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Sculptural Sound System: Choral work to debut at Kelham Island Museum

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Gwyneth Herbert and Mel Brimfield.

Over 100 mental health service users, singers and volunteers have collaborated on Stand, a new composition which will debut at Kelham Island Museum.

Created by artist Mel Brimfield and composer Gwyneth Herbert, the work will play through a "large sculptural sound system" designed especially for the performance.

"The accessibility and value of creativity to the isolated is both the subject and method of Stand," explained Brimfield.

It's an artwork that's been made with and for the community

"At a time of disastrous austerity cuts to mental health services, we're uniting and foregrounding the organisations who provide crucial opportunities for socialising through communal activity."

The composition centres around a recording Brimfield made of Patrick, a long-term inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital, reciting poetry. It was further shaped by a series of songwriting workshops across the UK, lead by the artists.

"It's an artwork that's been made with and for the community, and is hopefully a celebratory testament to the potential of collective action," said Brimfield.

The work, which runs from 26 January to 8 March, will play inside a vast, custom-made music box.

On a 15 sided, hand-painted platform inside the installation, a speaker embedded in a gold-leafed tree will play the poetry recital.

Around the platform, 15 chairs individually designed by the UK Men's Sheds organisation will incorporate whittling, marquetry, mosaic, woodturning, patchwork and stained glass making.

In our songwriting workshops, we explored emotions and subjects around mental illness such as isolation and connection

Speakers embedded in each chair will play another element of Stand, performed by Harrow's More Than Just a Choir.

The work will debut in Sheffield, before touring to Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester.

"In our songwriting workshops, we explored emotions and subjects around mental illness such as isolation and connection; loneliness and community; anxiety and healing; the loss, finding and sharing of voice," explained composer Gwyneth Herbert.

"Common to many shared stories was an exhausting experience of collapse, slow recovery and relapse without appropriate community support," she continued.

"As a central principle, we've structured the harmonic sequences and melodies to assume a looping, cyclical form in response, uniting initially tentative individual voices in the circle to slowly build to a euphoric choral swell before repeatedly fragmenting to dissonance."

Sam Gregory

Catch Stand at Kelham Island Museum from 26 January to 8 March 2020.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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