The Soothing Presence of Strangers by Rhiannon Armstrong

Published Mon 30 Sep by Liz

Award-winning artist Rhiannon Armstrong has today launched a free audio art piece The Soothing Presence of Strangers for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019, for people to listen to whilst riding a bus.

Combining autobiographical storytelling about a childhood friendship with a bus driver, interviews with drivers of the W12 bus, and contemplative music created from field recordings, the piece is an audio meditation on loneliness, usefulness, and friendship. 

Artist Rhiannon Armstrong's piece is an account of the important role that strangers can have in our lives.

The piece was recorded on the W12 bus route, which travels from Walthamstow Central Bus Station to Woodbine Place in Wanstead. However, audiences are free to choose any bus journey to listen to the piece, with a suggested starting point of Walthamstow Central Bus Station. Listeners are guided through the experience by Emma Hignett, the voice of the London wide iBus announcements.

The Soothing Presence of Strangers was commissioned as part of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture’s Waltham Forest Tours programme, curated by William Galinsky. 

It is available to stream or download here from Monday 30 September until Tuesday 31 December 2019.

Artist Rhiannon Armstrong says:

"I was interested in revisiting this unlikely friendship from my childhood while I spent time on the buses in Waltham Forest, as a way of exploring what strangers have to offer one another. Children are increasingly kept away from adults that their parents don’t know to protect them from harm; even though it takes place way back in the 1980s, my mum is worried that me sharing this story will mean she is judged for allowing me to travel alone as a child! For me this prompts a question: I see the reasons for wanting to protect our children in this way, but what positive relationships might they be missing out on as a result?"

The Soothing Presence of Strangers is 40 minutes in length, and combines:

  • Field recordings made by Rhiannon as she rode on the W12 in Walthamstow over the course of two weeks this summer. 
  • Interviews with two of the W12’s long term drivers, Mohammed Shabir (winner Bus Driver of the Year 2012) and Godfrey Stuart. 
  • Specially created music inspired by field recordings from the W12 bus, created and recorded by Armstrong and sound designer Dinah Mullen. 
  • The Guide, voiced by Emma Hignett, the voice of the London-wide iBus announcements, who instructs you through the experience.