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Department of Music academic collaborates on intriguing sound installation at Senate House Library

By Chris Lines (Senior Communications Officer), Published

London-based arts organisation Artangel will present a specially commissioned sound installation at London’s iconic Senate House Library featuring thousands of words for the weather in ten languages commonly spoken across the city.

Opening on 22 June 2022, A Thousand Words for Weather is the first project to launch as part of a new alliance of artists and writers called the World Weather Network, initiated by Artangel and 28 cultural organisations around the world.

Throughout three floors of the University of London’s Senate House Library, visitors will experience the sound of the weather as it responds to live data from the Met Office.

A collaboration with sound artist Dr Claudia Molitor (based in City, University of London’s Department of Music) and writer Jessica J Lee, A Thousand Words for Weather offers a new multilingual ‘dictionary’ of words with their definitions, to explore the role of translation and generate a shared language to describe our changing experience of climate and the environment.

To create the dictionary, Lee worked with seven other UK-based poets to translate one hundred words for the weather into ten languages including Arabic, Bengali, English, German, French, Mandarin, Polish, Spanish, Turkish, and Urdu.

The poets and translators who helped create the dictionary include Izdihar Alodhami, Nikhat Hoque with the Bengali British Poetry Collective, Leo Boix, Iris Colomb, Marta Dziurosz, Nina Mingya Powles and Ayça Turkoglu.

Software architect Peter Chilvers will create a bespoke playback system to input data from the Met Office, manipulating the installation’s sound mix in response to changes in the weather.

Positioning itself as a digital ‘weather station’, the new World Weather Network will invite artists and writers to report on environmental changes experienced locally that go on to form a complex and constantly fluctuating global climate system.

From Summer 2022, for one year, weather reports will come from stations in places as far reaching as, a coastline in Peru, a mountain range in India, a temple in Greece, a glacier in New Zealand, and a tropical rainforest in Guyana. Each organisation will share their reports on a new online platform which will also host a programme of talks and events with artists, writers and leading thinkers and climate scientists from different parts of the world.

Offering further insights on the installation, Dr Molitor [pictured] said:Dr Claudia Molitor

A Thousand Words for Weather’s starting point is Jessica J Lee bringing a group of poets together to write one hundred words, and translations, relating to weather in ten different languages.

The work at Senate House Library combines these words with my sonic translations of the meaning of these words in a sound installation that changes in relation to the weather.

Working with ten different languages, some of which I understand, other not, drew my attention to the sono-semantic experience of language.

In composing the work, I reflected on how language, voice and sound inflect the way we experience and understand weather.

The installations dotted around the library are changed by the weather outside, using data from the met office, so the experience will be different on a sunny day compared with a windy one, for example.

In the Periodicals room, a 54-minute work will play once a day (and be available throughout on headphones) which subtly changes every week over a period of nine months.

By the end it will be a different experience, reflecting upon the subtle changes in climate that are imperceptible from year to year, but drastic from decade to decade.”

Jessica J Lee tweeted: "Since 2020, I’ve been thinking about the weather, language, and where they intersect. It's an absolute joy to have been given space for such open-ended exploration with a group of brilliant writers—and thrilled to see it morph into sound with Claudia Molitor."

About the installation

A Thousand Words for Weather will open at Senate House Library on 22 June 2022 and run across the seasons during library opening hours until March 2023. To accompany the installation, there will be a series of events, coordinated by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), inviting artists and writers to discuss climate change and the importance of connecting across languages, including best-selling novelist Jeanette Winterson and senior lecturer in climate science Professor Friederike Otto.

There will be a special preview for current Senate House Library members on Monday 20 June between 3pm and 5pm, when there will be an opportunity to meet the team and listen in, before A Thousand Words for Weather opens to the public later that week. It may be necessary to limit numbers on the day, so to be sure of a place please email SHL.w[email protected] to let them know you are intending to visit.

Regular tickets to visit the installation can be booked here.

About Artangel

Artangel is a London-based arts organisation founded in 1985 by Roger Took. Directed since 1991 by James Lingwood and Michael Morris, it has commissioned and produced a string of notable site-specific works, plus several projects for TV, film, radio and the web.

Notable past works include the Turner Prize-winning House by Rachel Whiteread (1993), Break Down by Michael Landy (2001) and Seizure by Roger Hiorns (2008–2010), also nominated for the Turner Prize in 2009.

A 2002 article in The Daily Telegraph described the organisation as creating "art that operates by ambush, rather than asking you to pay up before you see it", while a 2007 profile in The Observer noted that "Artangel has worked with exceptional artists to produce some of the most resonant works of our time, in some very unusual places". These have included a condemned council flat (Seizure, 2008-10), a former postal sorting office (Küba, 2005), a vacated general plumbing store (An Area of Outstanding Unnatural Beauty, 2002) and the former Oxford Street branch of the C&A department store (Break Down, 2001).