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New Immersive Audio Installation Celebrates The History Of Radio And Marks BBC Centenary

The VoiceLine by Nick Ryan launches in major new public space in central London

  • The new Strand Aldwych public space is set to open after a major transformation project, led by Westminster Council, with the unveiling of its first artist commission: The VoiceLine by Somerset House Studios resident artist, Nick Ryan
  • The audio installation, commissioned by The Northbank BID, is delivered in partnership with the BBC, and inspired by the historical broadcasting legacy of the area – with Marconi House the location of the BBC’s first broadcast on 14 November 1922
  • The Strand Aldwych transformation seeks to establish a new creative thinking quarter, a space for collective innovation and experimentation. Westminster Council has been supported by a Joint Project Board made up of local stakeholders, businesses and world-class cultural and educational institutions, including the likes of the Northbank BID, Kings College London, Somerset House Trust, St Mary Le Strand, LSE, 180 Strand and The Courtauld.
  • The project dramatically improves air quality, opening up access, enhancing the local environment and creating a new world class destination for London.

A new audio installation has been announced to celebrate the opening of a major new public space for London and marking the BBC’s centenary.

Launching on 7th December, The VoiceLine by Somerset House Studios resident artist Nick Ryan, will be the first artist commission for the new Strand Aldwych public space and will be in situ for the next three months. The transformation of Strand Aldwych in the heart of Westminster has seen the ancient route adapted to become a modern meeting point and people-focused destination, which will be regularly animated by events, installations, and a series of artist commissions and research. Here art, performance and research will emerge and evolve, breaking down walls and creating a new platform for sharing knowledge.

The VoiceLine is a unique instrument for voice, sound, music, and audio storytelling, shaped by the new site and spanning the length of the space (170m). A rich programme of bespoke audio works will be created for a daily schedule, between 8am-8pm, creating an evolving pathway of sound delivered by a line of 39 highly focused speakers. 

The installation will be brought to life through a unique partnership with the BBC, during its centenary year. Located close to Marconi House from where the BBC first broadcast on 14 November 1922 and running past Bush House, the former home of BBC World Service, The VoiceLine will engage the public with voices from the past, drawing on the early innovations of radio, the famous voices of the news and nation, and the multitude tongues of the BBC World Service. The Voiceline will draw on the vast resources of the BBC audio archive as well as the multilayered histories of the Strand delivering a unique spatial sound work comprising archive, original recordings and compositions.

Among the many sounds that visitors will encounter include some of the earliest radio broadcasts, the voices of women pioneer broadcasters, memories of Bush House, spatial urban field recordings of cities around the world, natural environments from the forests of Canada to the sound of melting ice in the Artic, visions of the future gathered from Kings College London students, recreations of the Strand’s pre-industrial traffic, experiments with sound from The BBC Radiophonic Workshop and others, and the mysterious utterances of ‘Number Stations’ coded messages broadcast by foreign intelligence agencies.

Nick Ryan, composer, sound designer, audio specialist, and the artist behind The VoiceLine, said:

Over the next 100 years the sound of cities will change beyond recognition and perhaps for the first time we are able to choose how our public spaces should sound. The VoiceLine installation and its novel sound technologies enable us to transform a thoroughfare (that for the last 300 hundred years has been known only for the disruptive sound of vehicles) into a continuously evolving auditory world with immersive sounds of voices nature and music. I hope the unique sound instrument I’ve created will identify Strand once again as an iconic destination for listening. The VoiceLine celebrates the histories of radio and listening that began on Strand 100 years ago and changed the world.” 

The project has created a generous, welcoming, and inspirational place for residents, visitors, students, and workers, where the valuable cultural assets in the local area will be harnessed, bringing knowledge, innovation, art, and performance into the public realm to create a revitalised cultural and educational district for London. Stretching more than 350m in length – more than four times longer than Leicester Square and about the same size of a football pitch – the Strand Aldwych space includes a variety of areas that will increase interaction and dwell times, including social seating, workstations and collective dining, an activity lawn and garden room.

Ruth Duston, OBE, OC, CEO of the Northbank Business Improvement District, said:

Seeing collective will shift into collective action for this project has been incredibly rewarding for the BID. Beyond the opening of the new meanwhile public space in December and the launch of The VoiceLine, this will remain a partnership project, from curation of the space to the management of it. The continued collaborative process will undoubtedly deliver better activation and management of the new space, ensuring wider views are heard, innovation is embraced, and that we ultimately create a space that is welcoming, accessible and I hope, beloved by all.  

This meanwhile scheme enables us to test new concepts and activities. The permanent Strand Aldwych scheme is still very much in play, but deliverable only through partnership, with the private sector recognising the valuable contribution such spaces make to the vibrancy of the area.”

Jonathan Reekie, Director of Somerset House Trust, and chair of the Strand Aldwych Joint Project Board and the Activation & Curation steering group, said:

Somerset House has been delighted to play a leading part with many other local public and private stakeholders in this special partnership to create a new public space for London. The vision is routed in the locality drawing on the unique mix of history, community, world class culture and learning. It is a space that will draw from the past and help us shape the future of our great city. This intervention vastly improves air quality and will reveal to locals, Londoners and visitors, a vibrant and under-appreciated corner of London.”

Robert Seatter, BBC Head of History said:

“The BBC is delighted to be marking its centenary year with this rich and thrilling soundwork, taking inspiration from the birth of BBC Radio at Marconi House and celebrating the transformative power of audio in all our lives. Working from 100 years of BBC audio, Nick Ryan has conjured myriad new worlds, collapsing time and space in surprising and utterly insightful ways.”

Geoff Barraclough, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Economy, said: “In this exciting new Westminster destination, surrounded by much beautiful architecture and deep-rooted history, we are seeing the opening of a space for contemporary public culture in central London. 

 “An important part of the vision for Strand Aldwych was to carve out a space for free and accessible art and allow the creative ideas from the world-leading neighbouring institutions to spill out into public space. 

“The VoiceLine will be the first of many creative ventures that will act as a draw for visitors from the city and beyond to enjoy the Northbank and explore further, the many other delights nearby.”

Notes to Editors

For more information and further images please contact the Northbank BID press office: abigail.smith@mhpc.com ; 07710 845 531

Architects visualisation credit: Claudia Fragoso

Joint Project Board partnership: Ambassador Theatre Group, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Delfont Mackintosh, Derwent, Duchy of Lancaster, Farebrother, FM Conway, JLL, Kings, LDA, London Anglican & Archdeacon of London representative, London First / Business LDN, LSE, Northbank BID, NRP, One Aldwych, Royal Courts of Justice, SOLT, Somerset House, St Mary le Strand, TfL, Vinyl Factory (180 Strand), Waldorf Hilton, WCC, WSP

About Strand Aldwych:

In 2015, the Northbank BID commissioned a public realm vision, which would establish an overarching framework for the project. In 2017 the Place Shaping team at Westminster Council commenced work. Since then, a comprehensive feasibility, design and consultation process has been carried out. In 2020 Westminster Council committed £18 million towards the design and delivery of Aldwych 2-Way and a “meanwhile” version of the new public space, further funding has been provided by local partners. The permanent scheme, with high quality paving and bespoke furniture, is due to follow in 2-3 years’ time, with additional private sector investment playing a vital role in delivering this final phase.

About Nick Ryan:

Nick Ryan is a multi-disciplinary artist, composer and sound designer widely recognised for exploring the future of audio and listening through his novel sound installations, film sound design, bespoke sound instruments, generative music compositions and interactive audio experiences. Nick is the recipient of an Emmy for Sound Design (2022), a BAFTA for Technical Innovation (2003) and is currently an artist in residence at Somerset House Studios, London.

https://www.nickryanmusic.com/about-1

About L-Acoustics Creations:

L-Acoustics Creations is a division of L-Acoustics, the world leader in premium sound systems for live events and large-scale architectural projects. L-Acoustics Creations designs exceptional sound systems and immersive sound spaces for residential, architectural and experiential environments. For over 30 years, L-Acoustics has been developing innovative sound systems and technologies that elevate the listening experience. Recognized for pioneering the line array, the current audio standard for large-scale live events, L-Acoustics continues to shape the future of sound with L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound technology, offering multi-dimensional audio.

creations.l-acoustics.com / l-isa.l-acoustics.com / l-acoustics.com

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