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Susan Philipsz

About this Artist

Susan Philipsz’ Prelude in the Form of a Passacaglia (2019) is a large-scale sound installation that addresses themes of movement, separation and displacement. 

Drawing inspiration from a generation of artists who fled Germany to the United States in the 1930s, this work looks into composer Hanns Eisler’s personal tale of plight and subsequent deportation from the United States after years of living under covert FBI surveillance. 

Eisler was known for his ability to bring together the formal innovations of the twelve-tone musical technique with political ideology, and for developing a practice in which music functions within a social context. His unique compositional methods were designed to disrupt the audience’s expectations so that music could be experienced consciously.

Eisler’s work was intricately related to the film culture of the first half of the 20th Century. His’s first composition for film, Prelude in the Form of a Passacaglia (1926) was composed as the musical score for an early Walter Ruttmann’s abstract animation titled Opus III (1924).  The film reflects the rhythmic movement of color and light and the music follows that rhythm. The Passacaglia in the title derives from the Spanish pasar (to walk) and calle (street) suggesting movement on the part of the listener.

In Philipsz’ Prelude in the Form of a Passacaglia (2019), the artist recorded the entire composition on violin, with each of the twelve tones that make up the composition recorded separately. These recordings will be placed throughout the Walt Disney Concert Hall gardens. Expanding and extending into the space has the effect of abstracting the individual notes from the composition as a whole. As each tone bounces off the reflective curved surfaces of the architecture they merge with the other tones in new and surprising configurations.