Art of noise: Senate House Library’s first artist-in-residence

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Senate House Library will offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience Charles Holden’s iconic building – through sound and vision - with the appointment of its first ever artist-in-residence this month.

Funded by a Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Grant, sound artist Hannah Thompson has been commissioned to create a sonic testament to the living history of Senate House as it undergoes structural remodelling through the University of London’s Programme Beveridge.

Her ‘sound art’ installation goes on show to the public in November as part of the 2016 Being Human humanities festival. Based on themes of juxtaposition and interactivity through this period of disruption and change, it will capture the building’s history as the war-time Ministry of Information and its cultural representation as George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in 1984.

Taking Orwell’s Memory Hole as its inspiration, the installation will feature a Memory Hole Machine from which information and sounds gathered during the residency will be played back for the first time in the public performance. It pays tribute to the devotion to research in this home to a world-class library for the University of London and the School of Advanced Study (SAS).

‘It’s a real privilege to work in such an inspiring and iconic building and interact with specialist researchers from the diverse range of collections,’ says Hannah Thompson, a graduate from The CASS School of Media and Design. ‘And it is humbling to be able to create a sonic dissemination of the research carried out and the systems and networks that facilitate the academic activities within its walls.’
Her ten-month post allows her, armed with recording equipment, to roam the art deco building which is being developed to provide improved technology and new workspaces. She will document the works in progress and archive the sounds that will be lost as the institution is irrevocably changed.

The installation will continue to gather and play back data from the building and its occupants into the future.
Placing Hannah Thompson’s work in its historical context, Colin Homiski, research librarian for the visual and performing arts, says ‘Over a century ago, the Futurist Luigi Russolo’s manifesto The Art of Noises, called for the expansion of music to reflect better the sounds and noises of machinery found in early 20th century industrial Italy. Hannah’s work sits on that continuum which will allow us to hear Holden’s architectural gem as we have never heard it, breaking down the boundary between life and art.’

‘The building and activities provide a dynamic myriad of sounds, a rich body of thematic material and varied, curious narratives,’ adds Hannah Thompson. ‘Through the generosity of the Leverhulme Trust and the enthusiasm of my hosts, as a resident artist I will be able to support research projects, events and exhibitions throughout the year.’

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1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart at the School of Advanced Study, University of London at / 020 7862 8653. Images available on request.

2. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. It consists of 18 self-governing Colleges of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at

3. Senate House Library (SHL) is one of the world’s most significant collections in the arts, humanities and social sciences. With its partner libraries of the Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, it provides services to readers from the School of Advanced Study, the Colleges of the federal University of London, and from London, regional, national and international research communities. All are welcome to join the Library through a membership programme for the University of London, other UK universities, overseas universities, or as a member of the public. The Library and its collections have been continuously developed since the 1870s. It now holds over two million printed books, thousands of printed and electronic journals, and the highest proportion of historic collections of any university library in the United Kingdom.  Modern materials in printed and electronic formats are collected at research level and in Western European languages to support cross- and inter-disciplinary research in subjects such as English Studies, history, philosophy, music, Romance and Germanic languages, palaeography, art history and area studies. Senate House Library also holds the University of London Archive – the historic record of the University – and is responsible for the University of London Artworks Collection. Acquisitions are also made to the Historic Collections, and notable collections include the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, the Sterling Library and the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.

4. The School of Advanced Study, University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

5. The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education. Today, it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £80m a year. For more information: @LeverhulmeTrust

6. Hannah Thompson graduated last year with a BSc in Music Technology and Audio Systems from CASS faculty of Architecture, Media and Design, London Metropolitan University. She is a trained violinist and recorder player whose journey from classical soloist and orchestral player to experimental electronic sound artist, audio systems designer, electronic instrument builder and audio programmer, has opened up a vast palette of sounds and control possibilities embracing and utilising technologies from the acoustic and mechanical to the electronic, analog and digital. Work includes site-specific installations, live performance, improvisation and composition, from live radio to audio application development.