and arranging for a medium-sized ensemble of non-standard instrumentation. The choice of instrumentation to suit the locality, the relationships between instruments in different parts of the suite, and achieving an integrity of sound within a “through-composed” piece, with less improvisation than he is used to, were all challenges to be faced.
For Reuben Knutson, the use of large-scale projections offered an exciting challenge. The space was both difficult and inspiring while the equipment needed for successful projection was more sophisticated than that which he usually uses. The totally unpredictability of the light on the evening of the event, even allowing for official sunset time, gave an edge to the experience of working in this particular environment. Working with Tony Bailey, the dancer featured in the Bridge section, was also a valuable learning opportunity.
The role of poetry in the final piece was always intended to be more explicit for the audience in its references to the three sites and to Brunel than the sound and visuals. Bob Walton was faced with writing poetry that incorporated specialist, technical information and language within a lyric mode. Sluices, lock-gates and the workings of wrought-iron swing bridges are not the usual stuff of poems! It was, however, a deeply fulfilling mission. Initially Bob had intended to be more experimental syntactically, to link in with the digital dimension. Gradually though, he felt that the engagement with the vocabulary of engineering and shipbuilding became a stronger imperative which necessitated standard grammatical structures in the poems to promote accessibility and lucid imagery.
Finally, we feel that we have developed “a formula” that works, artistically and educationally – one which successfully integrates poetry into other art forms and which responds to the exigencies of the specific site within the context of a bigger festival.


Photography: Mark Simmons.