making things red

Some background on how Zoë Robertson (Canadian violinist), Zoe Robertson (UK jewellery designer), and Dayna Szyndrowski (Canadian dancer) put their skills together to create the video red

Written by Zoë Robertson (the Canadian violinist) – January 1, 2015

red blog headerGrowing up, I thought my name was unusual.  At some point in the 90s it became trendy and teachers could suddenly both spell and pronounce it, sparing these new Zoës from the baffling range of phonetic mutations I heard as a child.

Since Googling oneself became a thing I’ve known about the existence of other Zoë Robertsons.  One in particular  – a jewellery designer based in Birmingham – always trumped me in reaching the top of the results.  I never gave it much more than an fist-shake at the screen, but in 2012 a frustrating series of changes to the UK’s immigration regulations plucked me from my violin career in London and deposited me back in Canada, forcing me to start over from scratch.

Starting over required some lateral thinking.

One day in 2013, I was staring at my search results and shaking my fist at this jewellery designer when I realized I could simply flip my thinking around.  I sent her an email asking her if she’d like to collaborate on a video.  She told me later she initially thought it was spam.

A few emails later, we’d established some parameters for the project.  The jewellery would be worn while I played the violin and each would create a different percussive sound.  To decide which sounds to create she asked me for a list of ten words describing my favorite sounds.

After this point I didn’t hear anything for a while.  In collaborative projects I find things often reach a point at which they dissipate naturally without ever coming to completion.  I was beginning to think this had happened to our project when I received a Dropbox file with photos and videos of about a dozen pieces of completed jewellery:

I hadn’t expected anything nearly so developed, and seeing the pieces injected the project with the fuel it needed to move forward.  We arranged to meet in Birmingham when I was next visiting the UK in early 2014.  When I arrived in the city, I found my way to the School of Jewellery at the Birmingham institute of Art and Design, where Zoe (UK) is the course director for the BA (Hons) Jewellery Design and Related Products course.  I stood there in the lobby as I waited for her to come collect me, and stared up at the glass-walled classrooms surrounding the central atrium.  It’s a beautiful building full of beautiful things – many of them shiny.

I had no idea what I was doing or whether this other Zoe and I would have any creative chemistry; we’d not yet even really spoken on the phone.  So when she bounced out of the elevator with an enormous smile, gave me a bear hug, and started parading me around the school telling her colleagues, “Look, she’s real!”, I started to think maybe things would be fine.

The next eight hours or so were spent between the bar, a restaurant, and the basement of the School of Jewellery where I took recordings as I experimented with what we were now calling the Sound Jewels.  There was – when I first looked down at the Sound Jewels with Zoe (UK) perched on a chair, waiting expectantly for me to make something happen with them – a moment of, “I have no idea how to make this into music.”  But Zoe (UK) looked so hopeful, I felt compelled to pretend I wasn’t completely lost.

I think in total I had nearly four hours of recordings.  Below is a short montage of some of the experimenting and a little bit of me ruining her Sound Jewels (whoops).

We managed to meet up again before I flew back to Canada and she spent some time interviewing me for a presentation for her students.  If you’d like to watch me talk about much of what I’ve said here, but wave my hands around quite a lot while I do so, the video below is for you:

I spent the next few months cutting the recordings into pieces and mixing them into a short piece of music, which you can hear here.

Once the music was complete I contacted Dayna Szyndrowski, a percussive dancer based in Vancouver, and asked her if she’d be interested in choreographing a piece to go with the music.  She responded with some enthusiasm, saying the music lent itself abstractly to flamenco rhythms.  Only a few days later she informed me that Vancouver’s Julie-anne Soyent and her organization MovEnt had arranged for Dayna to have four days in a black box theater at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts with lighting designer Ken Reckahn.

For four days we were spoiled by Ken’s tremendous creativity and facility while we played with camera angles, choreography, lighting, mood, space and sound.  At the end of it, I had a very tired camera and several hours of footage.  Together, Dayna and I sorted through the clips and distilled it to the final edit:

I am not a natural collaborator but both Zoe (UK) and Dayna made it very easy.  I will always have mountains to learn about process, software, creation and collaboration, and I can only hope my future projects will be so blessed with gracious company as I have experienced with red.


From January 19th to February 19th, 2015 Zoe (UK) is exhibiting her solo show flockOmania at the Lanchester Gallery, which is Coventry University’s city centre glass-fronted arts venue.  Over the course of the month, visitors have the opportunity to watch dancers interact with Zoe’s work.  On February 19th, there is a finale performance of improvised dance.  For more information about flockOmania, visit the website.


red was completed using open-source software.

For audio recording and editing: REAPER

For video editing and post-processing: BLENDER3D

The process of turning the Sound Jewels red would not have been possible without the technical support of the Blender Artists Community forum, with a particular thank you to 3pointedit for his (patience with me and) node set-up.

2 responses to “making things red”

  1. Zoe Robertson says:

    This is wonderful. There are more of us in this big beautiful world! Zoe Robertson, Edinburgh

    • zoomaway says:

      Always lovely to meet yet another ZR!
      I loved Edinburgh when I was there. Please say hello to it for me.

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