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The Fall by Susan Philipsz now on view in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam
The Fall, Susan Philipsz, Oude Kerk. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

AMSTERDAM.- The first Dutch solo exhibition of Scottish sound architect Susan Philipsz (Glasgow, 1965) has opened in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. Philipsz takes the music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck as the starting point for her new work. The Netherland’s most famous composer was buried in the Oude Kerk 400 years ago. After numerous visits to the church and extensive artistic research, Philipsz now presents her context-specific sound installation The Fall in Amsterdam’s oldest building. It can be visited until 29 March 2022.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck

If it had been up to Calvinism, all organs would have disappeared from the churches after the Iconoclastic Fury (1566). Thanks to Sweelinck, however, who as city organist played daily in the Oude Kerk, the organs were preserved. Sweelinck laid the foundations for public organ concerts after the Reformation. Young organists from all over Europe came to Amsterdam to take lessons from him. This autumn marks the 400th anniversary of the renowned composer’s death. Philipsz’s work is in keeping with this. With arrangements of Sweelinck's music, she is exploring the unique acoustics of the city’s oldest building. She’s has developed a vocal piece that is loosely based on Sweelinck's work Mein junges Leben hat eind End. In the new composition, a descending scale sounds, which swells and evokes a sense of collapse, fragmentation and absence.

By allowing her own voice to be heard in a monumental environment, she is able to take a deeper look at the architecture and space around. The installation makes the monumental surroundings of the Oude Kerk visible in a new way. Philipsz: ‘Singing is almost a sculptural experience. It makes you aware of your inner space and what happens through your own voice when you project sound into a space. I’m particularly interested in the emotional and psychological properties of sound and how it can be used as a means of changing individual consciousness.’

For the lecture hall of the Oude Kerk, Philipsz has created a separate work: a sound sculpture of a number of organ pipes, which seem to breathe life into the space through the breath of the artist.

Sound architect

Philipsz has been called a sound architect. In her work, she deals with the rearrangement and interpretation of existing pieces of music that are connected to the history and stories of a place. Philipsz investigates the spatial properties of sound, with its emotional and cognitive dimensions. In her installations, which are played at specific geographical locations and feature her own unrehearsed voice, she uses sound to awaken an awareness in the listener and to temporarily alter their perception of themselves in a particular place and time.

Susan Philipsz

Philipsz studied sculpture at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and completed a masters in Fine Art at the University of Ulster. Since then, her work has been exhibited at numerous venues worldwide. Some examples: the International Biennial of Melbourne in 1999, the Triennal of British Art at Tate Britain in 2003, the 16th Biennial of Sydney in 2008. In 2010, she was commissioned to make a work for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2013, work by Philipsz was included in ‘Soundings: A Contemporary Score’, the first-ever major exhibition of sound art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2010, she won the Turner Prize. It was the first time this prestigious award was given to a sound work.

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