Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

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

Songsmith is a trade mark of Jenna Burchell

Click here to see a video of Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)
Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) is part of Burchell’s greater Songsmith project 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.

The Songsmith project is unfolding over time in different objects, places and countries. Artist Jenna Burchell shaped the word Songsmith (n. v.phr.) in her practice to refer to a golden instrument that she uses to repair or transform an object or place in order to reveal an aural narrative. In creating a Songsmith artwork Burchell follows a method based on the Japanese art and philosophy of Kintsukuroi; this is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold lacquer, and in so doing the acknowledging that piece is more beautiful for having been broken and showing it’s time-worn history. The artist borrows from Kintsukuroi both visually and philosophically to allude to the passing of time in her work. Concurrently the songsmith repair has a functional reason; by forging a songsmith into an object or place it becomes a sensor. It is because of this that Burchell is able to create an interactive archive, holding within a song of time and memory: a song that can be revealed when the audience bring their hands near to the Songsmith artwork.
“I relate my Songsmith artworks to ritualistic, artefacts of modern storytelling; they allow me to reveal hidden landscapes of knowledge, experience and memory to new audiences. I feel that a completed Songsmith’s beauty lies in its fluency between; the real world and digital technology, storytelling and people, contemporary art and untold history”  - Jenna Burchell



In late 2017 Burchell was artist in residence at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) is an experimental artwork that Burchell created while in residence. It 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. 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.

Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) converts some of these memories by using an EEG device to record the brain waves of people who have been long connected to YSP. 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. The resulting musical tones often share a fondness tipped with sorrow for what has come to pass and what cannot be found elsewhere. Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) acts as an interactive connection between the site past and present. 

Songsmith (Bangor City),  installation | 2015
Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind) collection | 2016 - 2017
Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park) installation | 2017
Songsmith (The Great Karoo) collection | 2017 -2018
Songsmith (Fragile Homes),  collection | 2018 - 
Songsmith (Vredefort Dome),  collection | upcoming