Sounds From a Room

Sounds from a Room was a monthly series of live web streamed gigs that took place in the main living area of A Room for London. Followers of the performances tuned in from all over the world; from the US and Mexico to Japan and South Korea, even Qatar and Macau. Watch or listen here to a year of concerts from the likes of Laurie Anderson, Jarvis Cocker and Andrew Bird.

Photograph by Charles Hosea

January: Andrew Bird

Beginning a year of live broadcasts, the multi-instrumentalist from Chicago played to a very boat full of people on 28 January 2012.

Also available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

February: Heiner Goebbels

Composer and director, Heiner Goebbels, responded to Joseph Conrad's 1890 journal, Up-River Book, in a radio-work performed live in the boat. In advance of recording, Goebbels said:

“When I heard that the steamboat Roi des Belges would be stranded on the rooftop of the Queen Elizabeth II Hall, […] this was a perfect opportunity to work on Conrad's Up-River Book, a notebook written in 1890, while struggling with this ship a long time before writing Heart of Darkness. So I invited friends with whom, 20 years ago, I had already worked on his Congo Diary for my music theatre production Ou bien le débarquement désastreux (or the hapless landing). They are the Sengalese Griots Sira and Boubakar Djebaté (voice and kora), the French musician Xavier Garcia (electronics) and the great actor André Wilms. Together we will build an acoustic image of Conrad’s impossible travels.”

Available to hear on Soundcloud.

March: Laurie Anderson

Recorded on 25 March 2012, Laurie Andreson's one-off radio show broadcast was released on-demand with selected stills after the event.

April: Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Swedish duo, Wildbirds & Peacedrums' performance on 26 April 2012 used sounds — water, wind, glass, coins — from inside and around the boat. In a statement that shared insights and context about their recording experience, they said:

“We wanted to really use the sounds of the boat in our piece. We recorded ourselves hitting and patting it (using mainly the wood) and mixed them with the metal and glass objects we had brought along. Contrasting. Together making a whole. Then of course splicing it with some water.

Mariam wrote the lyrics while staying on the boat, all based on the observations she made. There was howling wind, a rainbow, sounds from the street, the colours on the buildings during night-time, and the chance to spy on the city and people crossing the bridge with a pair of binoculars…

The still-lifes in between the musical sections are symbolic reflections of the River Thames, floating just below the boat. The sounds accompanying them are also live-recorded, coming straight from the outside of A Room for London. This was made as a piece for the boat, to be performed inside of it and in London.”

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

May: Amadou & Mariam

On 23 May 2012, Malian husband-and-wife duo, Amadou & Mariam, performed a set that included the first-ever performance of their song Confusion.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.


June: Imogen Heap

Grammy Award-winning musician Imogen Heap used her time in the room to present the beginnings of her newest song in her Heapsongs project, You Know Where To Find Me, and to talk viewers through her creative process throughout. Before the performance, she installed a custom audiovisual, egg-shaped “listening chair” in the Southbank Centre below — a place where passers-by might record what the River Thames meant to them. Heap then absorbed this material and used it to start writing the new song.

With part of the music and lyrics intact, the next stage of the process after A Room for London was to record the piano parts of the song. The songwriter turned to Edinburgh-based, piano-owning Twitter followers who would let her into their houses to record elements of the song, and to wear their clothes. Filming the music video as they went, this part of the creative process was completed in just one day and involved thirteen pianos. Heap improvised and wrote the song on those pianos, finishing it off in her studio in Essex.

The video filmed in A Room for London is available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube and the video for the song You Know Where to Find Me is available to watch on YouTube.

July: Baaba Maal

Prior to appearing in the finale of the Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia festival the Senegalese musician Baaba Maal played a moonlit set in the Room.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

July: tUnE-YaRdS

Merrill Garbus, together with bandmate Nate Bremner and some special guests, performs as tUnE-yArDs on 15 July 2012.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

August: Natalie Clein

The British cellist, Natalie Clein began her set in the Roi des Belges with Lutoslawski and ended with Kurtág via Ligeti, Britten and Bach. Recorded on 24 August 2012, Clein provided the following notes on the choices of music:

1. Lutoslawski: Sacher Variations

I wanted to begin with Lutoslawski, partly as an ode to another great Polish-born artist, Jozef Conrad, and partly because the exploratory nature of this piece - as he weaves in and out of quarter tones on the cello - seemed to sum up the experimental nature of this programme for me.

2. Ligeti: Dialogo, from the Cello Sonata

This sonata was written for a cello student that Ligeti was in love with. The dialogue takes place between the lower and higher registers of the instrument. A Room for London had felt lonely to some of its inhabitants at times and I wanted to play through the idea of solitude and its opposite.

3. Britten: Solo Cello Suite No 3

When I first stepped on to the boat to take a sneak preview of the Room (on a cold January morning), I immediately thought of this opening part of Britten's third cello suite. Perhaps it was the cold, slick, black quality to the river as it was then, or the inexorable flow and pull of the bells at the beginning of the piece, or the haunting loneliness, or the Englishness, but I had to include it. And the ironic nature of what follows also fit well, in my imagination, with the disembodied spirit of Conrad's story.

4. Bach: G Major Prelude

Britten composed an ode to Rostropovich playing this Prelude at this point in the piece, so I had to take the logical step backwards. And spontaneously, it felt right.

5. Ligeti: Cappriccio from the Solo Sonata

The Ligeti was calling me back with less loneliness now.

6. Kurtág: Faltering Words - Hommage to John Cage

Kurtág is fascinated by silence and all that it can embody. This piece seemed to resonate strongly with the spirit of the room and all the creativity that has taken place there, although it's impossible to pin these silences and and faltering words down - they can only live in the moment or not at all.

7. Kurtág: Az Hit

"Kurtz... Heavens! How that man could talk! He had faith - don't you see? - he had the faith. He could get himself to believe anything - anything."

8. Bach: D Minor Prelude

Again I was pulled back to the source, as many describe Bach. And I could see St Paul's as I was playing - quite an inspiring sight... 9) Kurtág: Shadows All that are ever left after an ephemeral performance.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

September: Jarvis Cocker

During a Room-based broadcast of his Sunday Service radio show for BBC 6Music, Pulp frontman and DJ, Jarvis Cocker performed a reading from Heart of Darkness with cellist Philip Sheppard on 29 September 2012.

“The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide...”

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.


October: Josh T Pearson

For the webcast of his performance on 23 October 2012, Texan songwriter, Josh T Pearson, combined spoken word, found material and his own songs.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.


November: Charlie Fink

Charlie Fink, the Noah And The Whale frontman, played a short gig backed by a brass quartet for his performance in the Room on 22 November 2012.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Image: Charlie Fink playing in A Room for London. Photograph by Tom Oldham


December: Stornaway

In the final Sounds from a Room, performed on 5 December 2012, British folk group Stornaway performed material from their new album for the first time.

Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.