Artist Statement: Polyphonic Practice and Vocalising Site

I am a visual artist, singer-composer and performance maker, working in Bristol UK. My work spans the mediums of performance, voice, drawing, music composition, sound art, video and artistic direction. READ MORE HERE

Current ongoing project: click image below to view blog
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  • THE STAGE: WORKING TITLE voice-work in progress and performance, The Arnolfini, Bristol, 2-5pm Tuesday 14th & 6-8pm Friday 17th March 2017

The Stage: Working Title is an ambitious live project which took place in a specially installed construction created by UWE Bristol Architecture MA students.

I brought my vocal field-recording based project,
Site Singing , to The Stage for its live debut with two fellow singers, Leila Gamaz and Chloé Turpin. This ‘open rehearsal’ was the testing ground of a new work in progress, where we will took vocal and acoustic elements and approaches I have developed through my solo field trips to lesser-known heritage sites in the South West, and worked directly with the space to create the beginnings of a new experimental live work.

Visitors were invited to share the space and listen in, and to discuss the work while being able to view and physically handle maps, photographs and drawings created over the course of the project so far. We presented a first rush, or scratch-style performance, of the resulting material for our second Friday session.

In this process, we explored many approaches spanning: spatial sound, atmospheric immersive voices, sonic layering, unexpected harmonies, microtones and harmonics, combinations of live and recorded voices, amplified treatments and effects, distance and proximity, interesting vocal dissonances and textures, rawness, improvisation and exploration.

Site Singing at The Stage (Working Title), The Arnolfini, Bristol from Ellen Southern on Vimeo.

Follow the progress of the work at #SiteSinging @ellen_southern

The Stage: Working Title, on the Arnolfini website

Site Singing at Over Bridge w Chloe Turpin first visit
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CITIES AND MEMORY: SACRED SPACES commission, international project released February 2017
I created a new sound work for Cities and Memory, in response to a call out to re-imagine a field recording of a sacred space. The scope of the project was huge: recordings from 34 countries bringing together 123 artists and field recordists from around the world.

The project has received much acclaim since its release, and has been widely shared via social media.
Hear BBC radio interviews with curator Stuart Fowkes here.

Hear all the works and see the global sound-map on the Sacred Spaces webpage

My piece was created from an ambient recording of a rainstorm from within West Ogwell church in Devon:

I chose this recording for its atmosphere and sonic texture. It offered the possibility for me to create a voice-based sound work from an audio track free from prescribed musical sound, voices or melody.

I approached the making of my re-imagined track as a form of ritual in itself. I took some quiet hours alone and created a space to work on my sonic response. I dimmed the lights, lit a candle, and the moon was rising. I listened intensely to the original recording over and over, and enjoyed becoming increasingly aware of the physicality of the layers of sound. The cumulative effect was quite trance-like. I instinctively found myself listening for tones or ‘voices’ within the white noise of the rain, and was startled by two sounds near the end of the track which seemed to be just that – either human or a bird (an owl?). This made me think of EVP (electronic voice phenomena): ambient recordings made by those listening back for presences or traces of the dead. I have heard a demonstration of EVP recordings in an English church previously, and this experience influenced the aesthetics of some of my past works. There is a kind of focus quality of perception when listening for such ‘voices’, as well as a minimal sound-world of empty air, sonic interference and glitching (hissing, white noise, wind disturbance etc.), as well as the sounds of recording devices themselves. Remembering this, I decided to keep my response similarly plain, yet make it dense and uncertain, a touch austere, with the feeling of being a found-recording of some strange past event.

Read more about the creation of the West Ogwell piece here

Hear the original fiend recording by Tony Whitehead, here

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“Bristol-based artist Ellen Southern takes experimental music to extraordinary new heights. Choral singer come performance artist, her work draws on the history of singing to create a fresh style rooted in vocal traditions. Having relocated to Amsterdam then Poland in the 1990s, disillusioned by an increasingly corporate, London-centric art world, she collectively set up an arts workshop and events venue, and has been devoted to multimedia practice ever since. Her current polyphonic (many-voiced) work seeks to instil the multi-dimensionality of fine art into contemporary sound performances.”

Read the full article: http://speakingvisuals.co.uk/blog/meet-the-artist-ellen-southern

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  • DEAD SPACE CHAMBER MUSIC live performance at 20th Century Flicks video shop, Christmas Steps, Bristol, Friday 9th December

See pics and video:
Dead Space Chamber Music on Facebook


  • DEAD SPACE CHAMBER MUSIC + UTHER MOADS + MYTH: Live at The Cube Microplex, Friday 14th October 2016
Dead Space Chamber Music (myself and guitarist Tom Bush) played a 40 min set with the excellent Liz Muir, cellist with Saltings, at The Cube Microplex. Earlier this year we released a free Demo EP, integrating vocal sound-scapes from my ongoing Site Singing project.

“Three esoteric acts / synthetic gnosis / outré transmissions” More info & audio: The Cube website

Dead Space Chamber Music on Facebook

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BURL featuring Ellen Southern: ‘Compound’, a live noise / drone / ritual work
Over the last few months I have been collaborating with Joanna Pucci, who invited me to be guest vocalist on a live project with
BURL (I first encountered her at the Eastonia event where I presented Site Singing , see below).

We have been performing an ever-evolving 30 min sound/noise/drone/ritual piece, which we have recently recorded and titled COMPOUND, soon to be released - more info soon!

REVIEW: Four New Acts You Need To Know - see us featured in Crack Magazine (August 2016)

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Performances to date:
The Surrey Vaults Bristol, supporting Pheromoans, 15th April 2016
- THORNY club night at the Cube Microplex, Bristol, 16th April 2016
New River Studios London, June 5th supporting Pheromoans (thanks to Conny for the image below - video coming soon!)
Cacophonous Sarcophagus: Schwetfest 2.0 at The Exchange, Bristol, 16th July 2016
Undertone, Cardiff, supporting The Death of Money and Bruxa Maria, 24 September 2016

BURL and ellen southern at Undertone cardiff 24 sept 2016
BURL with Ellen Southern New River Studios June2016

  • POLYPHONY: experiments and adventures in voice solo exhibition at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol 2nd - 6th September 2016
After a successful debut solo exhibition in July 2015, this autumn I returned to Centrespace Gallery to show a selection of interdisciplinary works. The opening event featured a durational site-specific vocal performance for four female voices, as well as some roof-raising polyphonic singing with friends from Bristol Sacred Harp.

Selected visitors comments:

“A beautiful, haunting show. Love the combination of sound and visual material.”

“Intriguing and a different way of using audio and voice. I love the fact that its playful, haunting, and ritualistic. Thank you.”

“Really haunting and moving – loved the ‘Site Singing’ photos of Over Bridge, and the ‘Fugue’ installation.”

“An absolutely brilliant collection of interactions. Very touching, I didn’t want to leave (I came back!). The human voice in all its rich experience. If there is anywhere else to go, Ellen will take us there.”

“This is one of the most brain-tingling events I have ever witnessed. There should be more of this sort of stuff in Bristol – and elsewhere.”

“Thank you for realising things that I have been feeling around in my head for years and never had the courage to put into concrete. Brilliant!”

Exhibition overview: Centrespace Website

For updates: follow @ellen_southern & see #polyphonyexhib

POLYPHONY: Press Release

Bristol Sacred Harp on Bandcamp

Artist text: “Welcome to POLYPHONY”

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SALTINGS PRESENTS - THE BRISTOL HUM experimental music and film festival, 6th - 10th July, The Edwardian Cloakroom, Bristol
Engaged Voice returned to the Edwardian Cloakroom, but slightly altered...! Vocal recordings from my 2014 site-specific exhibition Engaged Voice were re-worked by myself and Tom Bush as Dead Space Chamber Music, with the excellent addition of cello by Liz Muir (Saltings).

Hear excerpts for the performance here

See THE BRISTOL HUM blog for more info

Dead Space Chamber Music on Facebook

@saltingsmusic & see #thebristolhum & #EngagedVoice

Bristol Arts Development guest blog: Engaged Voice

dscm at bristolhum


Dead Space Chamber Music (myself and guitarist Tom Bush) have released a free Demo EP, integrating vocal sound-scapes from my ongoing Site Singing project. The collection of tracks include material from our performances at Sanctum (see below)


Dead Space Chamber Music on Facebook


SANCTUM: Theaster Gates / Situations / MAYK: October - November 2015
I took part in this ambitious sound project as part of
Dead Space Chamber Music, integrating vocal sound-scapes from my ongoing Site Singing project.

I sang as part of
Bristol Sacred Harp choir, and while the project ran, was invited to sing ‘What Shall I Do With My Hands’, a 5am incantation to the rhythm of a potters wheel by Louisa Fairclough with singer Chloë Somers and Lou Gilbert Scott of Potstop.

See the Sanctum Bristol website and blog for documentation of the project

Read the Guardian review of Sanctum

See #sanctumbristol on Twitter

Performing with Tom Bush as Dead Space Chamber Music

What Shall I Do With My Hands

‘What Shall I Do With My Hands”, photo by Louisa Fairclough


  • AMALGAMS: an interdisciplinary immersive performance at the John Wesley Chapel, Bristol: Saturday 31st October 2015

Amalgams (def: a mixture or blend) was a new collaborative performance created together with other invited practitioners by the Onomato Collective. Fellow invited participants included musicians Tina Hitchens, Dominic Lash & Hannah Marshall, electronic artist Liam McConaghy: Microdeform , film maker Louisa Fairclough and Film Curator Kim Knowles (both part of the BEEF film group, Bristol). Many thanks to fellow shapenote-singers Rachel Wemyss, Leila Gamaz and Chloë Somers from Bristol Sacred Harp. See a short video below by Ben Owen.

Read more about AMALGAMS here

Part of the
Bristol and Bath Art Weekender 2015

A M A L G A M S Short event document by Onomato from Benjamin Owen on Vimeo.

Photos and poster by Ben Owen of Onomato Collective

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BRISTOL FESTIVAL OF SONG 9th - 18th October 2015

Bristol Sacred Harp made a Festival of Song debut this year, taking part in Song Raids on a variey of locations on the harbour, and performing a lunchtime concert at the amazing St Mary Redcliffe Cathedral.

Hear the audio here

We also led a shape-note singing workshop at
The American Museum, Bath.

bristol sacred harp at st mary redcliffe

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EASTONIA - exploring landscapes with artists and academics Friday 9th October 2015
I presented Site Singing as part of an innovative new event series curated by Guy Lochhead. Poster artwork by Alice McFarlane.

See the blog entry about the event on the Site Singing website

See the event Facebook page for info on all participants

Hear Guy Lochheads mixtape on the theme of ‘ruins’

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I really enjoyed the
Supernormal Festival 2015, a three-day experimental arts and music festival in Braziers Park, Oxfordshire. We gave a shape-note singing workshop, where we got tens of first-timers singing loud and proud!

See the Bristol Sacred Harp website to join us for weekly singing

Hear audio clips from the 2nd annual
Bristol All Day Singing 2015

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This track was created by visitors on a performative tour I gave of the exhibition of Reto Pulfer's water-inspired installation Gewässerzeiten. Pulfer's own composition which plays in the space can be heard, as well as distant excerpts from the nearby installation of Patrick Staff's The Foundation.

See & download the exhibition programme here

About the tour:
The day of the tour coincided with World Listening Day (see above), which was on the theme of water. So I suggested we use our voices to create layers of watery sounds as we walked meditatively amongst the installation. This informal interactive tour proposed and explored potential connections between these two seemingly contrasting shows, testing out how one exhibition might in fact reveal insights into the other.

The audience was invited to share in this process, through open discussion, personal reflection and through participatory activities (a collaborative mnemonic-drawing and this group sound-work) in order to enact and realise shared themes such as notions of archiving documentary and collecting, revealing the means of making, memory, sanctuary, trust and generosity.
Many thanks to all for taking part and sharing thoughts and experiences!

Current programme: Spike Island


SITE SINGING - vocal Explorations of English Heritage Sites solo exhibition at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol, 4th - 8th July 2015
Thank you to all who joined me at
Centrespace Gallery, Bristol, to hear and reflect on work in progress from my current project.

“Engaging sound-sketches, inspired by visits to some of Bristol’s finest heritage sites” - Bristol Life

“Southern is a genuine polymath...the execution [of her sound-sketches] requiring dedication, planning, and hard work. [They are] all created by the artist using her own voice [with] each piece drawing on her fine art and drawing background” Louise Trimby, Bristol 24/7
read full article here

About the exhibition
: Since last summer, sound artist Ellen Southern has visited a variety of heritage sites within a day of Bristol by foot and public transport, in keeping with Bristol being Green Capital 2015. At each site, she has experimented with her own voice and the acoustics of each space, using her voice to vocalise, or give voice to, these sites.

The resulting sound sketches, created from recordings made at these sites, are works in progress towards final audio works. These will be downloadable by the public, with the aim of contributing to the visitor interpretation of, and encourage engagement with, these lesser known English Heritage sites.

The exhibition will offer the opportunity to hear the sound works created so far, with varying combinations presented each day, and discuss their making with Ellen. Drawings and photographs from the field trips will be exhibited alongside the sound works.
Read more

Read an exclusive article on Site Singing featured in Sound Art Text

See the latest from #SiteSinging on twitter

e-flyer Site Singing at Centrespace Gallery July 3rd-8th 2015