Stolen Things installed at Ripon Courthouse Museum

Stolen Things

Eight channel sound installation, 12 mins, 2019.

A work commissioned for a historic courthouse space, focussing on the ‘voice’ of 14 year old Ann Lupton – a defendant accused of shoplifting in 1853 – the voices of her two co-defendants, and the disruptive shouting of the courtroom public gallery. Ann speaks and sings her daydreams amidst a musical collision between shiny pop melodies and rowdy crowd chants (like AG Cook clashed with Men’s Choir Shouters of Finland). Her hymn singing, shoplifting spirit is contrived out of the stolen fragments of this work’s numerous sources (which include a Taylor Swift chord progression, a newspaper court report, a Jean Genet novel, the childhood memories of local people and a Victorian hymn), and Ann seems all too aware of herself as a construct summoned into our world through these ‘lying words’. As if in revenge for this realisation, she celebrates the idea of badness – and contemporary pop phrasings – as revolt and liberation, and her story ends in a disorderly evocation of some liberatory mischief involving a malfunctioning bellows organ. Thanks to Moira Smith, Kath Beeken, Neive Zenner, Amelia Andrews and Highside Singers. Commissioned by Ripon Museums Trust.

A stereo remixed version of the work, Stolen Things (The Creeping Things Remix), is released as a single on Owd Scrat Records.

“If you are, like me, somebody who listens avidly to the Festive Fifty… It was a shame that Paul Rooney’s track [Stolen Things] only made it to number 2, another cracker from him…” Pete Jackson (Dandelion Radio). Feb. 2020 radio broadcast of the work.

“I love that, and I hope you did too, Stolen Things, new from Paul Rooney…” Stuart Maconie, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone (BBC 6 Music). 5/1/2020 radio broadcast of the work.

“That fantastic thing was Stolen Things (The Creeping Things Remix) by Paul Rooney.” Fenny, On the Wire (BBC Radio Lancashire). 20/10/2019 radio broadcast of the work.

“… very highly crafted and beautifully done, and really challenging.” Roger Hill, The Popular Music Show (BBC Radio Merseyside). 23/09/2019 radio broadcast of the work.

“Propelled by a youthful joyfulness, it sounds as though there’s a joyous energy in resisting authority and oppressive power structures.  But then, as quickly as it began, something breaks.  Its teenage energy runs out, …like a child’s broken toy that can only sustain its exuberance for so long.  “I don’t actually believe these stories”, croaks a young voice. It’s a genuinely poignant ending to a work which could only exist in such a brutally, painfully nostalgic setting.” Tessa Norton (The Wire magazine). May 2019 review of the work.

Katie Allen (Heritage Fund website). 2019 interview referencing the work.

Black Ear (small white wall speakers) installed at Grundy Art Gallery (wall/floor work by Leo Fitzmaurice)
Black Ear (detail) installed at Grundy Art Gallery

Black Ear

Six channel sound installation for large space, 7 minutes, 2012.

A small child’s whispering voice is heard in the gallery space, along with dissonant noises and piano sounds. The child, as well as attempting to speak to ‘you’, the gallery visitor, is also, it seems, voicing over a film that we cannot see. The child haltingly reveals that the film may have been shown in the gallery sometime in the past. It contains a disturbing scene involving the death of the child’s pet stoat, seemingly staged by his father, the filmmaker. It seems that the child’s voice over has departed the body of the film to haunt the gallery: seeking someone, maybe ‘you’, to lay it to rest. Thanks to Sean Rooney.  Commissioned by Grundy Art Gallery.

A stereo version of the work appears on the Paul Rooney album Futile Exorcise on Owd Scrat Records.

Robert Clark (The Guardian). 31/3/2012 preview of the work.


Vinyl text work for corridor space at Storey Institute, Lancaster, dimensions variable, 2011.

This work was commissioned by an art gallery and a literary festival (Lancaster’s Storey Gallery and Litfest) for the corridor space that links the two organisations. The text work has for its starting point the idea of ekphrasis ­– or the translation of visual art into literature. The two large words in vinyl text, ‘HOMER ­–– HEPHAESTUS’,  are an ‘art work’ by a fictional artist, the late Alec Masterson Forbes, and this art work is ‘explained’ by an equally fictional ‘gallery text’ next to it. This institutional text is in turn ‘notated’ by a disturbing figure called Derek Wilkinson, the fictional vinyl lettering technician who has installed the work on the corridor walls. Wilkinson seems to be using his notes to re-write the legacy of Masterson Forbes in order to aggrandise Wilkinson himself – he may even have had a role in the artist’s death. It is probable that Wilkinson has entirely invented the Masterson Forbes art work and its gallery text, and killed the artist to boot, to secure himself a place in the cultural spotlight if only for a moment. Wilkinson’s notes overrun the space, spiralling up and around the classical architecture of the Storey Institute corridor, turning the discrete conceptualism of Masterson Forbes into a display of expanded confabulation gone entirely round the bend.

Transcription of the full text is here.

The Storey G2 website. 2013 article about the work.

Suzanne Heath (Public Art Network blog). 13/4/2011 article about the work.

Thin Air installed at LJMU
Thin Air installed at University of Sunderland
Thin Air accompanying booklet

Thin Air – The Psycho-Vocalic Discoveries of Alan Smithson

by Dr Annette Gomperts

Four channel sound installation for lecture theatre (with projected still images and accompanying book of lecture notes), 60 mins, 2009.

Belgian architectural historian Dr Annette Gomperts and her collaborator Paul Rooney have produced Thin Air: part academic lecture, part science-fiction story. Thin Air highlights the legacy of 1970s Leeds Polytechnic student Alan Smithson, who claimed that ‘voices’ he had recorded in the Polytechnic’s H Building were sonic manifestations of memories that had been somehow preserved in the electromagnetic ether of it’s rooms through a process which he called ‘site-anamnesis’. Smithson also asserted that the particularly radical and eventful — and ultimately tragic — history of the building had contributed to it’s facility for preserving and recalling the charged moments of remembrance. Thanks to Ron Crowcroft, Sonia Beck and Phill Harding. Commissioned by Sound and Music, Leeds Metropolitan University and MAAP.

Smithson’s recordings appear on the Alan Smithson and Annette Gomperts album Interference Zone on Owd Scrat Records

James Charnley (Creative Licence book). 2015 book referencing the work.

Ben (Toys and Techniques blog). 9/9/2010 review of the booklet.

Julian Cowley (The Wire magazine). Jan. 2010 interview referencing the work.

“Rooney’s skilfully crafted narrative left the audience in a limbo where distinctions between history and fantasy dissolved into an acoustic resonance, as elusive as those improbable ghostly taped voices. Thin Air was sound art at its least routine, imagination performing a ventriloquist’s act, speaking out of the haunted past in a borrowed voice.” Julian Cowley (The Wire magazine). Dec. 2009 review of the work.

Abi Bliss (Frieze magazine online). 22/10/2009 review of the work.

There Are Two Paths documentation still

There Are Two Paths

Two-part performance installation work for purpose built stage and two five piece bands, 40 mins each performance, 2003.

Two groups of musicians alternating two verses from ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The verses are played by one band, then repeated by the other band but played and sung backwards. Then the verses are played forwards again … and so on. The ‘Satanic’ phonetic accidents of the reversed song make lines such as “there is power in Satan” audible. Following the initial performance of the piece in the Shropshire countryside, the work was next performed in a Birmingham city centre square (this video cuts between the two performances). The popular myths of guitarists selling their souls to the devil in order to play the blues like no-one else. The English need to obsess about a rural ideal to pretend that the selling of their souls to the ‘dark satanic mills’ of industrialisation never happened. Thanks to Nowhere Near the Garden, Sarah Wilson, John Smith, Mark Goodchild, Malcolm Garrett, Freddie Thomas, and Dave Lee. Commissioned by Meadow Gallery/Ikon Gallery.

Flat 23 installed at Site Gallery
Flat 23 installed at The Walker Art Gallery

Flat 23

Six channel sound installation for three monitors, 2 mins looped, 2002.

A former resident of a Liverpool block of flats, which was about to be demolished, was asked to list the objects that filled three rooms in her former flat. This list was set to music and spoken and sung by a female voice, layered and harmonised with itself, which forms the soundtrack to static video shots of the same, now empty, rooms. The description of the hand made furniture made by the resident’s husband, who died just as they left the flat, forms the lyrics for the lead vocal harmony in the piece. The lead vocal could be both a lament for a human relationship and for the failure of art to do justice to it. Thanks to Doreen Hughes and Marie Therese Escritt. Commissioned by Further Up in the Air.

Purchased in 2015 by The Arts Council Collection.

Steve Lee (The Big Issue magazine). 21/3/2016 interview about the work.

Interview With Dr Helen Pheby (Aesthetica magazine). 15/3/2016 interview referencing the work.

John Schofield (Journal of the Arts in Society). 2007 essay referencing the work.

Dan Hicks (Situations website). 15/2/2006 interview referencing the work.

“What begins to happen through the repetition of melody and lyric is the conjuring up of the home and the lives of Doreen and Bernie Hughes. This is Paul Rooney’s archaeology.” Claire Doherty (Firstsite Gallery book). 2006 essay referencing the work.

Come Ca Art Prize North Winner Announced (Art Daily website). Oct. 2003 article referencing the work.