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River Sounding - Somerset House

Southend bell

Event preview

THIS spring, Somerset House Trust and Sound and Music will present River Sounding, a major new commission by sound artist Bill Fontana, which will take visitors on a journey through the hidden sound worlds of the River Thames.

Opening on April 15, 2010 at Somerset House, the work will create an imaginary acoustic map of the Thames, taking visitors through Somerset House’s atmospheric subterranean spaces, normally closed to the public, and out to the Great Arch on the Embankment, highlighting the building’s historical connection to the river.

River Sounding features a series of different sound sequences, recorded by Bill Fontana along a one-hundred-mile section of the Thames stretching from Richmond to Southend.

Projected through loudspeakers installed at river level in the hidden pathways beneath the courtyard, visitors will be immersed in the rich musical vocabulary of the Thames, from whistling buoys and steam pumps to hidden underwater sounds and rushing water at river locks.

The sounds will be played alongside his video images of the recording locations, which include Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, the Thames Barrier and the historic Teddington Lock.

As well as revealing the rich and varied sound worlds of the Thames, River Sounding will pay homage to Somerset House’s historical connection to the river. Somerset House was originally built as a grand riverside palace in the sixteenth century and in the eighteenth century became the home of Admiral Nelson’s Navy Office, with boats entering through the building’s Great Arch.

River Sounding will return the sounds of the river to Somerset House, highlighting the forgotten shared history of one of London’s most iconic buildings and the Thames.

River Sounding demonstrates the communicative power of sound art, and the commission launches Sound and Music’s new programme, dedicated to championing and developing audiences for new and innovative music and sound.

It will be complemented by a series of film screenings and talks by prominent cultural figures including Iain Sinclair and Romesh Gunesekera, Writer in Residence at Somerset House, engaging with River Sounding’s themes, which will take place in and around Somerset House.

Trained as a composer, Bill Fontana (born 1947, USA) is internationally known for his pioneering works in sound, which examine the nature of our acoustic environment.

He has presented his “sound sculptures” at leading museums around the world, as well as at iconic locations in many of the world’s great cities, including London’s Millennium Bridge and Big Ben, San Francisco’s Golden Gate and Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. He has received numerous fellowships for his work, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1986.

Fontana lives and works in San Francisco and is represented in the UK by Haunch of Venison.

Dates: April 15 to May 31, 2010.

Admission: Free.

Times: Monday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, Thursdays: late night opening until 8pm.

Somerset House, The Strand, London, WC2R 1LA