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Susan Stenger's Sound Strata

Date uploaded: February 16, 2015

AV Festival has announced a new touring exhibition of Susan Stenger’s commission Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland, her sound installation that premiered at Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in March 2014. The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication with a specially commissioned essay by nature writer Robert Macfarlane.

Commissioned for AV Festival 14: Extraction, Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland is based on a cross-section diagram of coastal geological formations from the River Tyne to the Scottish border, drawn by the pioneering mining engineer Nicholas Wood in 1838. Using the diagram as a graphic score, Stenger transforms the geologic into the sonic in a 59-minute work that travels from the coal seams of Tyneside to the porphyritic rocks north of the River Tweed, layering instrumental sounds, melodic patterns and signature rhythms extracted from traditional Northumbrian music and dance.  The 2015 tour across Northumberland mirrors this journey, travelling to places referenced on the Wood diagram and returning the work to the landscape of its inspiration.

Responding to history, culture and place names as well as the drawn topography, Stenger combines the surface detail of fiddle and Northumbrian pipe patterns with deep shifting seams of brass band harmonies, Border and Highland pipes, and voice to create a singular portrait of place. The installation features the 12.5-metre long geological strata diagram by Nicholas Wood, presented in a vitrine that replicates the contours of a section of the Northumberland coastline.

From March to September 2015 the exhibition tour follows in Wood’s footsteps to three diverse locations, beginning on the coastal ramparts in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed at The Gymnasium Gallery, followed by the historic colliery site of Woodhorn Museum in Ashington, and ending on Holy Island in a former coastguard Lookout Tower, sited against a panorama of the Northumberland coastline.

  • 21st of March to the 26th of April, The Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed
  • 21st of June to the 26th of July, Woodhorn Museum, Ashington
  • 1st of August to the 6th of September, The Lookout Tower, Holy Island

Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland is accompanied by a fully illustrated 96-page hardback publication, including a CD stereo mix of the installation. The publication includes essays by writer Robert Macfarlane and the writer, curator and filmmaker Katherine Waugh, an interview between the artist and curator Mathieu Copeland and AV Festival Director Rebecca Shatwell, and an annotated facsimile of Stenger’s working score. It contains a full colour reproduction of Nicholas Wood’s original 1838 cross-section diagram. This is the first comprehensive publication about Susan Stenger and provides detailed information about Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland as well as background on the artist’s practice.

Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland presents a programme of talks and events during the tour including a series of unique coastal sound walks led by the acclaimed wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson; an opening concert with two of Scotland’s leading folk musicians, the songwriter, guitarist and singer Alasdair Roberts and piper Barnaby Brown; a traditional Northumbrian folk music concert at Woodhorn Museum with leading Tyneside folk musicians Stewart Hardy, Chris Ormston, Andy May and Benny Graham; and a special closing concert including a new work by Susan Stenger presented in the unique acoustics of St Mary’s Church on Holy Island.

AV Festival is a biennial festival that had its first edition in 2003. Since then it has developed to become a significant international event taking place across North East England. The Festival became a month-long event in 2012 with the critically acclaimed AV Festival 12: As Slow As Possible. The most recent edition was AV Festival 14: Extraction in March 2014. Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland is the Festival’s first touring project and publication. It is commissioned and curated by Rebecca Shatwell, Director of AV Festival.

Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland is funded by Arts Council England through its strategic touring programme and Northumberland County Council.

For further information click here.

Photo credit Colin Davison.

Photo credit Colin Davison.