I had heard that the art piece was unusual and to do with football. Well, the map took us to a football pitch adjacent to the high walls and barbed-wire fencing of the Young Offenders Prison. To get to the football pitch you had to walk down a lot of steps until you were in a kind of natural stadium – an old quarry of some sort. But before you got there, you could hear noises – the sounds of crowds cheering and murmuring and then crescendo-ing into applause. What was going on?
The grass was marked out as a football pitch, and at either end there were goal posts. Apparently there had been a football for visitors to kick around, but it had got jammed on the pavilion roof!
So what was the art? It was the installation of sound monitors – hidden, that created an ‘as if’ moment. It was ‘as if’ there was a football match going on, only there wasn’t. It was an installation that generated an environment to walk through, putting us into a setting that was eerie and unsettling: it was at one and the same time, familiar yet disconnected from reality. There were no crowds who were cheering, nor any players provoking cheer.
Through the dislocation of sound and environment, it gave us the opportunity to think and reflect on those very things. How familiar the textures of sound are; the evoked football crowd was immediately recognisable – the undulating pitch as anticipation mounted which either dissipated or reached its peak as the ‘crowd’ roared. It was like waves of sound, surges in energy expressed in pitch and tone.
Thinking about sound later on, it made me realise what an automatic human thing it is to try and place sound, to try and identify its source and proximity. We share this with all other creatures who have ears and hearing receptors. It helps us orient ourselves in the external world – the world outside our head, the world of our senses. We are quite expert at associating certain sounds with certain things: that sound outside now is the wind – well, the wind stirring the leaves of those oak trees and swishing them around, different to the sound of the wind moving over the pine-needles of a conifer tree. That other sound is the noise of cars rushing from one side to the other. Sound comes from an object, and we generate ideas of our environment through sound.
But give us sound cut asunder from its source and it is a different experience altogether -that plays with our senses and disrupts our connection to place. How can we fathom our location then? How can we make sense?
To get people to pause and reflect on aspects of life, to create an opportunity to give conscious attention to things that are so familiar, that is a gift that art can give. The ‘as if’ helps us to realise, with a sense of awe and wonder, what incredible capacities humans have. ‘Listen then, if you have ears.’