Using P5 Series 2 headphones, composer and sound artist Samson Young created a multi-media walk to immerse visitors in a fictional sound world for this year’s Frieze Arts Fair.
Entitled When I have fears that I may cease to be, what would you give in exchange for your soul, the narrative of the walk is presented through site-specific films, music playlists, photographs and a collection of research materials. Based loosely on Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear, the fictional world of the walk unfolds in a series of surveillance reports on Lok, owner of a bookstore that specializes in tales of personal confession, and appropriates the physical structure, processes, and people that make the fair possible. Lok is convinced that he is being pursued by foreign agents, and had pre-emptively commissioned a private investigator to document and research into his imminent disappearance.
We chatted to Young about this work and he answered some questions for us:
Did your idea change much after Frieze commissioned you?
My idea went through several changes – but relatively quickly we settled on the idea of producing a walk, which would require a significant portion of the production to be accomplished on-site at the fair in London. I was thinking about the physical structure and also the processes that make a fair possible.
Can you tell us about your approach to the project, what was your intended outcome?
I wanted to make something that is quite specific, something that would be difficult to repeat or re-stage. A whole bunch of films and sound recording were made before we came to London, but we had to make some quick decisions once we arrived at the site and make some changes over night. It was pretty stressful but I am happy with the outcome.
How did people react to the immersive landscape you created?
I think people were pleased with it. It’s a demanding piece in terms of time commitment, and it’s not a small thing to ask people to focus in such a busy and high traffic environment. But I think the sign up process is self-selecting in the sense that if somebody signed up to do a guided walk in a fair they know they have to spend some time with it and be committed to the experience for a time. So, in a nutshell, I think we had some very engaged audiences.
How does creating a piece of sound art differ from creating a musical composition?
Not much different really, shapes, forms, structure of the experience, all these things are still at play. I tend to think of everything that I do in compositional terms.
How important do you find combining audio & visual in your work? Do you find they impact on your audience in different ways?
For me it was not that strategic and it’s been an organic process. I didn’t set out to cross any boundaries really. I started out by collaborating with artists from other disciplines, where I served more of the role of a composer. And then at some point I moved to another city and lost many of my original collaborators, so I started doing it all myself. I am a real control freak too and I also realised that it’s much easier to learn to do something myself than to explain the idea to somebody.
Why did you choose to use our headphones as part of the Frieze project and what did they add to the experience?
I used them for the first time in another walk that I made back in March 2016 and I was super happy with the result. The P5 and P7 are really excellent headphones with great sound quality, but most importantly, sound insulation on these headphones is one of the best I’d experienced, and they are really comfortable to wear. With a sound walk you need very good insulation to protect the experience from the interferences from the outside world – and this is especially true if you want to take the audience into a noisy environment like the fair or out onto the streets.