A genre that’s booming across London.
More public artworks in London are using music and speech. Why is sound art booming? More, different, and higher quality works of sound art have hit London since Scottish artist Susan Philipsz won the 2010 Turner Prize for her piece Lowlands.
Lowlands was a series of overlapping recordings of the artist singing an ancient Scottish lament in three different versions, played back over a loudspeaker system.
The prize showed that the genre is taken seriously - it was the first time a work of sound art has won. And since then, the piece has been performed under bridges in East London and elsewhere. She's also worked in the City, producing Surround Me, A Song Cycle for the City of London (above). A respected Culture Editor, Matthew Cain, called the win a "shot in the arm for sound art".
"The high-profile win for Susan Philipsz might just build this up to the tipping point needed for sound art to really take off." He was right – there are stacks of examples that show the genre’s growth. Another Art Angel project, in St Pancras International Station, uses sound to create a new experience of the space.
The work is by award-winning poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw. “In an aural equivalent to the camera obscura, the audience experiences the project in a solitary way - hearing fragments of individual narratives, glimpses of interior worlds drawn from monologues that glance off one another, hovering between speech and unconscious thought.” It is described as an aural Under Milk Wood.
Why is sound art back in fashion?
In part, it’s because visual art in public spaces has become, well, a bit passé. Some of the worst art in London is commissioned to be comparatively tasteless and bland – and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Sound art still has room to be different. It’s also about our current quest for the new and the temporary. Sound art is cheap to install and interesting. But it’s also about the new function of public art – to reflect a community’s voices, narrative and stories. How better to express this than with sound?
In part, this is because public art is funded to have a community remit. In most public art strategies “identity” and community cohesion are rationales for investment in it. It’s supposed to reflect and identify with the people who live around it. So for comparison, look to Brixton’s new work of art. ‘Brixton Speaks,’ is an installation by author Will Self in the troubled area.
The move to sound art is not just about new ideas and new ways of communicating; it’s also about listening to people.
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