Sounding Images

As part of the SOUNDING IMAGES module, University of Birmingham music students have created new electroacoustic pieces inspired by three works in the Barber collection: Degas’ Grande Arabesque, Canaletto’s Loggetta and Auerbach’s Primrose Hill.


Pick up an Mp3 player from the Barber Institute or alternatively stream or download the tracks here.

 About the works

Adele Franghiadi Arabesque

Artwork: Edgar Degas Grande Arabesque, Third Time 

The juxtaposition between the fluidity and movement of dance, and the static, metallic nature of the statue itself was the main inspiration for my piece. I was interested by how such an active, traditionally sophisticated art form could be captured in such an industrial way by contrast. This conflict was made more interesting upon learning that Degas originally moulded this statue in wax, which I feel can unite the gap between flowing dance and harsh metal.

From a distance, this statue has great grace, yet up close, it hasn’t been gracefully crafted; there are no facial details or fingers, with rough moulding, revealing Degas’ thumbprints. I’ve tried to capture this in my piece, as it provides interesting perspectives as both a listener and a viewer. I feel it can capture how ballet is elegant and beautiful from a removed point of view, but has a grittier side, involving gruelling training, which is apparent under closer scrutiny.


William Tuckwell The Loggetta

Artwork: Giovanni Canaletto The Logetta

The Loggetta originally drew my attention due to the sharpness of its lines. A clean edge is very intuitive to imitate with sound, by using sharp attacks and releases, and sudden changes of texture. Knowing this, I saw that I could use the painting’s very specific structure, i.e. the dimensions of its architecture, to capture its identity. I counted all of the panels, arches, pillars, doors, statues, people and so forth, and set out to place sounds corresponding to each in their “equivalent” places on a timeline. In using the clicks of stones and sustained tones of an acoustic guitar as sources, I could accurately draw attention to points and areas, while maintaining a “human” feel which highlights the gradual transition from overcast to bright, with the added communicative power of harmony.


Oliver Smith Primrose Hill

Artwork: Frank Auerbach Primrose Hill

The streetlamps depicted in Auerbach’s painting stood out and inspired me greatly in my composition, both in regards to the sound material used and the structure of the work. The piece is made up of solely electrical sounds, firstly to represent the hum of electricity Auerbach might have heard around him when painting, but also to portray the gloomy, abstract style of the work, with its harsh brushstrokes and stark contrasts between dark and light. It is unknown whether this painting is depicting a scene at dawn or dusk, so I decided to write a piece that can be looped, to signify the indistinct and blurred nature of the work. In this way I hope to a sense of unease and apprehension, to pair the feelings I experience when looking at the painting myself.