Hong Kong Artist Samson Young On The Methods Behind His "Sound Drawings"

By Oliver Giles

The Hong Kong artist explains the methods behind his intriguing sketches

Tatler Asia

It’s hard to keep up with Generation T lister Samson Young. One day the artist can be in St. Petersburg to record the chime of a clock in the Hermitage Museum, and the next he can be sitting in his Hong Kong studio, recreating the noise of gunfire and explosions using household objects.

Although all of Young’s projects are driven by his obsession with sound, his varied output includes videos, performances, music and Sound Drawings, which are his attempt to visualise different noises on paper.

One of his video works, Muted Situation #5, is currently on display at MOCA Taipei's Spectrosynthesis exhibition, which is being dubbed the first LGBTQ exhibition at a major, government-run museum in Asia.

Here, Young tells the stories behind his Sound Drawings and reveals what he’s got planned for the next few months.

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Above  Samson Young getting a rubbing from a bell at l’Église de Saint-Martin in Brezons, France for one of his Sound Drawings. Image: Courtesy of BMW

Your Sound Drawings are visual representations of noises or songs you’ve heard. How do you express sounds on paper? Do you always draw particular sounds as certain colours, for example?

There’s actually a lot of research now about synesthesia, about how some people see certain colours when they hear a sound. For me, I ‘hear’ C Major as a light, transparent yellow. B flat is always a light, baby blue. B minor is purplish, a dirty purplish kind of colour. The key of D major for me is brown.

Have you always seen sounds in that way?

When I was studying piano [as a teenager], I would play scales. Scale practice is just going up and down the keys and playing the notes. They’re really boring practices, but I noticed then that I would sense a particularly key as a particular colour. And the impressions are consistent – if I return to D Major another day, I’ll still feel like it’s this brownish colour.


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Above  Samson Young, Catalogue d’Oiseaux (Redwing Blackbird) (2016), charcoal, ink, pastel, pencil, stamp and watercolour on Paper, 38 X 28cm. Image: Courtesy of the artist

Aside from colour, your Sound Drawings are also full of shapes and lines. Is there any methodology behind those?

There are two different types of sound drawings. There are sound drawings that I do in my studio, like the studies of explosion sounds or the studies of birdsongs. With those, I sit in the studio and I listen to the same sound many times and then I try to draw the sound. Those are more considered.

Then there’s the more freehand Sound Drawings, with the weird lines going here and there. With those, I would just be sitting in one place and as soon as I heard something I would just draw it. But there’s also a system for these. I’m always in the middle of the image, and sounds that are to my left are on the left side of the drawing and sounds that are to my right are on the right side of the drawing. So when you see a line that is going from left to right, literally what is happening is that that sound is passing right in front of me. Like luggage going from left to right, or a vehicle.

What are you working on at the moment?

My work Muted Situation #5 is being shown at Spectrosynthesis at MOCA in Taipei. I have a show on at Galerie Gisela Capitain in Cologne in Germany until November. Then my show from the Venice Biennale is coming back to Hong Kong in February next year, so that’s exciting. I’m also working on a new piece for the Sydney Biennial, which is opening in March 2018. 

The full interview with Samson Young is featured in Hong Kong Tatler October 2017 issue.

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