Soundings:thought over time. Herbert Read Gallery, UCA Canterbury
Soundings: thought over time
A series of digital prints constructed from words extracted from the core sample taken from a stack of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Words Articulated (2011)
A closely connected path of words
Nuns Walk. Studies for soundwork at Polesden Lacey National Trust property. Part of the Garden Journeys project funded by the Arts Council and Surrey County Council.
Nun’s Walk (2006) was a temporary sound installation set along a secluded pathway in the grounds of a National Trust property and former stately home Polesden Lacey, in Bookham, Surrey UK.
In this project my intension was to alter the feel of the space without changing its appearance. The location was familiar to many visitors who regularly walked in the grounds, so for these ‘regulars’ I wanted to alter their experience of the space without interrupting its distinctive natural beauty. I was trying to manipulate an intangible element of the space – its ‘atmosphere’ or ‘feel’ without altering its ‘look’. This brought to mind what George Perec in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces called an ‘ambient milieu’ - the immateriality of sound; its simultaneous something and nothingness.
…not the void exactly, but rather what there is round about or inside it… To start with, then, there isn't very much: nothingness, the impalpable, the virtually immaterial; extension, the external, what is external to us, what we move about in the midst of, our ambient milieu… (Perec, 1997: 5)
The Nun's Walk carried associations with spiritual spaces, in its title and with the arching Yew trees which provided a corridor effect, reminiscent of cloisters. I was curious to find out whether sound could transform the sense of space in the landscape, and what this experience would feel like. Would it be oppressive, liberating, disturbing or reassuring? Would added sound in the landscape be experienced as an externalization of the 'inner voice' or maybe conjure sad or happy memories?
I created a zone in the centre section of the pathway where there would be a blend of sounds evocative of the location’s distant past, its recent past, and its present, which would heightened visitors aural awareness, and provoke a shift of focus from the (dominant) visual sense to the aural one – a sense closely connected to emotions. Initial recordings of the ambient sound revealed that the site was surprisingly noisy for such a rural location, with jets flying over from Gatwick, light aircraft, helicopters, birds, sheep, dogs, children, adults, lawn mowers, maintenance noises (such as hammer strikes), wind in trees, and footsteps on the pathway. So, my final blend of sounds for playback along the pathway had to be highly pronounced, and fairly unsubtle, in order for it to be heard above the general ambient sound of the site, and for there to be a clear contrast between the sound zone and the rest of the location.
A series of sixteen speakers was set up half-way along the pathway. The sound of single and then multiple footsteps were played into the space, along with the sounds of children playing, dogs barking and birds singing which had been recorded in the locality over a number of months. I added occasional interjections of sounds referring to the history of the location, which included a section of gramophone music dating from Edwardian times, and garden-party chatter, wine glasses clinking and gentle laughter.
The piece blurred the boundaries between the present, the recent past, and the distant past of the imagination. It was almost impossible to distinguish between actual sounds and the recorded sounds taken from the locality. The overall effect heightened awareness of the sounds around, as well as making the visitor conscious of the sound they themselves made as they moved through the space. It disturbed the visitors’ perceptual experience of the space, while the space itself appeared visually unaltered.
It was interesting to note that as one moved out of the sound zone there was a sense of loss, of leaving something behind, of parting, which generated mixed emotions: in part, a sense of sadness at leaving an intense experience, but also a sense of release, of freedom from the experience. One moved out of the sound zone with a heightened awareness of oneself and with a stronger feeling of connection to the environment, yet this left a sense of vulnerability, as if this new, exposed, self-aware person was emerging from a protective ‘blanket’ of sound.
Lights. Studies for Lights and Light and Breath. Part of Beyond Belief - a site-specific project at St Mary's Church, Guildford.
Brushes. Digital Prints.
Water-table. A site-specific project for Silent Pool. Devised to highlight the fragility of the aquifer water reservoirs.
Soundings: thought over time is a multidisciplinary collaborative exhibition and performance by Susan Ryland (visual artist) and Helen Thomas (oboist and composer). The work uses knowledge metaphors such as ‘In light of what you say’ or ‘I have unearthed new information’ as a starting point for a visual and sonic dialogue on how language and meaning change over time.