Soundtrap III: Aura Satz Glissolalia

Beaconsfield Commissions 2008

27 June – 1 August
Friday – Sunday, 12 – 6pm
By appointment only – please contact Beaconsfield to arrange visit

Friday 27 June, 6 – 9pm
preview and free live performance with Aleks Kolkowski (musical saw),Lydia Kavina (theremin) and a Barbershop Quartet.

Video of the performance

The clear-spot on ‘Glissolalia’ was broadcast on Resonance FM on the 18th July 8-9pm

download the MP3 file here

Aura Satz explores ghostly presence and illusion through performance and sound, often focussed on unusual sonic devices, early musical instruments and automata. This new commission draws on acoustic illusions and plays on the vocal quality of non-human instruments.

Over a six-week period, the artist has responded to the architecture of the former Lambeth School, working with the haunting resonance of Beaconsfield’s upper space, through a series of recording sessions and site-specific sound editing. During this time, various musicians were invited to respond, in the manner of Chinese whispers, to an initial composition based on the acoustic illusion of the Shepard scalei. By drawing on a range of sound sources – test-tone recordings, musical saw, theremin and voice – references to classic perceptual illusions have degenerated into a more compositional image, of coiling disembodied voices and patterned harmonies.

The choice of musical components (musical saw, theremin, barbershop singing) is based on the artist’s interest in a certain sonic quality harking back to the early days of sound reproduction. Both the musical saw and barbershop singing had their heyday around the period of the beginning of sound recordings, from the 1870-1930s. The theremin was invented by Léon Theremin in 1919, and, much like the musical saw, is played so that the first note needs ‘pitch fishing’, as there is no visible scale as such – the note needs to be found. Like the human voice, the theremin and musical saw tend to use a continuous glissando – a gliding or sliding from one note to another, as opposed to the discrete differentiated notes of the piano.

All of these components have a vocalic uncanny quality: the instruments sounding very much like a human voice, verging on the mechanical and Barbershop singing producing overtones which seem to take the human voice beyond itself. The strong nostalgic feel common to all of them seems to almost imply the scratches and wavering sound quality of gramophone recordings. The basic components of Glissolalia have a haunting ghostly sound, playing on the notion of glissando, merging each element with the next, as well as the idea of glossolalia (religious speaking in tongues, or fluent unintelligible utterances). The composition alternates between the electronically generated and the acoustic, creating a seamless continuity, where the elements bleed into one another imperceptibly, from test-tone to musical saw to theremin to barbershop quartet.

Soundtrap is Beaconsfield’s annual portfolio scheme for new sonic works.
Aura Satz is supported by an Artsadmin artist bursary. The artist’s collaboration with Aleks Kolkowski is supported by NAN Artists’ Collaborations and the test-tone records are from Aleks’ private collection.
Sound consultation Mick Ritchie and David Crawforth
Plinths generously constructed by Jon Maisey

Related events 8-30 July 2008:

Aura Satz’s film, photography and drawing project Automamusic will be shown at Artprojx Space, 53 Beauchamp Place, London SW3 1NY, Tel: 020 7584 0717 or

The clear-spot on ‘Glissolalia’ was broadcast on Resonance FM on the 18th July 8-9pm

download the MP3 file here

The broadcast includes Aura Satz in conversation with Richard Thomas; Professor Steven Connor (Academic Director of the London Consortium) responding to the resonance of the installation Glissolalia at Beaconsfield (a transcript is available online); and Hillel Schwartz (cultural historian and visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego) reading an excerpt on Echo from his forthcoming book, A Cultural History of Noise.

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