Lowlands: A Sigh Collective

A dozen musicians respond to an article in the Telegraph that attacked Susan Philipsz, winner of the 2010 Turner Prize.

Featuring new original music from: all n4tural, Kate Carr, He Can Jog (Erik Schoster), John Kannenberg, Mystified (Thomas Park), Tobias Reber, C. Reider, Cheddar Rimtorn (Stephan Richter), Mark Rushton, Subscape Annex (Steve Burnett), Robert M Thomas, and Stephen Vitiello

On December 6 of this year, 2010, Glasgow-based artist Susan Philipsz won the Turner Prize for her work “Lowlands.”

It was the first time ever that a work of sound — a sound installation, or piece of sound art — had won the award.

The next day, art critic Richard Dorment of the Telegraph wrote, “I loathe the kind of think-me sensitive tuneless stuff Ms Philipsz sings.” He wrote a lot more, mauling an adventurous and long-running series on BBC Radio 3 called Late Night Junction, and dispensing with folk music as a whole. (Philipsz’s “Lowlands” involves several overlapping recordings of her singing the 16th-century lament from which the piece takes its name.)

Dorment apparently feels obliged to question the status of Philipsz’s “Lowlands” as a work of art. That’s fair, even if fretting over what is and is not art is a time-consuming parlor game that keeps people busy when they might be looking for the art in things. It’s equally fair to say that what Dorment wrote is not art criticism; it’s a rant, a bullying and uninformed one that is more an expression of the author’s personal taste than an investigation of the subject at hand.

Of Philipsz’s win, Dorment wrote dismissively, “Cue a long low collective sigh from art lovers across the country.”

We took that cue seriously, as lovers of art across the world, and admirers of Philipsz’s work.

And in taking it seriously, we took it literally. This is a compilation of a dozen recordings by musicians incensed by Dorment’s assault.

Each recording on this compilation was recorded for this project, and uses the human sigh as its source material. That is Lowlands: A Sigh Collective. The words here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the participants. Their response is in their music, in their sound.

The cover art is by Brian Scott, of boondesign.com.

Marc Weidenbaum
December 2010
San Francisco

PS: Dorment’s article can be read at telegraph.co.uk. More on Susan Philipsz’s “Lowlands” and the Turner Prize at tate.org.uk. Special thanks to Geeta Dayal, Sean Lester, and archive.org.

The full compilation streams here in sequence:

See below to stream or download tracks individually.

Track 1. (Duration: 03:42) "Sighs for Susan (and Richard)" by John Kannenberg
Download: MP3. John Kannenberg (Ann Arbor, Michigan) is a musician and sound artist, and the creator, designer, and curator of Stasisfield.com

Track 2. (Duration: 01:10) "Jeremiah" by Robert M Thomas
Download: MP3. Robert M Thomas is a composer & producer from London who has worked on advertising, radio & games prior to becoming CCO at RjDj and producing interactive remixes of AIR, Carl Craig, Little Boots, Bookashade and the Inception score by Hans Zimmer.

Track 3. (Duration: 02:24) "Breathing, Page Turning" by Stephen Vitiello
Download: MP3. Stephen Vitiello (Richmond, Virginia, United States) is an electronic musician and media artist. His sound installations have been presented internationally. CDs have been published on such labels as 12k, Sub Rosa and New Albion.

Track 4. (Duration: 02:55) "Sigh Me a River" by Kate Carr
Download: MP3. Kate Carr is a musician and sound artist based in Sydney, Australia.

Track 5. (Duration: 04:00) "a long low collective sigh from art lovers across the country" by Cheddar Rimtorn / S. Richter
Download: MP3. Stephan Richter was born in East Germany 31 years ago, and has been interested in sound and image: "With my music I try to explore the ever-changing relations between those two fields, trying to position them through the application of narrative strategies into a spatial experience. I live in Hamburg."

Track 6. (Duration: 01:48) "a very long slow sigh" by Subscape Annex
Download: MP3. Subspace Annex is Steve Burnett (Raleigh, North Carolina), who makes ambient improvisational looping music with theremin, Chapman Stick, effects and constructed objects. When not performing, he is a technical writer and author.

Track 7. (Duration: 01:30) "sighfunk" by all n4tural
Download: MP3. all n4tural (Cologne, Germany) earns money constructing artificial intelligence for big companies, but is more interested in the music of everyday sounds, especially human utterances. Granular synthesis, microsound, SuperCollider.

Track 8. (Duration: 02:19) "Sighs Unseen" by Tobias Reber
Download: MP3. Tobias Reber (Biel, Switzerland) is a musician and composer of digital/algorithmic music and sound installations, with related interests in applied media theory, utopia, fantastic fiction, and ecology.

Track 9. (Duration: 01:34) "Snow Storm: Voices Settling Through Hastings" by Mark Rushton
Download: MP3. Mark Rushton is a sound and visual artist living in Iowa City, Iowa. Rushton also helps produce the monthly fiction audio magazine Boundoff.com. Download his music for free at markrushton.com.

Track 10. (Duration 01:21) "Ten Sighs for Philipsz" by C. Reider
Download: MP3. C. Reider is a composer of electronic music, he runs the Vuzh Music label. He lives in Northern Colorado, in the United States. 

Track 11. (Duration 03:16) "Variations for a Sigh and a Sigh" by He Can Jog
Download: MP3. He Can Jog is computer musician Erik Schoster from Milwaukee Wisconsin.

Track 12. (Duration 02:14) "Mystified Sighs" by Mystified
Download: MP3. Mystified, aka Thomas Park (Saint Louis, Missouri, United States), was trained on trombone and piano, and evolved into the ambient / drone fields, writing mostly somewhat minimal, spooky soundscapes. 
Bonus: Track 13. (Duration 03:07) "Sigh Beat" by Ethan Hein
Download: MP3. Ethan Hein is a producer and music teacher living in Brooklyn. He's working on his first book, Cold Technology, Hot Beats, about the impact and meaning of electronic music.

4 thoughts on “Lowlands: A Sigh Collective

  1. Hello Marc, Now I’m enjoying to listen to the sighs. For me even The Guardian’s supportive article was disappointing because it couldn’t appreciate her work itself without connecting it with some kind of political correctness, namely the ongoing students’ protest (I’m for the protest, though). Why do the mainstream media often fuss about, or put unnecessary justification for artworks that cannot be touched or seen? I’ve found this tendency in some NYT’s articles…

  2. Your music is pretty interesting – so far I heard #7 sighfunk (my friend’s) and a couple others. Sighfunk for me made a strong statement about how much meaning can be stored in simple and short human noises – very relevant for AI (think “Robot Sound Designer” on yer biz card). I saw immediately the value of studying such sounds, even a little bit the possibility of putting such music out in public at an avant-garde sculpture, or a shopping mall, or even a ringtone. How do such sounds get assigned such meaning, meaning stored in the genes and the memes? Reminds me of the way the astonishing system of hurtling narrowly past cars traveling in the opposite direction at 10 times the speed than they said in the 19th century man was not meant to travel faster, separated by some painted yellow lines – and missing. The crowd “sigh” was also surprising, and pleasant the first time, not as much the 2nd and 3rd times… The whole thing was very sharawadji.

  3. ps. I came across an idea that Dorment’s was a kind of populist anti-intellectual pause to satisfy some readers. So he didn’t say anything constructive. He just spoke to art market lovers and some envy people. I would rather miss Michael Fried, who attacked Minimalists in the 60s, but his analysis was worth discussing about…

  4. wow, what century are we living in? some art critic actually went ballistic on this piece? what would he do if he heard something really challenging?

    for me, it’s beautiful. not revolutionary but that’s ok. not all art needs to be on the cutting edge.

    props to her for following her own line to it’s conclusion.

Leave a Reply to g.e. stinson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *