My Residency at Senate House Library in conjunction with the Radical Voices exhibition has resulted in four sound pieces, the last three of which form a kind of tryptich.
The first piece, ‘Senate House’ is based on ambient sounds collected in the library by the previous sound artist in residence, Hannah Thompson. The principal element is the distinctive noise of the electronic security gates that regulate the entrance and exit of people to and from the library. You can also hear the sounds of footsteps in the stairwell, a voiceover from a video advertising the library’s facilities, and the distant sounds of police and protesters taken from video footage of the eviction of protesters from the building at the end of the student occupation in 2013.
The remaining three pieces centre around political speeches delivered by three contrasting but related dissident political figures:
Aneurin Bevan ( 1897 – 1960), often known as Nye Bevan, was a Welsh Labour Party politician who rose to become Minister for Health in the post-war Attlee government from 1945 to 1951.He dropped out of school at an early age to follow his father into the colliery. Becoming active in the miner’s union, he educated himself, overcoming a childhood stammer. He was feted as an erudite and compelling public speaker. Winston Churchill called him ‘a squalid nuisance’.
The source material for this piece is a recording of a speech delivered in 1956 at Trafalgar square, criticising the Conservative government’s invasion of Egypt following the seizure of the Suez Canal by forces loyal to the socialist president Nasser. Twenty thousand people heard Bevan speak, after which a crowd attempted to march on Downing street. Anthony Eden’s authority never recovered from the fiasco of the Suez Crisis, which has been characterised as the last gasp of the British Empire.
Robert ‘Bobby’ Seale b.1936 co-founded the Black Panther Party along with Huey P. Newton. The BPP were inspired by the teaching’s of Malcolm X to pursue ‘freedom by any means necessary’ . Seale described the Panthers as "an organization that represents black people and many white radicals relate to this and understand that the Black Panther Party is a righteous revolutionary front against this racist decadent, capitalistic system."
This piece is derived from a speech given at the Fillmore East, NYC in May 1968, before a largely white audience, at a rally to raise awareness for the recently arrested Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver. Scale continues to speak publicly, and has produced a range of cookery books.
Gudrun Ensslin (1940 – 1977), the daughter of a Protestant pastor and former Girl Scout, was a founding member of the German urban guerilla group Red Army Faction., It has been suggested that Ensslin was the intellectual head of the RAF. She was involved in the bombing of German commercial and security institutions, and a number of assassinations.
The piece is based around a recently discovered recording from the 192 day trial of four leading members of the RAF, the so-called Baader-Meinhoff gang. Proceedings took part in a specially constructed building at a maximum security prison in Stammheim. Here Ensslin outlines the political position of the RAF, a year and a half before her alleged suicide.
Through digital manipulation, these three pieces seek to enhance and interrogate the character of the speaker’s voices, in an attempt to discover and decipher coded messages.
All four compositions rely heavily on Trevor Wishart’s Composer Desktop Project, an open- source software suite of tools for sound transformation. The visuals were devised by David W. Speck, who lives and works in London.
All of the works can also be streamed audio-only through Senate House Library on SoundCloud.