SAMSON YOUNG: Sound and music was my original training. So although these days I'm making videos and drawings and objects, music is still one of the lenses through which I process the world.
As a student, I played the double bass. As a double bassist, you don't really play a lot. You spend a lot of time mentally prepping yourself for the passage to come and the way you would do it is to sort of silently finger through the passage. And I remember thinking what it might sound like if the entire orchestra started doing that as a way to practice a piece.
The Muted Situation [series], the whole series started with a pretty simple prompt. I was asked to make a series of works for a library. There's some interesting energy in that paradox: in that a library, you think of it as a quiet place, but it's not a place without sound. Certainly if somebody like a librarian sort of walking around with a cart and pushing books around, those sounds are heard and not judged against.
I started sort of thinking about the different situations where you could actually very selectively choose to mute one layer of sound I basically sat down and wrote twenty of these situations.
When I needed to make another one for the Sydney Biennale, I knew that I wanted to make that one the last one. So I thought about this idea again and I know the orchestra is just going to work, like, sonically. You need something that is almost too ridiculously romantic with big sweeping orchestral gestures, like one layer of sound colliding over another the entire string section speaking against the wind section.
Tchaikovsky's 5th is used in movies a lot. It's used in advertising a lot. So even if people don't know the entire symphony, there would be themes and motifs that people will recognise from here and there. So then you will get this effect of almost ghosting of the melody in your head. If you have a remote control, and you can mute specifically one layer of sound and then have the other layers of sound remain. That's what Muted Situation is.
Underneath that pitch layer, there’s rhythm, there’s bodily movement. You know there are all these things that exist, but they're just not being heard. There's an aggressive energy behind that idea of muting something.
Artist Samson Young explains the origins of his Muted Sounds series, in which musicians are instructed to perform without creating music
Multidisciplinary artist Samson Young was trained as a composer and graduated with a PhD in Music Composition from Princeton University in 2013. His academic background in music has led him to incorporate elements of experimental music, sound studies, and site-specific performance into his art practice. He uses sound as a tool, cutting through the veil of the everyday to uncover ideologies and political propositions.
For his work Muted Situations #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th (2018), Young instructed the Flora Sinfonie Orchester of Cologne to perform without any music. The musicians played with muted instruments, heightening all other sounds that they make during their performance: their breathing, turning of pages of sheet music, the movement of the keys of the instruments. Young forces the listener to reimagine and reconstruct the music through sounds that would otherwise be masked or marginalised. The work is part of a larger series, Muted Situations, in which Young brings what is normally less audible to the fore and constructs a new soundscape.
- Produced by
- M+ Curatorial Research
Pi Li, Isabella Tam, Kary Woo
- M+ Video Production
Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Angel Ng
Read more about Young’s use of sound (and its removal), as well as an interview about his exhibition Songs of Disaster Relief. This video was originally published on M+ Stories.