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Transcript: Samson Young interview

Samson Young: Unheard Sounds

SAMSON YOUNG: Sound and music was my original training. So although these days I'm making videos and drawings and objects, music is still one of the lenses through which I process the world.

As a student, I played the double bass. As a double bassist, you don't really play a lot. You spend a lot of time mentally prepping yourself for the passage to come and the way you would do it is to sort of silently finger through the passage. And I remember thinking what it might sound like if the entire orchestra started doing that as a way to practice a piece.

The Muted Situation [series], the whole series started with a pretty simple prompt. I was asked to make a series of works for a library. There's some interesting energy in that paradox: in that a library, you think of it as a quiet place, but it's not a place without sound. Certainly if somebody like a librarian sort of walking around with a cart and pushing books around, those sounds are heard and not judged against.

I started sort of thinking about the different situations where you could actually very selectively choose to mute one layer of sound I basically sat down and wrote twenty of these situations.

When I needed to make another one for the Sydney Biennale, I knew that I wanted to make that one the last one. So I thought about this idea again and I know the orchestra is just going to work, like, sonically. You need something that is almost too ridiculously romantic with big sweeping orchestral gestures, like one layer of sound colliding over another the entire string section speaking against the wind section.

Tchaikovsky's 5th is used in movies a lot. It's used in advertising a lot. So even if people don't know the entire symphony, there would be themes and motifs that people will recognise from here and there. So then you will get this effect of almost ghosting of the melody in your head. If you have a remote control, and you can mute specifically one layer of sound and then have the other layers of sound remain. That's what Muted Situation is.

Underneath that pitch layer, there’s rhythm, there’s bodily movement. You know there are all these things that exist, but they're just not being heard. There's an aggressive energy behind that idea of muting something.

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