On a chilly New Year's Day, we cycled through the silent streets of the City of London to discover Surround Me: A Song Cycle for the City of London. This series of site-specific sound installations is the Turner Prize-winning artist Susan Philipsz's first commission for London, and took us from the banks of the River Thames, down secret medieval alleyways, and through empty city squares.
Some of the locations proved tricky to find, and we later discovered that unfortunately not all the sites were still working. But on the grey first day of the new year, we enjoyed the experience of stumbling upon the melancholy, magical sound of Elizabethan madrigals, resonating through empty streets, blending with the sounds of traffic, birdsong and church bells.
This commission for Artangel takes its inspiration from the City's vocal tradition and the sounds of the past: there is a haunting quality about these melodies, which make oblique or explicit references to loss, disappearance and absence, linking the passage of time to the flowing tide of the river. All at once, History seems acutely present in what Peter Ackroyd calls 'the teeming silence of the city' or as Iain Sinclair puts it in his video about Surround Me, for Tate Shorts, below, 'time in the city is plural'.
Susan Philipsz also speaks about Surround Me in an Artangel Podcast, Memory. Click here to listen.
[Image via Artangel]