From the perspective of a composer, Samson Young conceives sound works, installations, performances, drawings, sound walks, and films. His works make concrete historical and social references and deal with conflicts. Each of his projects involves a great deal of background and field research. His work is motivated by scientific precision and conceptual rigor. The result is a very powerful and aesthetically expressive language.
The importance of the aesthetic investigation of sound in Young’s work is illustrated above all by his journeys, which follow in the tradition of sound walks and field recordings. For his work For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Journey into the Sonic History of Conflicts (2015–), he traveled to five continents to visit historically significant bells and record their sound. The result was an archive of bell sounds, which Young will use to compose a new piece. While he was at the various locations waiting for the bells to ring, he created a series of drawings entitled Landschaft, on view in this exhibition. In these sound drawings the artist translates the noises of his environment and the ringing of the bells into musical notation. His works represent an unusual contribution within the complex relationship between music and visual art and open up new perspectives for the perception of sounds as well as pictures.
The Kunsthalle Düsseldorf is showing a selection of works from Samson Young’s oeuvre on three floors. A dark theme keeps me here, I’ll make a broken music is the artist’s first institutional exhibition in Germany and Europe. Along with the series Muted Situation (2014)—directions for listening to sound situations in a new way or perceiving the political qualities of sound itself—and a selection of works from the series Sound Drawings (2015–), the exhibition also features large-scale installations in which Young deals with conflict and war.
On the first floor, visitors encounter the work Canon (2016), a performance installation that uses a long- range acoustic device (LRAD). The LRAD is a sound cannon that is capable of broadcasting sounds in a straight beam to a precise target over a range of 1000 meters. These devices are frequently deployed by law enforcement against protesters as well as to repel birds on private properties, usually by broadcasting distressed-bird calls. Canon is a combination of a sound installation and a live performance. At the broadcasting location, a musician performs a bird whistle with an LRAD unit in response to a background track consisting of recordings of bird songs and distress calls. At a second site, which takes on the rough appearance of a fenced-off park, bird songs seems to emerge from nowhere, their source invisible. In the foreground is a small red fountain—a replica of a bowl that Vietnamese refugees were given on their arrival in Hong Kong. This work offers a distilled take on the topic of migration.
The second floor features several works that deal with conflict. In Stanley (2014), the artist takes up the history of a beach of the same name in his native city of Hong Kong. This momentous place was not only the site of an internment camp, but also where the battle for the defence of Hong Kong was lost during World War II. The centrepiece of the show, Nocturne (2015), is a live performance that takes place over the duration of the exhibition. For this work, Young collected video recordings of night bombings – predominately U.S. attacks in the Middle East, ranging from the Gulf War to the campaign against ISIS – and edited them into a six-hour-long film, which plays mutely on a laptop. As he watches, the artist uses household objects and “live foley” techniques to reproduce the sounds of explosions, gunshots, and debris as accurately as possible. His sound effects are broadcast on site via pirate radio frequencies.
In Pastoral Music (But It Is Entirely Hollow) (2014–) the artist visited the Gin Drinkers Line and recorded himself singing the Cantonese children’s song Of Forests and Pastures in a reverberant bunker. The song ends with the words “My dear friend, what’s on your mind?” This work is presented daily along with the sounding of the bells in the Andreas Kirche next door.