Jane and Louise Wilson

Jane and Louise Wilson, The Silence Is Twice as Fast Backwards, 2007. Exhibition view, “Reconstruction #2,” Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, UK, 2007.

Last summer, Jane and Louise Wilson unveiled their sound installation The Silence Is Twice as Fast Backwards, commissioned for the exhibition “Reconstruction #2” at the Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, UK. On June 14, the sisters will present this work along with two series of photographs as part of their fourth exhibition at 303 Gallery in New York. Here they discuss the making of the piece.

ELLIOTT MCDONALD AND MOLLIE DENT-BROCKLEHURST invited us to participate in an exhibition last year at Sudeley Castle, where much of the work was to be site-specific. Mollie was interested in having an artist place an artwork in a corridor of yew trees that are at least a century old—if not older. With such a dramatic setting, it seemed wrong to make a physical object, so we decided to use sound instead, a sound that animated the site. Several years ago, we made an audio piece for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was exhibited in the plaster hall and required headphones. At Sudeley, we felt that the sound should be more expansive and have a filmic quality, like a soundscape. We wanted it to be immersive, to have some of the same qualities we bring to a video installation.

The local church in Winchcombe is Saint Peter’s. We think it dates to the birth of the town, which itself was celebrating the thousand-year anniversary of its switch from being a county to becoming a village. We discovered that the church was commemorating the occasion with a full eight-bell peal—a three-hour ceremony—that we decided to record. Later, we worked with one of the bell ringers to record each of the eight bell tones separately.

We are very interested in the composer Georges Auric, who frequently worked with Jean Cocteau and is not nearly as well known in the UK as he is in France. In making this installation we were specifically inspired by Auric’s score for Cocteau’s Orphée (1950). At one point during the film, a bell rings to signal that it is time for Orphee to descend into the underworld. Moments of transition appeal to us, from one state to another (as in hypnosis) or from one space to another (as in the journey from the base of a launch pad to its apex, which overlooks the desert).

For the installation, we decided to randomize all eight tones, so that the composition is never fixed. Each note comes from an individual speaker, and you can’t predict where the next one will come from; each visit inspires its own score. At 303 Gallery, we’ve used invisible speakers, so the piece becomes a more immersive experience—the sound will hover in the rooms. We wanted to create an atmospheric intimacy; we don’t want the bells to be too overpowering. It’s not a big sound, but one that lends itself to walkways, passageways, and stairwells and encourages movement through the space in which it’s installed.