Enhancing visual art through sound

Posted May 4, 2016


Rarely do we ever see sound and installation art working together, but artist Susan Philipsz has been exclusively exploring the effects of merging sound and visuals of sheet music for more than two decades.  In her latest exhibition of immersive sound at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, Philipsz investigates the effects of sound on the viewers.

When you first step into the institution with exhibits located in the heart of the art district of Wynwood, the open space compliments the simple placing of large prints of music sheets hung neatly against the walls. In front of these prints, speakers are strategically placed for optimum sound effects. This is the majority of Philipsz’s exhibition— a combination of sound and sheet music visuals.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Philipsz obtained her bachelor of fine arts from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design of Scotland and her master of fine arts from University of Ulster. Upon completing her masters program, she also concluded a fellowship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2010, she won the Turner Prize for her sound installation, “Lowlands,” which was a controversial recording of Philipsz herself singing a 16th-centurty Scottish ballad, “Lowlands” in three parts. The song was installed on the underside of Glasgow’s three bridges. Her win was disputed because many critics did not believe she was a sound artist.

Many of her works have been exhibited at prestigious museums world wide, including but not limited to the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Hamburger Bahnhof, Institute of Contemporary Art, as well as the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Philipsz’ main focus is to discover the psychological and sculptural possibility of sound. As a part of her installation, “Part File Score,” she records her own voice to play in an architectural environment that is immersive to increase the viewers’ interaction with the works. The entire exhibition focuses on listening.

Each of the pieces in the installation was unique. There are some storylines and themes that are recurrent, such as the themes of hope, loss, longing and return. In collaboration with the sounds, the visual experiences are enhanced and provoke greater personal reactions.

As the part of the visuals, Philipsz had silkscreen works of FBI’s surveillance of Austrian Composer, Hanns Eisler, during his period of exile from the United States from 1938 to 1946 due to suspected Communist activities. These prints were primarily score sheets of Eisler’s songs with major censoring, hiding most information on them.

The music playing was matched coherently with the music sheets displayed, including “The Distant Sound,” “The Missing String” and a 40-minute loop of “Prelude of Passacaglia.”

With these songs on constant loop, the never-ending and constant movement of sounds, the effect becomes almost hypnotic. The eerie end results of the sounds goes along with the strict surveillance Eisler went through during his exile.

In this particular installation, along with many others, Philipsz incorporates the 12-tone technique, which was a technique developed by Eisler’s mentor. The technique challenges the typical musical composition by giving each note as much equal play in the piece as possible. This also contributes to the hypnotic effect of the sound on the viewers.

The large open space of the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse is the perfect place for Philipsz to display her installation. The sounds echo just the right amount and in the best way to create a space of eeriness and take the viewers back in time to feel that chill down their spine of being hunted down by the FBI.

Although Philipsz’s work depends heavily on the architectural structure if the host building, this is also what makes her work unique, rare and temporary in the best way possible.Gone are the days or merely staring at a canvas. Now, as you head to the spacious gallery at the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, you can enter Susan Philipsz’s world where sound aids your perception of the art.

  • Title: “Part File Score”
  • Artist: Susan Philipsz
  • Type of art: Immersive sound installation
  • Museum: The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse
  • Location: 591 NW 27th St., Miami, Fla. 33127
  • Open: Wednesdays-Saturdays 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.
  • Telephone: 305-576-1051
  • Website: http://www.margulieswarehouse.com
  • Personal Rating 4/5 stars