Audio Obscura

Sound work for train station forecourts
Duration ‘30
  • Year 2012
  • Writer: Lavinia Greenlaw
  • Underscore: Harry Escott
  • Sound design: Tim Barker

Audio Obscura

Audio Obscura is a sound installation for train station forecourts by Lavinia Greenlaw that was commissioned by The Manchester International Festival and Artangel. It premiered at Manchester Piccadilly Station at the festival in 2012 and then went on to London St Pancras station in the autumn.

It won the 2013 Ted Hugh’s award for new work in poetry. The judges said: ‘Audio Obscura was a groundbreaking work that fully captured the spirit of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. The judges felt this was a particularly outstanding year with six stellar entries on the shortlist.’

The music for this piece was almost entirely created by manipulating recorded sounds of Manchester Picadilly station. Here is an example of what that sounds like:


  • Audio Obscura transforms Brunel's masterpiece into a proscenium arch and everyone into performers as the rhythm of the crowd matches the rhythm of the sound, slowing down and speeding up in unison (or so it seems). The effect is surreal and unsettling, as you are convinced that along with being the puppet master you are also confidante to a thousand inner thoughts whispered in your ear.

    James Payne The Huffington Post
  • A cross between radio drama and social realism, Audio Obscura is more hypnotic than it first sounds – these muttered confessions might even make you miss your train… Audio Obscura is a skilful and moving experience: don’t miss it.

    Clara Tait Time Out
  • ‘Wandering through St Pancras and listening to Lavinia Greenlaw's Audio Obscura was an extraordinary experience of what poetry can do. It was profoundly moving, an inward and private journey in a very public place.’

    Edmund de Waal Ted Hughes Award judge, sculptor and author
  • ‘Lavinia Greenlaw's "outstanding" sound work Audio Obscura, which sent listeners on journeys of discovery through Manchester Piccadilly and London St Pancras train stations, has won the Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry. The prize, established by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, rewards "the most exciting contribution to poetry" over the last year.

    Greenlaw's work gave its audience headphones and led them through the bustle of London St Pancras and Manchester Piccadilly train stations, listening to individual narratives. It was felt by judges to "fully capture the spirit" of the Ted Hughes award.

    The concept for Audio Obscura, Greenlaw said, came from two places. "I'd done quite a lot of radio work so I was really interested in this format – the idea of only working with what people hear – but I wanted to take it out of the structure of a radio play. Then I have always been interested in the chinks and edges of perception, and how we make sense of what's in front of us. I wanted to really get at the relation between what we see and what we hear.

    "Everyone in a station is in a state of tension," she said, "they're coming from somewhere or going somewhere. I really wanted to explore that state of tension. Everyone looks contemplative, and I wanted to explore their thoughts."

    Her audience, she explained, was given a set of headphones and an MP3 player, and told to wander through the crowd. "You hear station noise so you forget you have headphones on, and the idea you're cut off goes," she said. "Then these voices start appearing. At first you think they're voices you're overhearing in the crowd, then you start to overhear interior monologues – some are quite painful and explicit, some uplifting."

    She chose to write monologues by characters whom she felt there was a chance of people seeing. "I spent a long time coming up with situations you could map on to the people around you. So there's a teenage girl, waiting," she said. "Having recorded these monologues, which are more poetic than narrative, I broke them down. I wanted to get to the point where you could overhear enough to imagine the rest."

    Thousands of people listened to the sound show, which took place at Manchester Piccadilly in July 2011 and at St Pancras in September and October 2011.

    Alison Flood The Guardian



  • The Poetry Society


    The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry