Sound Line is a text work in Spanish consisting of twenty-two lines of text arranged in a rough column. The title is printed below the text in red along with a statement that explains the structure of the work. The words are printed in capital letters in Gill Sans typeface. The print was produced in an edition of forty-five, printed by Sheila Marbain and published by Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York. The statement at the bottom of the text translates into English as follows:
ALONG A WALK OF 622 MILES IN 21 DAYS
FROM THE NORTH COAST TO THE SOUTH COAST OF SPAIN
This text indicates the twenty-one day span of Long’s journey on foot from the northern coast of Spain at Ribadesella to the southern coast at Málaga. Long recorded a sound each day as he travelled, producing a text in which each line contains a sound and the place where the artist heard it. There are twenty-two lines of text rather than twenty-one since the start point of the walk is included, followed by a point passed on every subsequent day. The English translation of the main text is as follows:
SURF ROAR AT RIBADESELLA
A THUNDERING RIVER IN THE DESFILADERO DE LOS BEYOS
A MEWING BUZZARD NEAR HORCADAS
A SQUEALING PIG IN SAELICES DEL RIO
A BARKING DOG IN SAHAGÚN
A SKYLARK NEAR MORAL DE LA REINA
GEESE NEAR MEDINA DEL CAMPO
STARLINGS IN FUENTE EL SOL
A SPLASH IN A RAIN PUDDLE IN MIRUEÑA DE LOS INFANZONES
CRUNCHING SNOW ON THE PUERTO DE LAS FUENTES
A BRAYING DONKEY NEAR SEGURILLA
KICKING A STONE IN ALCAUDETE DE LA JARA
HISSING WIND THROUGH BRANCHES IN LA NAVA DE RICOMALILLO
A COCK CROWING NEAR HERRERA DEL DUQUE
A FROG NEAR ALMADÉN
THE SCREECH OF A HERON ON THE RIO VALDEAZOGUES
HITTING TWO STONES TOGETHER IN VILLANUEVA DE CÓRDOBA
A FLOCK OF CROWS NEAR ADAMUZ
A BARKING DOG IN SANTA CRUZ
CRACKLING FIRES NEAR MORILES
WHISTLING OVER THE RIO GUADALHORCE
SURF ROAR AT MÁLAGA
(Long 1991, p.237.)
The list of sounds begins and ends with ‘SURF ROAR’, bracketing the text within the coastal boundaries of the walk. Long often creates works bounded by time, distance, meteorology or, as here, geographical limits. The following year, for instance, the artist created Watershed 1992 (Tate T12037), which represents a walk of 120 miles from Bristol Bridge to London Bridge. But Sound Line is also governed by the sounds heard by the artist on his journey. The words chosen to describe these sounds are poetic but spare: Long uses enough words to evoke a sound or sensation but does not embellish his description. His aural observations focus on natural and elemental phenomena, such as birds, stones and water, rather than urban or man-made sounds. This emphasis gives the work a sense of timelessness as well as impermanence.
Long produced several works in the early 1990s that use sound as their governing principle, including Stone Water Sound 1990 (reproduced in Long 1991, pp.183–39) and Sound Circle 1990 (Tate T06471). The latter consists of a map describing a circular walk and the sounds heard by the artist along the way. Long had also made earlier works in Spain, including Spanish Stones 1988 (reproduced in Long 1991, p.100). But whereas Spanish Stones refers to a single point in the Spanish countryside, Long uses Sound Line to measure the whole country in what he calls ‘walking time’: a measurement in human terms as opposed to the abstract and intangible measures of miles or kilometers (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.45). Sound Line is printed in Spanish, allowing the language to reflect the geographical locations to which it refers, although there are also versions of the work printed in English. The Spanish edition numbers forty-five.
Long began using text in his work in order to capture ideas and walks that were beyond the reach of photography. Where photography only captures the visual element of a walk, a text allows the observations of other senses to be recorded. Moreover, where a photograph captures only a single moment in time and a single point in space, a text such as Sound Line captures the scope of an entire journey. Regarding the use of text in his work, Long has commented:
one of the reasons why I started making text works is because it gave me another possibility, not using the camera or not necessarily making a sculpture. I can use words and they can give me different possibilities than I would get from using a camera. So, taking photographs does a certain type of job, records one moment, makes an image. And words do a different job. They can usually record the whole idea of a walk. They have a different function, sometimes a more complete function.
(Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.61.)
The vertical structure of the text in Sound Line is significant. Long has said of a similar work that ‘the line of words actually written on the page almost become [sic] like the line of my walk’ (quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.61). Long’s choice of Gill Sans is also important. Its purpose, as Long has said, is ‘just to keep everything simple and straightforward’, allowing the work ‘to look good but not to look designed or special. The aesthetics should not get in front of the art.’ (Quoted in Tufnell 2007, p.78.)
Richard Long: Walking in Circles, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1991, reproduced (in English) p.237.
Gloria Moure, Richard Long: Spanish Stones, Barcelona 1998, reproduced (in English) pp.52–3.
Gerard Vermeulen (ed.), Richard Long: Prints 1970–2013, exhibition catalogue, Hamburger Kunsthalle, London 2013, pp.45, 98–9, reproduced (in English) p.98 and (in Spanish) p.99.
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