Jenna Burchell Songsmiths | | Art in South Africa
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SONGSMITH (n.) (v.phr.)
A golden instrument that repairs or transforms an object or place in order to reveal an aural narrative.
Courtesy of Artist


“Songsmith is a project wherein I restore broken objects and sites by embedding into them golden sound instruments that I call ‘songsmith’. Once a songsmith is bound within a place or object, the resulting sound sculpture or public intervention responds to a person’s touch by revealing song; individually composed songs that sing of people, places and events as they fall into, and rise from, the vicissitudes of time.

What at first seemed to be a personal endeavor of self healing evolved stochastically over time to resonate with greater societal histories and traumas; connecting individuals, communities, and places. In the words of Ashraf Jamal, “Burchell seeks to understand that within us which can survive ruin”.

Songsmith is above all else an assertion of life and its beauty, not in spite of, but in acknowledgment of ruin. Songsmith refocused my practice as a means to explore and find a ways to preserve the fragile and ephemeral nature of memory, knowledge and experience. Especially the songs, stories, and histories that live inside of silence.

As an evolving project Songsmith it is never complete, rather it sits continuously within my career and life as an artist.” – Jenna Burchell


Songsmith (Vredefort Dome) | Collection of 15 unique artworks, upcoming.

Songsmith (Spirit of the Khoisan) | Permanent installation, upcoming.


In the Songsmith project Burchell works with different palettes of sound making, namely; Sound of Place, Echo of Land and Signal of Memory.


To compose soundscapes that resonate with a sense of place, Burchell embeds herself into a community with a field recorder. The resulting soundscapes weave together first person narratives that sing of a community’s experience of life, memory and place. This can be heard in her work Songsmith (Bangor City).


In Songsmith (The Great Karoo), Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), Songsmith (Fragile Homes), and the upcoming Songsmith (Vredefort Dome), Burchell collaborates with geophysicists using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). This allows her to get a waveform of the earth’s substrate going down into the ground; eons of time in geological terms. Burchell then translates these sound waves to unearth songs that sing of the ancient history of land.


When Burchell is composing soundscapes that work with mind, spirit, and memory, such as in Songsmith (Yorkshire Sculpture Park), she works with EEG (Electroencephalography). This is a monitoring method that records electrical activity in the brain. Burchell perceives the brain to be like orchestra, each memory and emotion creating a frequency. Burchell collaborates with people to record and translate their brain wave signals into delicate musical notes that dance along their thoughts, feelings and emotions.


“Burchell’s work is not only groundbreaking but has a vitality (...) Burchell’s own singing stones, fusing the ancient with the modern, could be seen as a symbol for Africa.” - New African Magazine

“Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.” - Art Versed

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