Field – City groupwork – Research – Susan PhilipszPosted: February 2, 2014
During our first Sonic Arts lecture, our lecturer played us a piece that really resonated with me. It is a sound instillation called “Lowlands” by Susan Philipsz, and it won the Turner prize in 2010 and is the first sound instillation to ever have won the Turner prize. The piece consisted of recordings of her singing a folk song called Lowlands Away, a song about a man drowned at sea who returns to tell his lover of his death, however the words are almost indistinguishable due to the echoed nature of the recording and all that is left is the melody.
This was a very interesting experience for me, as you are able to perceive a human voice and the tone and melody of the speech, yet you cannot understand or even hear the words. I found it to be almost a form of loss of control, constantly trying to make sense of the abstract image (or in this case sound) put in front of you. It in fact reminds me of when I suffer from migraines, I get blind spots in my vision and so looking at a person’s face is a very disconcerting experience as you can see parts of the face, and know that it is in fact a face yet it is obscured and difficult to understand. We often take for granted our inherent ability to understand the world around us, looking at an object and knowing “that’s a chair” or hearing a noise and knowing “that’s a car”, and this piece exposes us to a whole new way of seeing the world and forcing us to embrace our lack of understanding.
Despite this feeling of not understanding and loss of control, the work doesn’t in any way make me feel on edge and is in fact quite mesmerising. Even without being able to hear the words I was very aware that it was a song about the ocean (possibly coupled with the fact it was played under bridges near water) as the melody had that very distinctive melancholy found in sea shanties. I very much like the idea of distorting the human voice, the voice is an extremely powerful tool in connecting with other people and providing comfort which is often overlooked as we use it so frequently every day, and that combination of the comfort taken from the melody and the yearning to understand is a very interesting outcome.