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 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.
Six channel sound installation for large space, 7 minutes, 2012-2017.
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.
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.
Julian Cowley (The Wire magazine), Dec. 2009 review of the work.
Abi Bliss (Frieze magazine online), 22/10/2009 review of the work.
James Charnley 2015 book referencing the work.
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.
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.
John Schofield 2007 essay referencing the work.