Fallen Voices, a sound installation by Steve Lewinson

Musician and composer Steve Lewinson was commissioned by the Foundling Museum to create a sound installation to accompany upcoming exhibition The Fallen Woman. 

Featuring the voices of acclaimed actors Maxine Peake, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Ruth Jones, Renée Castle and Adrian Dunbar, alongside cellist Sarah Suckling, the installation offers a thought-provoking and unsettling interpretation of the Foundling Hospital’s archive, bringing to the fore voices which have previously been hidden.

The Fallen Woman explores the myth and reality of the ‘fallen woman’ in Victorian Britain and the stories of the mothers who gave up their babies to the Foundling Hospital. The exhibition places contemporary art and popular media that explored the idea of the ‘fallen woman’, from paintings by artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to prints and stereographic images, alongside Victorian documents from the Foundling Hospital’s archives. These documents, termed ‘petitions’, were forms that mothers had to fill in to explain the circumstances of their pregnancy, in order for their child to be accepted by the Foundling Hospital. They reveal the stories of thousands of women who became pregnant out of wedlock and the Hospital’s thorough investigations into their background and moral character.

Responding to this material, Lewinson worked with a range of actors to bring to life the voices of these women, and the men who would have interviewed them as part of the admissions process. Lewinson describes his aim to create an unsettling and thought-provoking soundtrack to the exhibition:

“I never wanted a purely literal reading of the transcripts. I started to introduce ambiguity and distortions into the reading to reflect the mythologised idea of the ‘fallen’ woman. The actor’s voices became a sonic palette.”

Curator Professor Lynda Nead views the sound installation as reflecting the tone of the stories that are told in the exhibition. She explains:

“There is quite a dark element to this exhibition. Some of the forms that the women filled out tell stories of violent assault, rape and abandonment. There is a kind of tension between what’s going on in the paintings and what might be going on in the Petitions. I began talking to Steve about using the words of the women, as we found them on the petitions and forms, and treating them in a way that would almost feel like the spaces were being haunted by them. That the words would make the walls come alive.”

Listen here to an abbreviated version of Fallen Voices. The piece can be heard in full as part of The Fallen Woman, runing from 25 September 2015 – 3 January 2016. Click here to find out more about the exhibition.

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.