Introducing Site Singing…
My work spans the mediums of voice and live performance, drawing, sound art, video and artistic direction. In the summer of 2014 I returned to Bristol after fourteen years away, and began my Site Singing project as a way to both re-engage with the region and explore my voice in new ways. In this on-going project, I venture out to conduct solo vocal experiments at a selection of heritage sites in the region, working directly with the acoustics to ‘vocalise’ ruined of lesser-visited sites. The project also manifests in the form of exhibitions, workshops and collaborations.
More about the project:
In what ways do heritage sites have ‘many voices’?
Can vocal encounters with such sites produce new forms of ‘polyphonic’ response, even when working solo?
How can such responses be used to share, and contribute to, our understanding, experience and interpretation of historical sites?
This blog was originally created to document my development of site-specific sound works at a selection of English Heritage sites in South West England. Through the work, I intended to voice to explore, and reflect on the significance, of historical sites, with the initial aim of creating downloadable sound works for visitors as a form of alternative interpretation – although the parameters of the project have since expanded beyond this into performance, events, exhibitions, collaborations and residency projects. Having spent much of my childhood being physically in and around ancient sites and castles, I hope to draw attention to the sensory nature of visiting such sites, and relate this to their overall significance.
I started by selecting some of the less frequented sites in the English Heritage guide book (and beyond), which can be reached by foot and public transport within a day from Bristol. At these initial sites (and at several more since), I conduct sonic explorations of each site, working directly with the acoustics, and responding to the existing sounds of each site. Using a simple hand held recorder, I create field recordings of this process, which can then be used to create inital vocal ‘sound sketches’: multi-layered sonic drawings using the voice. These form the starting point for developing new compositional possibilities for the singing voice, and will hopefully lead to creating a body of unique auditory responses which will inspire individuals to experience of the sites themselves, as well as bringing the sites to audiences in any locations where the project is presented in interdiciplinary ways. My aim is that beyond the streamable / downloadable sound-works which I hope will enhance any visit to these very special places, the project will also expand beyond this, into a music release, and the development of immersive, semi-composed live performances.
I see the historical story and significance of an individual site as being tangible in its current physical presence, and for me, that means in experiencing its acoustics. Every site as has its own sonic language or ‘sound-world’, with its latent resonances, or ‘voices’, waiting to be found. In this way, heritage sites offer and enable sensory experiences which hover between past, present and future.
My blog entries document the work in progress, through which I will further develop my approach of ‘vocalising site’ – using my own voice to give voice, or a polyphony of voices, to site. This will in turn wides my concepts of what voice, and working with voice as a compositional tool, can be. I will not be aiming to necessarily make flawless ‘choral’ sounds, but rather to use my voice as openly as I can to respond to each site, thereby also challenging and augmenting my own relationship with my voice. Through this, an inter-related site, sound and vocal practice, I aim to reflect each site individually, including its relationship with its surroundings, and the conditions of the time spent there.
Ellen Southern, July 2014 (last updated March 2019)
This independent project was initiated with the blessing of English Heritage, and has emerged from my ongoing work around voice, performance, visual art, and composition. I have since recieved much support from the Churches Conservation Trust, and the location of the collaboratove artist residency (with Berlin-based artist Markus Feiler, St John on the Wall, Bristol, 7-11th October 2018) reflects this. For more on my work see: