Opening its humble exhibition space in Seven Sisters last month, SoundFjord is the UK’s first gallery dedicated solely to sonic art. While its studio setting seems cramped and unglamorous at first, that doesn’t matter once you are immersed in the audio-visual environment of its first exhibition, Stillness by Yann Novak.
The American artist’s atmospheric soundtrack plays on a loop and has your ear tuning in to pitches and frequencies that resonate in ever more intriguing ways. Meanwhile, a large projection of soft red and grey strips, reminiscent of a sub-tropical skyline, blends and transforms so slowly that you are unsure if it is really changing at all.
Yann put together the meditative soundtrack using field recordings of radio static from the airwaves in Los Angeles, and his projection combines colours extracted from photos of the sprawling Californian metropolis (a second part of the exhibition uses similar elements gathered from Seattle). While the piece has autobiographical significance for the artist – he has lived in both cities – it is designed to provide a space for the viewer’s (or listener’s) own reflection.
What’s amazing is how the installation seems to transport you beyond the diminutive room into an immense, epic landscape. It was a similar sense of space and enormity that inspired SoundFjord’s name when its founders, artist Helen Frosi and sound designer Andrew Riley, experienced an ‘expanse of sound’ after climbing a mountain in Norway.
While the exhibition transcends the four walls on an imaginative level, SoundFjord reaches out beyond the gallery in more tangible ways too, acting as a hub for a wide range of activities. Helen and Andrew describe how they took part in a Swedish festival set in a Bronze Age settlement last month, creating a space for curious festival goers to listen to audio art. They have also hosted a ‘soundwalk’ exploring the auditory life in nearby Tottenham Marshes, with the aim of ‘allowing people to attune to the sounds around them’.
Visiting SoundFjord certainly has me listening in a more attentive way. When a storm breaks outside, the beating of the rain on the gallery window takes on a magical quality (it’s almost as though London is trying to speak to LA) and on my walk back to the Victoria Line I am less focussed on my rapidly soaking feet than the sounds of raindrops pelting shops’ awnings, and the hiss of cars passing on the wet streets.
Beginning to hear subtle nuances of sound makes it seem as though there is a whole new universe to discover, one that has been right here the whole time. Although we have been educated to hone our appreciation of the visual arts, our capacity for listening and analysing what we hear has historically been neglected. SoundFjord aims to redress the balance. Art-lovers and seekers of new sensory experiences, listen up.
Stillness runs until Saturday 25 September at:
Unit 3B – Studio 28
28 Lawrence Road
Tel: 020 8800 3024
Yann Novak, photo by Jamie Drouin