Sarah Angliss is a composer, performer, roboticist and sound historian.
A prolific live musician, Sarah’s known for her skills on theremin which she combines live with Max, electronics, recorder, saw, keyboard and her many found sounds and field recordings. On stage, she’s often accompanied by musical automata – machines she’s been devising and building since 2005 to give her stage performance an arresting and uncanny physical presence.
Sarah also works in theatre, creating distinctive sounds that blur the boundaries between sound design and musical composition. Sarah’s work reflects her lifelong fascination with ancient music, faded variety acts and defunct machines. Though her music, performance and writing, she explores the uncanny properties of technology, revealing resonances between European folklore and early notions of electricity and sound.
Sarah is currently completing her solo album Ealing Feeder and working as sound designer on Hart and Kaufman’s 1930 play Once in a Lifetime (for The Young Vic, directed by Richard Jones). Funded by a Jerwood Opera Writing Fellowship and supported by Aldeburgh Music, she’s also composing Giant, an opera about the life, death and contentious afterlife of Charles Byrne (working with librettist Ross Sutherland).
Sarah’s music has been seen and heard in the Southbank Centre, Bring to Light, Handel House, Vivid, Supernormal, BAFTA, Monomania, The Horse Hospital, The De La Warr Pavilion, Spike Island, Flatpack, Vivid, Prima Vista (Estonia) and many other theatres, electronic festivals and cabaret nights, on BBC national radio and in the reverberation chambers of the National Physical Laboratory. She’s been sampled by Moon Wiring Club on his album Today Bread Tomorrow Secrets and has three of her own tracks featured on his summery compilation Down to the Silver Sea. Spacedog have collaborated with Belbury Poly on Message and Method, a single in the acclaimed Ghostbox Study Series.
In 2012, Sarah was commissioned by the National Theatre and Headlong Theatre Company to compose a terse, electronic score for Lucy Prebble’s new play The Effect (directed by Rupert Goold). In 2013, her trio Spacedog were commissioned to compose and perform music for silent film as part of the BFI season Gothic – The Dark Heart of Film (a project co-funded by PRSF). This was followed by a live reimagining of The John Wyndham classic The Midwich Cuckoos for Cinecity and the BFI’s nationwide season Sci-fi: Days of Wonder (2014). In 2015, Sarah worked at The Old Vic, London, composing incidental music and sound effects for Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist masterpiece The Hairy Ape. The play was directed by Richard Jones and much of Sarah’s work accompanied choreography by Aletta Collins.
Based in London, Sarah is a resident artist at the former Limehouse Town Hall and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Sound Practice Research Unit, Goldsmiths. She’s recently been on a part-time residency at the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol where she was researching human motion capture in inanimate objects (funded by Arts Council England). She continues to contribute to an ongoing EPSRC-funded research project Being There – a practical exploration of humans and robots in public spaces.
Many of Sarah’s works are inspired and informed by material sourced in the UK national archives and beyond. Most recently, she applied her archival skills on board WWII-era submarine HMS Alliance which she reanimated using a distributed, generative 50-channel soundpiece. Sarah worked closely with veteran submariners as well as museum curators and designers to create this immersive soundpiece, which deploys her entirely novel, generative exhibition sound system.
Sarah presents her archival discoveries on music machines and other technology in papers and salon talks. Her research interests include the use of trained birds as primordial, domestic sound recorders; the reputed psychological effects of infrasound; early attitudes to drum machines, samplers and The Talkies (2013); 19th-century clog dancing as machine mimetic dance (with Caroline Radcliffe, 2008); audiophilia; sound making devices as counter cultural objects; ventriloquism and the uncanny; the history of private nuclear shelters in the UK; the 1930s Electrical Association for Women and the 1950s atomic gardening movement. She’s been invited to speak at Port Eliot, dConstruct, Off the Page, TEDx, The Last Tuesday Society, the Science Museum and many other venues and has been published by The Wire, the Science Museum and the Smithsonian Scholarly Press. She’s also appeared on panels and radio documentaries on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the World Service, most recently on The Verb where she discussed creativity and her thoughts on composer and Radiophonic Workshop co-founder Daphne Oram. Her original research on songbirds as sound recorders became a BBC Radio 4 documentary The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, produced by Neil McCarthy in 2011. Her show Horlicks and Armageddon, based on her research into Britain’s secret nuclear survivalists, was awarded Most Groundbreaking Show of Brighton Festival and Fringe (2013).
Hard to pigeonhole as a composer, engineer or kinetic artist, Sarah’s actually something of all three. In fact, she’s been combing these interests since she was a child in the 1970s, building mini cable cars across the garden and put together soundtracks, on a portable Phillips cassette recorder, about futuristic trips to the Moon.
Sarah has always composed music and her early fascination with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop drew her to study electroacoustics, an engineering subject, for her first degree. This was followed by a masters in biologically-inspired robotics (evolutionary and adaptive systems) and an Associateship in Early Music Performance from the Royal College of Music. On graduating as an engineer, Sarah had a brief spell in the building industry, where she assisted the chief acoustician in a busy London engineering company, There, she fell for the peculiar charms of vintage electronics, when she was asked to work on an ancient, hybrid thermal-modelling computer. She later found her way to the Science Museum, London, where she was encouraged to combine her interests in the history of technology, interactive design and live performance. In 1995, Sarah opted to leave the Science Museum and work independently, focusing on the sonic arts and writing. She worked solo and collaborated with other makers, most notably the sculptor and cartoonist Tim Hunkin who introduced her to PLCs and other control systems for machines. Over the years that followed, Sarah honed her skills in music, electroacoustics and robotics and found her own way to combine them in her compositions and on stage.