Original letters from WW1 soldiers are the basis for new sonic art work

10 May 2016

New sound art work project to begin this month

Homing is a new sound art work created by artists Jen Southern and Sam Thulin with the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan); a special commission for the WW1 centenary commemorations. Homing uses sound to make connections at a distance; between presence and absence, people and place, displacement and home.

The work is based on the original letters of Preston soldiers serving in the front line trenches of World War One (WW1), taken from the archives of Lancashire Infantry Museum. The letters are testament to the attempts of soldiers and their loved ones to keep in touch despite the distances and atrocities of the war. The distance was not only physical; the longer the war continued the greater the distance in life experience between soldiers and those at home. Each letter represents an attempt to bridge that gap and, as much as is said, more is left unsaid or is unsayable.

Artist Jen Southern said: “Through hearing letters read by local young people, we hope that listeners will find new connections between their own lives and those of Preston soldiers who fought in WW1; the ways that people care for each other through their communications, and things that interfere with clear understanding of other people’s experiences. Through a sense of absence and presence, clarity and interference, we hope that people will reflect on the difficulties and richness of communication.”

The experience, which is accessed through headphones, begins at the Roll of Honour in the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, and moves out onto the Flag Market and the Cenotaph. At the Roll of Honour, a sound composition from the cemeteries at the Somme can be heard, with all the sensory qualities of the local conditions; wind, rain, whistling, stonework. Out on the Flag Market, these sounds give way to fragments of stories from the men in the trenches; a stilted marriage proposal, an enquiry about health, a thank you for kippers sent through the post, a description of daily conditions and accounts of the terrible realities of the conflict.

Approaching the Cenotaph, the soldiers’ words are disrupted by ever intensifying GPS interference. This distant, targeting technology of modern day warfare, creates a sonic fog through which individual voices can no longer be heard, reflecting the difficulty of communication through the constant battle between signal and noise. 

"Through a sense of absence and presence, clarity and interference, we hope that people will reflect on the difficulties and richness of communication."

Homing contrasts the modes of communication used in WW1 and contemporary war. Voices from the harrowing fight on the front collide with the current technology that emphasises accuracy, immediacy and removal of the body from warfare, but that cannot know the context on the ground.

The recordings of the letters have been made with The North West Officer Training Regiment, RSM of 4th Battalion; The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, students on the UCLan acting course and students of the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, North West.

Walk, sit, drift and meander to experience this new sonic art work. Photographs, drawings and letters belonging to the soldiers can also be seen in the first floor cabinets of the Harris Museum.

The project begins on Saturday 21 May 11.00am – 4.00pm at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery where visitors can meet the artists and experience the work. On Wednesday 25 May at the launch event from 5.00pm – 6.30pm visitors can experience the work and hear more about the project.