Richard Long

Sound Circle


Map and typescript on paper
Support: 830 x 1120 mm
Purchased 1991


Sound Circle is a square section of ordinance survey map reproduced in colour. Below it Long has written the work’s title in red, followed by ‘A Dartmoor Walk/1990’ in black. On the section of map a circle has been drawn in pencil and printed words and phrases have been added around it. All text added by Long is in capitals. This circle is centred under the words ‘Dartmoor’ and ‘Dartmoor Forest’ printed on the map above the landscape. It describes a circular walk Long made during the course of a day. The words and phrases, printed around the circular area on Dartmoor, describe what the artist heard along the way. The sounds are cited at the points on the map at which they were encountered. They include sounds made by water (streams, rain), wind (appearing as ‘wind’ or ‘rustling’ and ‘hissing’), birds, insects, animals, humans (including the artist’s feet ‘squelching’ in mud and ‘kicking a sheep’s skull’) as well as one non-natural element ‘an aeroplane’. 119 sound-producing elements are listed, spaced unevenly round the circle. In addition, one phrase at the top right hand side reads ‘not too bad a day’, providing an indication of how Long felt, perhaps at the end of his day’s walk. Another reference to the artist appears at the top left corner of the map where the longitude indication has been abbreviated to ‘Long 4°W’. Long has written:

A map can be used (to make a walk)

A map can be used (to make a work of art)

Maps are useful layers of information. They show geography. They show history. They can be an artistic and poetic combination of image and language.

A map can be an alternative to a pictorial image (i.e. it has a different function) while being a rich and economical image in its own right.

It can be more conceptual [...]
Maps can be read in many different ways.
Maps can be read as a standard and universal language.
They are invented by ‘no-one’ and known by ‘everyone’.

(Quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996, p.414.)

Long’s work is based on walking outdoors in nature, often in remote locations. The documentation of his walks, which takes a variety of different forms, constitutes the visible manifestation of the artwork, which for Long exists as much in the making of it as in its end product. His first ‘walk’ was performed when he was a student at Central St Martin’s School of Art, London (1966-8). For A Line Made by Walking, England 1967 (Tate P07149) Long repeatedly trod a path in a field, wearing down the grass in a line which he then photographed. Shortly afterwards he made his first map and text work. In A Ten Mile Walk, England 1968 (Anthony D’Offay Gallery, London) a straight black line drawn on a section of map delineates the trajectory of a walk on Exmoor in south west England. A Hundred Mile Walk 1971-2 (Tate T01720) is a diptych comprising a map with a circle drawn on it accompanied by text and a photograph. Cerne Abbas Walk 1975 (Tate T02066) is another two-part work including a portion of map. Long has made many walks on Dartmoor, an area of natural wilderness near to his home in Bristol, south west England. Dartmoor Walks 1972 (Tate P07082) is a silkscreen and lithography print made by Long describing several walks undertaken on Dartmoor. One Hour 1984 (private collection) is a circle of sixty words describing another Dartmoor walk.

Further reading:
R.H. Fuchs, Richard Long, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1986
Richard R. Brettell, Dana Friis-Hansen, Richard Long: Circles Cycles Mud Stones, exhibition catalogue, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston 1996
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1991, reproduced (colour) p.236

Elizabeth Manchester
November 2000/November 2001

Display caption

Many of Long’s walks are circular, echoing the form frequently used for ancient rituals and the shape he often uses for his sculptures. This work records a circular walk during which he recorded sounds at regular intervals. These sounds are suggested by the text on the map which registers his progress across the earth. In this way he gives permanent form both to the time taken to make the walk and a series of transitory moments.

Gallery label, August 2004