One day with a Sound Artist

As a lover of art and music, I have been enjoying exploring the burgeoning contemporary art form of sound art. Sound art has been recognised since the early 20th Century with artists such as the Futurist Luigi Russolo who wrote the treatise The Art of Noises. The Dadaists for example, also experimented with noises. By now, sound art is becoming more recognised as an art form in its own right, although it is frequently carried out in an interdisciplinary manner e.g. with explorations into the environment, the human body, sculpture, film or video. Sound art was thrust into the limelight recently in 2010 when Scottish artist Susan Philipsz won the Turner Prize with her non visual sound installation. Currently, London is home to the UK’s only sound art devoted gallery and research unit –  SoundFjord which I am sure I’ll blog about soon, once I’ve visited it in person and not just online.

I was lucky to meet sound artist Tansy Spinks when I went to the Venice Biennale in November. Tansy is also a musician and works in art and design Universities, meaning that we have quite a lot of common ground between us.

I have been assisting Tansy in a sound work called Silent Zone, Site and Sound which took place on Thursday 1st March 2012 12 noon – 6.30pm in the Old College Library at Chelsea College of Art & Design.

The Old College Library is as the name suggests, part of the old college of Chelsea College of Art & Design which is evident in the wooden features and original lecterns which may not be visible in the photographs, but are on the upper level. The Old College Library is used as a silent reading room and is home to the special collections of the library.

I had been assisting Tansy to find a special space for her sound work, as she is interested in non gallery spaces (as I also am, which was outlined in this post). The aim of the sound work was of ‘interrupting’ the everyday situation with sound. The sounds were to be prompted and determined by aspects of the site, its materials, history and useage. Equipment including microphones, a looping station and mixing desk were used to create layers of sound throughout the day so that the sound work was organic.

Once we had confirmed safe use of the space, we set up on the morning of the performance. Tansy organised her performance area with writing implements and other instruments and materials that would be used to make, record and replay sounds into the space relating to paper, writing and reading. The artist also used two texts for inspiration – William Morris’s The Aims of Art and John Ruskin’s The Mystery of Life and its’ Arts, both of which are housed in the library as part of the special collections.

the sound artist's performing space set up

Throughout the day, the artist was creating two things simultaneously. Firstly, the sounds themselves, which were created using a range of techniques from writing with a fountain pen with a sharp nib making a scratchy sound or shading with pencil for a softer sound and turning pages loudly or scrunching paper up for different sounds which were all made, recorded and replayed adding to the loop. At the same time, the large notebook that the artist wrote and drew in, would become a lasting object and documentation of the performance. The pages of the notebook were split into two – one side became a log of sounds through the day that the artist kept a running note of and on the other side Tansy wrote her own text using the Morris and Ruskin books for inspiration and citation.

During the day, the silent space was still being used by student and staff as part of the library and because we had placed two amplified speakers in hidden positions on the upper level, the ‘experiencer’ of the performance would not immediately be able to tell where the sound was coming from. Overall, this experience played on the juxtaposition of sound and silence.

I felt privileged to have been present throughout the performance and to have been able to help this exploration to come together. I found the sound work to be powerful and thought provoking and it has got me thinking about a future collaboration with Tansy, that we have already started to discuss… so watch (and listen out for) this space!

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8 Comments on “One day with a Sound Artist”

  1. sbmacinnis says:

    Interesting project. Was the performance recorded, and if so is it online?

    • we were recording sound bites as it were and videoing sections throughout the day. It’s being edited now and a sample will probably go up on Tansy’s website where she has other performance work. I’ll post any updates on here though! I made a short video but not sure the sound quality is great, I’ll take a look at it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. that`s the challenge, isn`t it .. creating a sound work which works within the space, but not so much that people don`t notice it. Wish I could be in the library in Chelsea to hear it. Especially since John Ruskin wrote about visual art and architecture so much. It would be a great experience to hear his words sound within walls of books ….

  3. […] also since I enjoy working with libraries and their collections, which you can read more about in this post that describes my work with a sound artist in the Old College Library at Chelsea College of Art […]

  4. […] Silent Zone, Site and Sound which was discussed in a previous blog post of mine that you can see here. The curator was introduced to the work of Phil Jones (a designer and typographer carrying out a […]

  5. […] Just below is the edited film, included in the exhibition, which shows film and sound clips from the live performative soundwork Silent Zone, Site and Sound which I have previously written about on this blog here. […]


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