Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

Interactive public sound installation
Sound, EEG, yew tree, leaves, electroplating, speaker, circuit
2017

View a video of this work at https://vimeo.com/236144902

Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) is an experimental artwork that includes clippings from a 500-year old yew tree, gold electroplated, and reattached to the tree. Burchell’s specially adapted technology enables the leaves to sing when touched. Their songs are made from memories.  
 
Over the centuries, a richness of experience and emotion has seeped into the grounds of the Bretton Estate. Songsmith (YSP) converts some of these memories by using an EEG device to record the brain waves of people who have been long connected to YSP . The resulting musical tones often share a fondness tipped with sorrow for what has come to pass and what cannot be found elsewhere.
 
Songsmith (YSP) acts as an interactive connection between the site past and  present. It is part of Burchell’s on-going international project, Songsmith, consisting of a series of sound instruments embedded into places and objects chosen for their age long histories and rich narratives. Songsmith explores how to re-connect people to each other and to the world around them by activating the exquisite cracks, places and objects that narrate the beauty of life lived. 
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1. The Yew Tree is the oldest on the estate and its lifetime outspans humans and most other trees. Symbolically the yew tree is said to contain all the experiences, knowledge, and understanding of our ancestors. The perseverance associated with the yew is that of all life, which continues in the face of overwhelming odds and grows stronger because of it.
 
2. EEG (Electroencephalography) is an electrophysiological monitoring method to record electrical activity of the brain. During the recording, a sensor is attached to the scalp to pick up the electrical signals produced when brain cells send messages to each other.  We may consider the brain to be like orchestra, each emotion creating a frequency. Burchell created a software program to translate these signals into musical tones based on Christian Schubart's 'Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst' (1806) wherein musical cords are associated with emotional states. 
 
3. Songsmith (n.). In Burchell’s practice she has created the noun ‘songsmith’ to refer to a golden object embedded with a sound instrument.  In creating a songsmith the artist follows a method based on the Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsukuroi (n.) (v.phr.), which translates as “to repair with gold”. This is the art of repairing pottery with gold lacquer and sense that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken and showing it’s rich history.