Pigs do fly
The musical gates of Rochester Independent College
A musical instrument, a sculpture, a stunning art installation…and a fully-functioning set of gates.
Rochester Independent College is home to the giant, gleaming stainless-steel gates which come with an amazing secret they are also a musical instrument with the tonal range of an entire orchestra.
A public work of art, the gates promise to be a glittering landmark in Rochester even when they are not being played.
Rochester Independent College founder and principal Brian Pain commissioned Kent sound sculptor Henry Dagg to create the gates.
A former BBC sound engineer, Henry is dedicated to ‘making new sounds from old technology’ and is well known for inventing unique, hand-built musical instruments.
An accomplished musician and composer, he’s also a self-taught engineer, blacksmith, craftsman, electronics expert and a world-class musical saw player.
Like all his creations, Rochester’s musical gates and railings were made in Henry’s home workshop in Faversham, a former factory he calls the ‘Biscuit House’, itself surrounded by its own musical railings, designed to be played like a glockenspiel.
Rochester’s gates and railings are not the first large-scale steel instrument Henry has built. His magnificent Sharpsichord, a two ton, 46-string, programmable pin-barrel harp, accompanied Björk on her 2011 Biophilia album and tour.
Henry has performed for royalty – famously reducing Prince Charles to tears of laughter with a recital on his Catastrophony ‘cat organ’ at a royal garden party.
The gates and railings were designed to be a team instrument, played by 10 to 15 musicians together, each performer covering three or four notes.
“It will require a group of players to co-operate, in a manner similar to hand-bell ringers which will help develop skills every musician needs to be a good ensemble player,” explains Henry.
To cover all the parts found in typical mainstream music arrangement, it boasts a range of over six octaves, comparable to a full orchestra, and features vibraphone bars, tubular bells and organ pipe-like tubes with resonating strings that can be plucked, struck or bowed.
So, why is it covered in flying pigs?
The flying pig is the unofficial mascot of Rochester Independent College. The College has flourished, often against the odds, for nearly 35 years.
Back in 1984, Brian Pain and Simon de Belder who had for many years taught Maths at other schools decided to set up on their own. But friends were not convinced the notoriously scruffy pair could convince a bank to help finance restoration of the derelict building on Star Hill they had chosen for their new school.
One unkind acquaintance went so far as to give Brian a jumper adorned with a large flying pig for him to wear to the bank interview. But the pig worked its magic. The pair were loaned £40,000 and Rochester Independent College was born.
RIC now teaches students from year 7 and boasts one of the largest independent sixth forms in Kent. Hundreds of students over the years have also gone on to flourish often despite earlier hurdles in their education.
The flying pig has come to represent both the College and the students and has now been immortalised in a magnificent piece of public art.