We are very privileged to be working with musician and composer Steve Lewinson who will be creating a sound commission for our exhibition The Fallen Woman. Responding to material from the Foundling Hospital archives, Steve is working with an exciting range of actors to bring to life the voices of the mothers who gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital, and the men who interviewed them as part of the admissions process. The work will offer a new and engaging interpretation of the hospital’s archive, bringing to the fore the voices which up to now have been hidden away. We spoke to Steve about his commission.
You’re both a musician and a composer. Has one led to the other, or have you always combined the two?
I think as a musician I’m mostly helping singers and artists with the story they are trying to tell, helping articulate and interpret it into a musical form. To me, composing feels like an extension of that, where I’m using sound to help illustrate stories or my response to stories. And if I’m working with a theatre or film director, then I’m helping them tell the story that they want told.
Is this the first time you’ve been commissioned to create a work as part of an exhibition or have you been involved in similar projects?
I’ve been involved in creating soundcapes for opera and theatre, but never as part of an exhibition. I do love going to galleries and museums and often find myself unconsciously creating soundtracks to accompany what I’m experiencing. This will be the first time I’ve recorded it for someone else to hear, which is very exciting.
What drew you to the exhibition The Fallen Woman and why did you want to be involved?
I grew up in a very close and loving family and the thought of thousands of mothers carrying their babies to the gates of the Foundling Hospital affected me deeply. I sat down with the curator, Lynn Nead, and together we talked about how best the stories of these women could be told.
How did you approach making this installation and can you talk a little about the creative process?
I started by reading any material I could find on the Hospital and the lives of the women. I knew from the start that I wanted to use actors to record their words, because it reminded me of the vast difference between reading a play and actually going to see it performed. I thought the women deserved a similar impact.
However the more I researched the material and talked with Lynn, the more I felt led in a different direction. I had never wanted a purely literaI reading of the transcripts, so I started to introduce even more ambiguity and distortions into the readings to reflect more of the myth of the ‘fallen’ woman. The actor’s voices became the sonic palette that I was starting from.
That brings us on to the voices themselves. How did you choose which archival material to work with and was there any piece that particularly stood out for you?
The museum had arranged for me to be sent copies of the transcripts and I kept reading through them over a period of quite a few weeks. I think we were all struck at how often the same words and phrases were appearing and so I tried to choose pieces that reflected this. There were some incredibly moving pieces, including a mother’s letter enquiring after the child she had left at the Hospital and another from a mother saying her baby had died before it could enter the Hospital.
Lastly, who can we expect to hear reading from the archive?
So far, we have had contributions from Maxine Peake, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ruth Jones and Adrian Dunbar. I’m so grateful to them for being so generous with their time even though they are all so busy.
Steve Lewinson is a musician, producer, songwriter, composer and musical director, who is most popularly known for his recording and performing work with some of the world’s most successful artists, including Simply Red, George Michael and Kylie Minogue. More recently Steve has been working with the Welsh National Opera and the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony composer Errollyn Wallen on a new opera, Anon, which explores the modern exploitation and abuse of women.