Lowlands 2010 by Susan Philipsz is a moody, emotive sound installation art piece which won the Turner Art Prize in the same year. The audio sound is of a single female voice singing a hymn-like song, almost like an old, slow Christmas carol or a hymn sung in church. The voice is distant and echoing, sometimes layered over itself or layered with other sounds of wind or low hushed sounds of trains passing.
Phillipsz is singing three versions of ‘Lowlands Away,’ a Scottish lament (a piece of music expressing sadness or grief (Longman Dictionary 2017) ) about a man who drowned at sea and returns to tell his lover of his death (BBC 2010). The piece is eerie and interesting but received mixed reviews after being the first sound art winner of the Turner prize, with many criticizing her work and claiming it as music and not art (BBC 2010). While I can see that point of view, I would argue that all art/design and music now is highly interdisciplinary and all can be viewed as the other. Phillipsz manipulates existing music with her own voice and then with layering the versions as well as experimenting with the locations of where it was played. These various levels of manipulation transform it into an experiment which can definitely be considered as art.
Phillipsz’s body of work all centres around reworking existing works of music (from 16th Century folk to Nirvana) and then projecting them in specific urban spaces such as alleyways or bus stations. She intentionally ‘leaves in breaths and imperfections in her works to create intimacy’ (TATE 2017) reinforcing the ideas of memory, loss and longing she explores.
Her work is important in exploring relationships between sound, space, memory and emotion. When her work is placed into a gallery, it again changes meaning and becomes more meditative and possibly changes the viewer’s emotional response as it triggers different memories in different locations. While her work is emotionally evocative, I cannot say it is particularly important in a social setting or a reflection on any particular political climate or issue. As art, music and sound are extremely subjective and arguably only serve purpose as entertainment or personal expression, it is hard to say whether this work is significant in any way.
After extensive research on sound art, I could not find anything that stuck out as being influenced by this particular work, however it does seem that her Turner Prize win in 2010 did pave way for sound art to be recognised as a form of art again. With a few influential pieces from earlier in the century (as per our list), sound art has been ignored in the last 30 years, however, finally in 2013 MoMA held its first major exhibition focused solely on sound art.
BBC 2017, Turner Prize: Susan Phillipsz wins with Lowlands Away, BBC, viewed 2 May 2017, <http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-11928557>.
Longman Dictionary 2017, Lament in Music topic, Longman, viewed 2 May 2017, <http://www.ldoceonline.com/Music-topic/lament>.
TATE Museum 2017, Who is Susan Phillipsz?, TATE, viewed 2 May 2017, <http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/susan-philipsz-war-damaged-musical-instruments/philipsz-introduction>.