Gaol Piece: The Architecture of Silence

Location: Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria, Australia  (November 19, 1994)

Event: Earwitness: Excursions in Sound - Experimenta '94

This multi-levelled structure provides the opportunity to explore the movement of sound between the upper and lower levels, as well as from one side of the building to the other. The cells, metal stairs, old wooden doors and corridors provide the groundwork for a variety of sound sources and textures.

 Silence plays an important part in this piece. The routine of the Old Melbourne Gaol was based largely on the Pentonville system in England which identified silence as a suitable means of rehabilitation for the criminal mind. This silence drove some prisoners to madness and others to suicide, and sounds like footsteps on the corridors, the grinding of bolts and the dragging of chains haunted many long after their confinement.

The use of sound in this piece relies mainly on the sounds of the institution itself.  These sounds combine with musical elements that explore the prison's connection to the Irish prisoners it once housed, referencing keening (Irish ritual mourning) and Irish musical strains.  My intention was to explore the psychological effects of confinement and repression; and the long term effect of imposed silence, restricted movement, separation and loneliness.

The piece comprises 104 participants, the same number of people that  were executed in the gaol.

Photograph: Eva Narkiewicz copyright 1994

Photograph: Eva Narkiewicz copyright 1994