I am a composer and sound artist and I create research-led music and sound works for galleries and public spaces, which range from large-scale community-led performance installations to intimate sound art. My work explores the value and perception of sound and music, connecting people with environments that are forgotten or ignored, and is often rooted in political realities.
I always aim to push the boundaries of what music and sound is believed to be, from the venue it is experienced in, to the people who perform it. My work is multi-disciplinary and I enjoy collaborating with writers, visual artists and sign language interpreters to create accessible and inclusive work that engages people through more than the mediums of sound and music alone.
Becoming a composer and sound artist
In childhood I viewed the world differently and was fascinated by the senses. For me, sound triggers smell. The chord F13, for example, smells like fresh bread. I didn’t talk until I was five and music was an important outlet for me. By the age of 14 I was studying piano, recorder, flute, guitar, singing, and drums. But sound is just as important to me as instruments. Everything is music to me. I recently did a TEDx talk where I spoke about how I became an artist. It’s called Emily! Don’t Do That! which is something people have said to me many times.
A day in the life of a composer and sound-artist
I tend to work very late in my studio, so nothing much happens before midday. I spend my days alternating between walking with my dog, Dave Brubeck, and sitting at the piano or computer in my studio. Music and ideas are always in my head, so I never leave the house without some kind of recording device to capture sounds and ideas. Walking helps me crystalise ideas, which are often conceptual.
I write libretto (which doesn’t come easily), compose music (which does come easily), and play around with sounds until around 10pm, with lots of cups of tea and a good helping of procrastination. I scrap quite a lot of ideas, but always save them in a folder called my ‘art bank’. Turner said ‘Never lose a mistake’ and this is something I value. You never know when the most banal idea will come in useful. Sometimes it’s difficult to create, particularly when you have a deadline, or feel your work is rubbish. I always try to create for myself, and ignore feelings of self-doubt. It’s hard, but if I like it, I don’t mind what others think.
Choosing a favourite project
I’m not sure I have a favourite, as they are all unique. I loved LIFTED, as it was something I had always wanted to do and thought about for decades. My work BIRDS and other stories (POW! International Women’s Week, 2017) was a highlight, as I created a massive five-foot graphic score of the work with artist Joe Inkpen. It was essentially a piece of visual art and is going to be sold as a print at Turner Contemporary.
I loved Crossing Over (Turner Contemporary, 2016), a work that explored the migration crisis. It was a composition and surround sound piece, featuring the voices of 303 people from the UK and Europe answering the question ‘What does home mean to you?’ I advertised on social media to ask people to send me recordings and was overwhelmed by the response. It felt like we created a united viewpoint that was apolitical, as everyone can relate to the idea of home. At the premiere, the audience was moved, as was I.
The inspiration behind LIFTED
When I was a child I loved lifts. I was obsessed with how they worked, and loved travelling up and down in them. I used to stand outside them and imagine that as the doors opened a magical scene would appear before me. It never did, but I lived in hope. In my teens I became interested in how public spaces are often underappreciated. The lift is an amazing vehicle that moves us up and down buildings with ease, but it’s often taken for granted. I was also interested in how people experience sound in different venues. Lifts often play music that people would pay a lot of money to see in a concert hall. But in a lift, it is relegated to ‘background’ music, or muzak. Some lift music is also quite cheesy.
With LIFTED I wanted to explore our perception of music by placing a live choir inside a public elevator that usually pipes music through its speakers. There is a different movement for each floor, and I like to think of the lift as a portable stage. LIFTED premiered at Turner Contemporary in 2016, and was later performed in Asda, Folkestone as part of the Profound Sound Festival of experimental music, by Folkestone Fringe.
I discovered Martin Creed’s Singing Lift in the Royal Festival Hall when I was researching LIFTED, and decided that it would be great to perform it in the Royal Festival Hall lifts. I messaged the Singing Lift twitter account a few times, as they promoted my original premiere of LIFTED and it went from there really. I’m very excited that LIFTED will be performed at the Southbank Centre, in two synchronized lifts, no less!
Emily Peasgood's LIFTED takes place within two of the lifts at Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 1 July as art of Chorus.
On future projects
I’m currently working on a composition and interactive outdoor sound installation for Folkestone Triennial called Halfway to Heaven. It will be located in a Baptist burial ground that is situated like an island, 55 feet above street level, and features sung narratives and stories about the history of the burial ground and the people buried inside it. The burial ground has been forgotten by the people of Folkestone and was very overgrown until recently. I hope that Halfway to Heaven will bring remembrance to those buried there, and bring this forgotten burial ground into existence again.
I’ve also just finished working on a sung and spoken word piece for six-soprano group Philomel, led by soprano Janet Oates. It is called There is a Light at the End of the Tunnel and explores how the tunnel is used as a metaphor for hiding problems in our pasts.
Halfway to Heaven is exhibiting from Saturday 2 September - Sunday 5 November as part of Folkestone Triennial.
There is a Light at the End of the Tunnel premieres in The Brunel Shaft at the Brunel Museum on Thursday 2 November at 7.30pm.