Portrait in Ten Parts at ARC

Portrait in Ten Parts is an audio installation by Invisible Flock and Umar Butt and the culmination of their Here and Now project commissioned by ARC in Stockton on Tees. What words, stories and places do we share as a community, what is Stockton to these communities, what do they sound like when we speak about them or when we stand in them and listen.

Portrait in Ten Parts is a collaboration between ARC, Invisible Flock a studio of artists based in Yorkshire, Umar Butt a writer and theatre maker who lives in Stockton and the community who gave us their time to speak to us for this project.

Over the course of a couple of weeks we met with people individually in a place of community as defined by them. We spoke to people in pubs, streets, public spaces and religious ones, we recorded a mosque, a park, a takeaway and a theatre.

Umar and each participant spoke for 10 to 20 minutes. He asked each person about home, Stockton, about words that have unique meanings. Often we spoke about languages other than English and the place where they lived before Stockoton became home for them. Once we had spoken we recorded the sound of the space, what our silence sounded like in that place.

Rather than edit these conversations into new meanings and structure them into a linear piece of work we instead explored a generative approach, allowing the many voices, accents, languages to share an unpredictable space. The sounds of the city overlapping, sometimes drowning out and overriding one another, other times perfectly accompanying fragments of conversation. We equate the installation to a perpetually moving sonic machine which once set in motion would never do the same thing twice. Using specially designed speakers, that focussed the sound of voices like a beam of sound that audiences could walk through, we created an almost physical audio bubble that enveloped and created itself anew. The voices could emerge from any of the 10 speakers in the space and loopers would catch random fragments of sound and repeat them providing a rhythmic and hypnotic quality to the experience. The seeming randomness we programmed allowed for discovery and unpredictability and created beautiful juxtapositions that we would never have been able to create through editing alone.

In the end the work felt like a dream of Stockton, time and place smeared over each other like broad rough strokes of paint, layering up and up, thicker and thicker. People from all over the world talking at once, sometimes in conversations sometimes alone accompanied by a soundtrack of the place they call home. It was the portrait of a rich, complex place full of life.