Courting Power

Guildhall cross section scan.jpg

3D scan revealing a section through the courtroom fittings and the existing supporting timbers underneath. Image produced by Gianluca Foschi, 2018.

Courting Power Film, 2018, (1m33s) by Johannah Latchem, sound by Tim Shaw, archaeological scans Gianluca Foschi. Film produced by Alan Fentiman

Courting Power explores how the acoustics and architecture of the unique courtroom at the Guildhall, Newcastle upon Tyne silenced or facilitated the voices of those involved in its judicial processes. Artistic and scientific approaches have been employed in the investigation of the court’s rich acoustic history and historic archival documents dating from 1656 that discuss the acoustic dynamics of the courtroom have also informed this work. 

A cold case was sought that specifically related to the courtroom acoustic. The masculine realm of the court is explored through acoustics using the case of Margaret Hebbron who in July 1834 was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for 14 years, for receiving a silver watch. The local newspaper reported Margaret as screaming loudly from the defendant’s dock upon hearing her sentence, the scream permeating the compartmentalised acoustic boundaries of the courtroom.  The occasional siren that can be heard during the section of the sound work played from the dock, is informed by acoustic analysis of the projection for a woman’s voice from that exact spot. Drone chords reverberate within the court and beneath fittings.

Underwater microphone recordings taken at the mooring site of the convict ship museum Success, formerly a prison hulk and a sensationalised spectacle moored at Mill Dam, South Shields, provide a dissonant sound, at odds with the architectural surround. Simultaneously, whispers resound another scene of screaming; and give way to a judge’s gavel that interrupts the lulling soundscape at full volume from beneath the original timbers.

Sound by Tim Shaw; archaeological scan by Gianluca Foschi, 2018.