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London’s Tower Bridge is turning into a giant sound sculpture

A unique new sound sculpture taking place in the damp, dark and dirty Bascule Chamber of Tower Bridge highlights the impact of war

The creative industries are diverse, with huge differences in practice between seemingly similar fields, for example, visual art and craft. Even within the same field, there are vastly differing styles and approaches, as seen in multiple stage productions of the same opera or composer responses to the same stimuli. It is what makes creativity so fascinating.

While there has always been collaboration within the arts world, technology – and, perhaps, economic realities – have made intersectionality more prevalent. Enter, the sound sculpture.

Contemporary sound sculptures or installations have their roots in the mid-20th-century avant garde movement, which inevitably leads us to John Cage and his ground-breaking 4’33” (1952) and works for prepared – modified with paper, string and so on – piano (from 1940 onwards). Cage, and futurists like Marcel Duchamp, saw composition as a living experience, so that ‘unmusical’ noises from outside the stage could become part of the art. Sound artists today are taking this a step further by putting the audience at the centre of the work, so that experience becomes fully immersive. This was the case with Bill Fontana’s River Sounding (2010), which used the subterranean passages of London’s Somerset House to take the listener-viewer into a sensory journey. It was an ambitious public artwork that wove the stories of a iconic building together in a way that hasn’t since been repeated in the capital.

Like other immersive experiences, the physical comfort of the audience is not a priority for the creators of Blackout

Now though, the Guildhall School, with support from the City of London Police Museum and London Metropolitan Archives, are bringing a new sound installation to Tower Bridge’s Bascule Chamber. Blackout takes place in the space that houses Tower Bridge’s huge counterweights that are used to raise and lower the moveable sections of the bridge, known as bascules. When Tower Bridge is at rest, this cavernous brick-lined passage is empty. The chamber is usually out of bounds for visitors, but is being opened up for 17 performances from March 23-25. This setting will provide the canvas for video projections created by artists from Guildhall School’s BA in Video Design for Live Performance. (Performances last an hour and take place between 11am and 9pm on the Friday and Saturday, and 11am and 7pm on the Sunday.)

The projections are inspired by the work of two City of London police officers, Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs, who photographed the damage to the Square Mile during the Blitz. The installation combines these images with sound to explore the impact of the war at Tower Bridge and beyond. Like other immersive experiences, the physical comfort of the audience is not a priority for the creators of Blackout: as an operational space the chamber is damp, dark and dirty – an ideal location for a sculpture of the senses.

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