On 22 June 2013 Foghorn Requiem, an ambitious and unique musical performance featuring; an armada of vessels positioned offshore, the Souter Lighthouse Foghorn and on-shore musicians, celebrated the passing of the foghorn from the British coastal landscape into maritime heritage.
Title Foghorn Requiem Historical Sites Souter Lighthouse, South Shields Lead Artists Lise Autogena & Joshua Portway with Orlando Gough Artwork Acoustic performance Partners / Stakeholders The National Trust, South Tyneside Council, Grit & Pearl, Customs House, Festival of the North East Budget 120k Development Outline development & fundraising 2011-2012 Delivery development February –22 June 2013 Dates 22 June 2013
Responding to the unique character of Souter Lighthouse, Foghorn Requiem harnessed the melancholy sound of the traditional foghorn to create an extraordinary live performance, a conversation between land and sea that took place on the edge of the northeast coastline.
Conducted from afar the sound of horns onboard a flotilla of over 50 ships, three Championship-level brass bands and the Souter Lighthouse foghorn were brought together to perform an echoing and pensive composition. Pioneering technology enabled precisely tuned horns on board each ship to be orchestrated from the shore, with the score carefully combining the distant delayed sounds from the sea, with the brass bands and foghorn on land, integrating loud bellowing sounds with echoing quiet periods the piece explored how the sounds were affected by the space and the landscape.
Devised by artists Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway in collaboration with composer Orlando Gough, the piece reflected on the history and haunting sound of the foghorn used for centuries to guide ships away from the rocks, but now disappearing into maritime history.
The ambition of the project was to:
- Develop a temporary artwork of international standing.
- Create a high profile work that would put Souter Lighthouse ‘on the map.’
- Engage new audiences and participants in the development and delivery of the work.
In 2011 National Trust property manager and the Arts Officer at South Tyneside Council secured a small Arts Council England grant to develop Souter Shines, a research and development project that explored possibilities for engaging artists with the historic Souter Lighthouse.
Following this research period, the development of a large-scale commission began and artists Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway were invited to submit a proposal for a temporary artwork that responded to the unique character of the Lighthouse. Curated by Grit & Pearl on behalf of the National Trust and South Tyneside Council, the initial proposal was positively received, but there was concern over the potential costs and technical viability of the project. Grit & Pearl worked closely with the artists to develop the finer details of the proposal, and during the development phase The Festival of the North East, a celebration of creativity and innovation in the North East became established, and provided a wider regional context within which Foghorn Requiem could be presented.
The combination of inclusion in the Festival of the North East, and the resolution of many technical issues resulted in a substantial Arts Council England grant being secured to deliver the project.
Foghorn Requiem was performed live at 12.30pm on 22 June 2013, to an audience of around 8000 on the coastal cliffs and across a space of several miles around Souter lighthouse.
This immersive sound work was performed by three musical components - the Foghorn at Souter Lighthouse, specially-tuned ships horns installed on an armada of 60 ships, and a massed brass band.
The event commenced with the slow gathering of the armada, with participating vessels representing all aspects of maritime from historic ships, working tugs to the 162m DFDS ferry Princess Seaways.
As the final vessels arrived, music was heard and then musicians from three Championship-level brass bands (Felling Band, the Westoe Band and the NASUWT Riverside Band) marched into view along the cliff path to take their station on the clifftop at Souter Lighthouse. Whilst the musicians took the stage, a lone musician played a cornet solo from the top of the lighthouse, with the music carrying across the site. The score was then taken up by the brass bands, and then joined by the deeper echoing sounds of the ships horns. Specially-tuned ships horns, air supply systems and controllers were installed on participating vessels, enabling them to be ‘played’ alongside the brass bands. None of the sounds were artificially amplified, and the innovative technology used allowed the ships horns to synchronize with the brass bands across the vast space, the composition playing with the distances and environment as much as the sounds themselves. Inspired by Souter’s landscape, heritage and unique character, as well as by traditional sea shanties and laments, Foghorn Requiem was at times poignant, restless and poetic.
The deep sound of Souter’s foghorn, operated manually by composer Orlando Gough, interspersed the piece, which was performed over a period of approximately fifty minutes. In the last part of the performance, the brass bands lined up on the cliff edge and turned to face out to sea, their sounds becoming distant as the final bellow of the Souter foghorn rung out - the air supply system purposefully closed off so that the note wavered and died gradually as the air tanks ran down. As it fell silent, and the performance concluded, many of the vessels sounded their own horns in tribute.
The budget for Foghorn Requiem was approximately £120,000 with around £100,000 of additional in-kind support. The core expenditure for the project went on the music, shipping armada, project management and artists’ fees. Approximately 20% of the budget went on event scheduling, infrastructure, marketing, legacy and documentation, and over £27,000 was put towards the complex technology costs.
The project was funded primarily by Arts Council England, with additional funds provided by Festival of the North East, South Tyneside Council, National Trust and the Danish Arts Council. In-kind support included the use of over 50 ships, support from Sheffield Hallam University, South Shields Marine School, Kockum Sonics, Delta Electronics and an engagement programme delivered by Customs House.
Marketing was shared between the project partners with Festival of the North East and South Tyneside Council taking the principle role. International coverage was achieved including specialist media, broadsheets, lifestyle magazines and TV to an estimated value of £350,000.
Foghorn Requiem at Souter Lighthouse was also one of four stops on the Festival of the North East press launch day, which was a critical factor in the advanced promotion of the project. In addition an online presence was established through Twitter and Facebook and a dedicated website generated significant online activity.
A key success of Foghorn Requiem was the meaningful engagement of the local maritime community, who provided not only the vessels for the event, but support, enthusiasm and historical knowledge to the project that grounded the piece in the local community and local maritime environment.
There was also a formal community engagement programme that was delivered by Customs House and CoMusica consisting of four main components- Digital Schools Resource- hosted on Ch-arted (Customs House educational website aimed at 175 school subscribers), Sounds of the Sea- with CoMusica that engaged a group of twenty 13-18 year olds to devise and perform a song based around the Foghorn Requiem, Mapping the Maritime Landscape, working with filmmakers and artists and using psycho-geography to map the South Tyneside landscape for 7-11 and 11-18 year olds, and Tales of Souter: Introductions and responses, for specific target audiences that would not normally visit the site.
The work was positively received by partners, funders and the audience, and received excellent feedback via social networks and from audience questionnaires. An evaluation process is currently underway, which comprises an internal review by the project partners and an analysis of audience questionnaires and economic data from the Souter Lighthouse site.
- Integrated Engagement- Foghom Requiem succeeded in truly engaging a non-arts audience without compromising its artistic integrity (esp. the very vocal and active maritime community)
- Timescales- A longer development period would have benefited the project, it was extremely challenging to deliver the project within such a short timescale, from the funding approval in February to the event date in June which was set by the Festival of the North East.
- Project Partners- A greater correlation between the Foghorn Requiem artwork and the creative activities undertaken via the formal engagement programme with partner organisations would have been beneficial for the project.
- Marketing- The direct commissioning of PR support for Foghorn Requiem, rather than reliance on the PR infrastructure of the partners would have provided a more unified approach.
- Scale-The scale and level of ambition of this project was essential to its success – both with its audience, in terms of PR coverage, and in securing funding.
Interest has been registered from venues in the USA, Europe and the far-east about the possibilities of subsequent variations of Foghorn Requiem being performed.
There is also an ongoing proposal to produce Diorama - a companion piece/follow up to Foghorn Requiem that has also been specifically designed for Souter Lighthouse and will potentially be performed in 2015.
Artists Lise Autogena (Denmark) and Joshua Portway (UK) have worked together since 1991. Their projects have been exhibited worldwide, and usually involve ambitious technological installations and large-scale collaborations with a diverse range of partners. Recent projects include Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium, which runs on a live feed from the world’s stock markets; and Most Blue Skies, a computer-generated installation that uses the latest atmospheric research, environmental monitoring and sensing technologies to continuously calculate the place on earth that has ‘the bluest sky’.
Orlando Gough is the composer of Foghorn Requiem, and is an associate artist of the Royal Opera House. He writes music for theatre, operas, plays, dance pieces and music-theatre, and also creates large-scale projects for unique sites. Previous works including The Singing River written for performance by 12 choirs, 18 boats, two cranes and a locomotive in Stuttgart; Open Port, the closing event of Stavanger 2008 European Capital of Culture, written for 750 singers, brass band and wooden trumpets; the site responsive dance piece The Tree of Light, choreographed by Charlie Morrissey for the Cultural Olympiad; and the site specific choral piece XX Scharnhorst for HMS Belfast, as part of the Thames Festival.