Barbican Sculpture Court
Beneath the curve of Frobisher Crescent is a layer-cake of activity. The top floors consist of residential apartments and Barbican Centre offices. The luckiest teams get a desktop view of the leafy Sculpture Court and its Brutalist, symmetrical staircases. Even the embedded air vents are far from unremarkable. Below this lies the sweeping form of our Curve gallery, a unique space that has housed some of our most iconic exhibitions.
When Musicity first mentioned creating a piece inspired by and specific to the Sculpture Court, it occured to me that, even though I work there frequently, the Barbican Centre is a bit of a mystery to me. For example, where is the sculpture in this court?
My main inspiration, and my first thought when asked to create this piece, was that the floor of the Sculpture Court is the roof of the Barbican’s Concert Hall and that it is too weak to actually bear the weight of any heavy sculpture. It seems like a bit of a failure, and I love that thought! I imagined a faint melody rising through the ceiling of the hall and creating a sculpture which is light enough for the court. ['Polystyrene']
The space itself has a very dynamic feel, although in appearance it is stately, still, and maybe even imposing. Sounds bounce off the hard surfaces of Frobisher Crescent, the white-tiled wall of the art gallery opposite, and the paving. As I sat on a bench nested within some rather weathered planters I got the feeling, when looking up at the flats, that the inhabitants, even on the top floor, could hear me whisper. ['Screens, louvres and very slightly dilapidated planters']
Many areas within the Barbican Estate have interesting acoustics, and sounds carry unexpectedly, ricocheting off the hard building materials. In the same way, depending on the time of year, there are reflected dawns and sunsets in different parts of the estate. ['Reflected dawn/sunset']
The Court is within Frobisher Crescent, and flanked by the tower blocks Cromwell and Shakespeare. I am sure that a civil engineer would laugh at my superficial comments, but I was fascinated to know that the retaining wall behind the crescent goes down to 17 feet above sea level and, at its base, is almost 10 feet thick. This apparently prevents the towers from falling inwards. There is also a steel cable underground which acts as a tensioning device, preventing the ends of the crescent moving apart. An amazing image of power, steadiness, and ingenuity on the part of the structural engineers. ['Cromwell/Shakespeare']
The piece takes the form of fleeting ‘musical sculptures’, each an aspect of my response to the space, the buildings surrounding it and its strange acoustic. I was also inspired by conversations with my friend Francis Pugh, an official guide to the City of London, and a quote by the architects of the Barbican Centre who compared it to 'the hull of a large ship in which much is contained below the water’.
‘Anchor and Tangents’ by Mandhira de Saram.
Mandhira de Saram
Mandhira de Saram is a versatile violinist performing as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral violinist in the UK and abroad. She is a founding member and the leader of the Ligeti Quartet, a young string quartet which has established a reputation as a leading dynamic and imaginative force in contemporary and modern music.