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Review: Emma Smith’s Euphonia at the Bluecoat

Liverpool’s Bluecoat played host to Emma Smith’s Euphonia sound installation from Friday 27 April - Sunday 24 June. Go See This contributor Miriam Dafydd shares her thoughts on this innovating programming.

The Bluecoat’s entrance, occupied by tables, is often full of the noise of clinking cutlery and visitors’ voices. On this visit, however, odd beats and bops from what sounded like a choir in practice were flooding into the entrance hall, I couldn’t help but follow the sound, which led me into the Bluecoat’s tall walled cloisters. Here I found a rapture of sound, but no choir. Instead, Emma Smith’s Euphonia was a sound installation, made up of a series of speakers in set up in a room, playing the sound of singing voices bouncing and beating off of great big Perspex curves suspended from the ceiling.

But, there was more to Euphonia than a track being looped, the experience of the artwork asked you to pay attention to your surroundings, your sight, your touch and the sounds you make by moving and talking. On entering, you are asked to fill a questionnaire and at the end of your visit, asking how close you feel to other visitors, how elated you feel, or how anguished. I scored quite low initially, being on my own, but found that when filling it a second time – I’d connected a surprising amount with how I personally felt, but also with other visitors in the gallery.

Image credit: Rob Battersby
Image credit: Rob Battersby

The change occurs when you enter the sound space – a wibble-wobble room of speakers jutting out at you, and noises fleeting around you. It felt as though the sounds followed me through the room, like those paintings whose eyes seem to track your movements. The more time I spent in there, the more I realised that the sounds weren’t looping, but always changing, repeating in constantly new compositions. These were human voices, recordings of people expressing themselves through vowels and consonants, ticking and humming – I couldn’t hear any real words, but the wave of noises sounded just like a conversation. Like listening to a language you don’t understand, you become aware of tones and notes, and quite how sing-song the human voice is.

I very rarely think about how many other people are in a gallery space with me, especially when looking at paintings on walls, but this piece made me notice each body and voice that joined me in the room, and how the sound piece changed with them. In the centre of the room was a microphone, inviting visitors to sing or speak into it. An invigilator told me that the sounds, if loud enough, are adapted by a computer and entered into the sound piece, becoming part of the dialogue. I had a go, and so did some Spanish visitors – we couldn’t communicate through English, but a few knowing looks and some singing soon got us all laughing. There was a real sense of joining together, even if through a smile, when anyone entered the room – you felt like part of something bigger.

It’s hard not to be uplifted by this piece, it allows a gentle opportunity to join in, whilst making you more aware of the beauty of noises around us – in someone’s laughter or a baby’s cooing. It suggests that there’s music in all of us, and potential for beautiful harmony when we get together. While this piece is brilliantly experienced on one’s own, I also think that families, particularly with small children, would find this especially fun.

If you missed the installation at the Bluecoat, fear not! HOME will welcome Emma Smith and Euphonia in April 2019.

Visit the Bluecoat website for more information about their upcoming exhibitions and events.

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