Surround Me

Susan Philipsz

Various locations around The City of London
09 October 2010 - 02 January 2010

Video: Surround Me, From Moorfields to Milk Street

11 minutes 37 seconds
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At the weekends, quiet descends on the City of London, broken only by the occasional sound of traffic and church bells. The silence of the city inspired artist Susan Philipsz to make her first commission in the capital: a series of six sound works, arranged in a rough circle around the Bank of England. 

Each part of Surround Me resonated in a particular setting: a medieval alleyway, a desolate 1960s development of office blocks and open courts, and the walkway under London Bridge, where Philipsz's unaccompanied voice echoed out across the water. The full experience of the work involved walking from place to place, the experience of each part of the cycle amplified by the spaces in-between.

Philipsz took inspiration from the heightened presence of the human voice in Elizabethan London, where the cries of street traders enthused composers of popular song such as Thomas Ravenscroft to write canons where one voice follows the other in a round.  She was similarly interested in the madrigal, a song form which emerged in Italy before flowering as the English Madrigal School in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

Surround Me was based on recordings of Philipsz singing English rounds and madrigals. Her version of John Bennet's Weep, O Mine Eyes swirled around the empty spaces of Moorfields Highwalk, Orlando Gibbons' The Silent Swan filled Tokenhouse Yard behind the Bank of England, and John Dowland's Flow My Tears echoed across the River Thames under London Bridge. One instrumental pierce, an interpretation of John Dowland's Lachrimae (based on the image of a single falling tear), moved along the facade of a characterless modern building on Milk Street.

Surround Me connected themes of fluidity and circulation - the flood of tears, the ebb and flow of water, people and money - to convey a poignant sense of absence and loss.

In December 2010, Susan Philipsz was awarded the Turner Prize.

Video: Surround Me: From Moorfields to Milk Street (2011)

This video is available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Produced and directed by Jared Schiller, filmed and edited by Lorrin Braddick.

Image: Moorfields Highwalk, 22 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

A Song Cycle for the City of London

New Oysters (Change Alley) 1 minute
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A Song Cycle for the City of London

The full cycle of locations and their corresponding songs is as follows:

  • Change Alley — New Oysters
  • London Bridge — Flow My Tears
  • Mark Lane — Oh My Love
  • Milk Street — Lachrimae
  • Moorfields Highwalk — Weep, O Mine Eyes
  • Tokenhouse Yard — The Silver Swan

This audio (left) is an excerpt from the work originally heard in Change Alley: a rendition in rounds of New Oysters by Thomas Ravenscroft. 

Also available to listen to on Soundcloud.

The lyrics from each song and more information on each location are available here and below as a PDF download.

Image: Change Alley, where New Oysters by Thomas Ravenscroft, could be heard, 21 August 2010. Photograph by Julian Abrams

An interview with Susan Philipsz

Will Cantopher
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I work with sound but that sound is always installed in a particular context and that context with its architecture, lighting and ambient noises forms the entire experience of the artwork. It is a visual, aural and emotive landscape. — Susan Philipsz

An interview with Susan Philipsz

by Will Cantopher

Reproduced courtesy of BBC London.

What led you to using the human voice in your artworks?

I studied Fine art, specialized in sculpture at Art College and it was then that I began to think of singing as a sculptural experience- what happens when you project your voice out into space and what happens simultaneously in your inner body space. The physicality of singing led me to think about sound as a sculptural form, which seemed like a very natural progression. It was when I went on to do an MA in Fine Art that I really began to work with sound and to make installations with my voice. I also became very interested in the emotive and psychological effects of song and how it could act as a trigger for memory. The idea of projecting sound and more particularly projecting a disembodied voice into a space can give it an uncanny ethereal presence. I think it’s interesting to think about absence as a sculptural form.

Does it matter that it's not visual in the way so much art tends obviously to be?

I work with sound but that sound is always installed in a particular context and that context with its architecture, lighting and ambient noises forms the entire experience of the artwork. It is a visual, aural and emotive landscape.

Surround Me is your first London commission. What came into your mind to start with?

I wanted to make a work with Artangel that was specifically for London. When I came over initially to look for locations I was struck by the silence in the financial district at the weekends. There are over 350,000 people who work there during the week but at the weekends the city becomes an empty and silent place. I thought it would be interesting for others to experience this eery silence which led me to think about the idea of a song cycle that would lead people through the city. Each of the works animates its surrounding architecture with sound so the audience can experience the city in a new way.

Read the complete interview 

Audio: Suzan Philipsz in conversation with Steven Conner

28 minutes 41 seconds
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Suzan Philipsz in conversation with Steven Conner

The artist Susan Philipsz discussing her work with writer Steven Connor at the launch of the publication of You Are Not Alone, 13 March 2014 at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Also available to hear on Soundcloud.

Image: Two couples stand underneath London Bridge listening to Flow My Tears during Surround Me, 5 October 2010. Photograph: Bec Garland

Folk music of the Elizabethans

Will Hodgkinson
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Folk music of the Elizabethans

by Will Hodgkinson
26 October 2010

Five hundred years ago, the City of London was alive with song. In 1597 the lutenist and composer John Dowland published his First Book Of Songs, giving a gentrifying structure and form to a music previously performed roughly in taverns and on street corners - the folk music of the Elizabethan City.

I developed a love for this world about five years ago, after hearing a recording by the Austrian lute player Konrad Ragossnig. It blew my mind. The music was beautiful, not only for its elegance but for its historic resonance and stark, emotional quality; it came from a time when limited resources made everything count. Ragossnig led me to discover the songs and life stories of Elizabethan composers such as John Dowland and Thomas Campion — the former who was accused of Papal subterfuge, the latter who was accused of murder shortly before dying of the plague. Through the deep melancholy of Dowland’s Flow My Tears we are offered evidence that the essential joys and tragedies of life remain the same through the centuries. But at the same time the songs pick up new meanings as they travel across time, rather like ghosts inhabiting an old family house.

Read the complete essay


Selected pages from Thomas Ravenscroft's Mvsicall Phansies available as a download below.

Image: Milk Street, London, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Flow my tears

Esther Leslie
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Flow my tears

by Esther Leslie
23 November 2010

I know the city’s water cannot stop its flow, but it can be re-routed. I saw it in the streets around Moorfields Highwalk – ‘We are replacing London’s Victorian water mains’ – and I saw the men spraying neon symbols on roads, dashing forwards to mark the tarmac only when the traffic lights glowed red, the vehicles’ current stopped for a moment. I know there is a world below that pipes and flows ceaselessly and so must be diverted elsewhere. I imagine its detoured gurgles now gushing mellisonantly from those high speakers, making weeping sounds that splash into ugly space, mingle with the damp air and smash on the sharp wind.

I know that tears may never stop – even if they might be myriad, old, sighing, sad, forced, true or from a lover – but I do not know if capital ever stops its flow. I don’t know how it moves or what is its pace. The City is closed for business, the only (so-called) life (read: commerce) here insane, insane, in Sainsbury’s. But the markets don’t stop – the derivatives keep on deriving – without the latte-troops. The shares do not stop being shared (but not too much) even when those fat doors are slammed shut for the weekend and the building broods alone (save a security guard or two).

Read the complete essay

Image: London Bridge, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams

On Milk Street

Rachel Lichtenstein
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Last Sunday, a few hours before the tube strike began, I made my way, through deserted streets, to Milk Street; a nondescript, urban passageway in the financial district, circled on my Artangel map as the site of Lachrimae. — Rachel Lichtenstein

On Milk Street

by Rachel Lichtenstein
2 November 2010

As the rain came down in heavy sheets, I sheltered from the downpour in the porch of an office block at the junction with Russia Row and listened. The quality of the sound was so sharp, so three dimensional, it became almost sculptural. The sky; a thick, dark grey mass of cloud, cast itself back in the wet pavement below. The beautiful instrumental music moved around the alley, reflecting off the deep blue glass windows of the building opposite, vibrating puddles on the ground, at moments disappearing, as if it had been sucked into the heavy concrete pillars or thick ancient stone of the surrounding architecture.

The only other discernible noise I could hear, in that part of the abandoned city, was the constant dripping of water. Tarkovsky’s work came to mind; Nostalgia, Solaris,Mirror. Meditations on ideas of melancholy, along with a yearning for another place, another time - images of empty landscapes, derelict buildings, an elderly man standing alone in the rain, dreaming of home, beside a body of water. Time shifted. I entered a portal moment. A different view of the city became temporarily revealed.

Read the complete essay


P.A. Skantze
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by P.A. Skantze
7 December 2010


The opening song situates our ears by motion; I suspect it could even be scientifically proven that we ‘hear’ better when we listen as we look at moving water. An external manifestation of travelling sound. Added to this, an imaginative corollary of the plaintive notes made by a soprano. Years of fable and myth make us wonder if she is singing from the bottom of the river. Fictionally speaking it’s crowded down there: all those longhaired women, spurned lovers, mermaids, sirens and Rhinemaidens. The arch of the bottom of the bridge continues this concrete image of sound in motion as it follows the arch up and over. I deliberately ignore the ‘where’ of speakers. Sound work frees the vision so I look up and off into space and see a hospital marked with clear, old-fashioned font on its river facing side. Did she jump from those windows I wonder?


As I follow the Surround Me map on the cold, grey London day, I remember Bruce R. Smith narrating with delight how he began The Acoustic World of Early Modern England because he read somewhere that all the sounds in the world never actually disperse but remain drifting at the top of the world. He tells this tale on CBC radio in a work called Hark which animates, as Susan Philipsz seeks to do in this walk, the aural texture of Elizabethan London.

Read the complete essay

Image: St Olaves on Mark Lane, site of Oh My Love a song featured in Surround Me, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams



Steven Connor
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by Steven Connor
23 November 2010

At a minute to noon, as I arrive, the moving staircase of Weep, O Mine Eyes is folding to its close. Eight minutes then to wait in the nameless square above Moorgate, sitting at the hub of the wind that skirls round its perimeter. A drowned church coughs out the tremulous waveborne hours. Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell. The song resumes, the voice plied fourfold on itself, following in its own footsteps. My route will be a roundelay of such conjunctions and concordances, twistings and trystings, appointments missed and kept, plaiting place with time. Court’sied when you have, and kiss’d. How many times round, beating these bounds, would it take for me to learn its lockstep, syncopated cinquepace, my arrivals coinciding precisely with every beginning, the piece persisting each time just the time I need to tread the measure of the space it scoops, and punctually desisting only as I myself recede?

Listening, I orbit the bleak court, widdershins, coiling in little the cochlear anticyclone I’ll soon be pacing through the streets, turning and turning in a tightening gyre. Then set off west along the Moorgate Highwalk, on a slow bow-bend, slanting south down a stair sinistral to street level. Gutter Lane pours me out into Milk Street, where saltyLachrimae, pausing, forming, dropping slow, are silver sound-slivers of brightness falling from the air.

Read the complete essay

Image: Near The Bank of England, London, 2010. Photograph: Julian Abrams


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Philipsz does seem drawn to dark songs. The song at London Bridge can be interpreted as a cry from those who have disappeared beneath the waters of the river... "I think most people are fascinated by mortality", concludes Philipsz. And, as we walk away, the sound comes after us, as if it doesn't want us to escape. — Lena Corner, The Observer Magazine, 14 November 2010

Selected Press

Human yet ethereal; soothing yet melancholy; invisible yet strangely physical: The work of Susan Philipsz is contradictory, to say the least... [Surround Me] is made up of a "constellation" of installations, featuring recordings of the artist singing overlapping versions of 16th century folk songs, or madrigals, at different spots around the financial district. While she says she appreciates the clarity and simplicity of indoor spaces, Ms. Philipsz's real love is work in outdoor public spaces. — Gemma Halsey, The New York Times, 13 October 2010
Surround Me insinuates itself down alleys and courtyards... her voice like an Elizabethan ghost, singing melancholy works by John Downland and other 16th and 17th composers. I have stood in shadowy old courtyards and between gleaming office blocks, weeping as I listen. And how many artists can you say that about? Her sense of place, and space, memory and presence reminds me, weirdly, of the sculptor Richard Serra at his best. Her art makes you think of your place in the world, and opens you up to your feelings." — Adrian Searle, The Guardian, 7 December 2010
At various locations around the Bank of England, Philipsz has installed a choir of fragile sound pieces that import poetry and warmth into this cold investment quarter. I particularly recommend seeking out her piece under London Bridge. It's brilliant. — Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times, 12 December 2010

About Susan Philipsz

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Susan Philipsz

Susan Philipsz was born in 1965 in Glasgow. She studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee (1989-93) and the The University of Ulster (1993-94). Since then she has exhibited widely in the UK and internationally and she has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize 2010 for Lowlands, a work installed under three bridges beside the River Clyde in Glasgow.

Her solo exhibitions include When Day Closes, IHME Project, Pro Arte Foundation, Helsinki (2010); Lowlands, Glasgow International, Glasgow (2010); I See a Darkness, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2010); You Are Not Alone, Radcliffe Observatory, Modern Art Oxford (2009) and Out of Bounds: Susan Philipsz, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2008). Her many group exhibitions include Haunted, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); Mirrors, MARCO Museo de Arte Contemporanea, Spain (2010); The Quick and the Dead, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis (2009); Tales of Time and Space, Folkestone Triennial, Folkestone (2008); Skulptur Projekte Münster 07, Münster (2007) and Days Like These, Tate Britain Triennial, London (2003).

Interested in the ways that sound and space can define and mediate each other, Susan Philipsz creates subtle yet immersive installations in which the artist’s voice is the central medium. Engaged with the notion of sound as a physical or sculptural experience, Philipsz is best known for recording herself singing unaccompanied versions of popular or folk songs which she replays in public spaces or in a gallery. Responding to the character or architecture of a space or place and drawing from musical, literary and historical sources, her works often stimulate a heightened sense of spatial awareness, emotion and memory.

Images: Portraits of the artist Susan Philipsz in the City of London, 2010. Photographs: Julian Abrams

Book: You Are Not Alone

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Susan Philipsz: You Are Not Alone

£27.50 from Cornerhouse

Turner Prize winner Philipsz's work is inextricably of a time and place. Recognising the elusive nature of the sound installations, this book gathers a range of material which informed the conception and shaping of each work in turn, together with the lyrics of the songs and photographs of each place.

Edited by Brigitte Franzen, Director of Ludwig Forum, and Artangel Co-Director James Lingwood, the display of each piece is accompanied by essays from a number of leading curators, academics and writers. These include Maeve Connolly; Barbara London, Associate Curator at MOMA; and Steven Connor, Professor of English at the University of Cambridge.


  • Published by Walther König / Artangel and Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen et al, 2014
  • Contributing authors: Sara Arrhenius, Katrina M. Brown, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Maeve Connolly, Steven Connor, Brigitte Franzen, Barbara London, Dieter Roelstraete, Anna Sophia Schultz, Ross Sinclair
  • Editors: Brigitte Franzen and James Lingwood
  • 170 colour illustrations
  • 216pp
  • Softcover
  • 320mm x 205mm
  • ISBN: 9783863354053


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Who made this possible?


Surround Me was commissioned and produced by Artangel with the support of Arts Council England.

Artangel is generously supported by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.