Shh, quiet, listen

Artist: ebba matz Tags: Permanent art Permanent konst

It is an interesting architectonic environment, the crossing of Valhallavägen and Lidingövägen, rooted in the late 19th century. In the block where a stable and a riding school were built in the 1890s for the General Staff, new facilities have been created for the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, KMH. The sound wave in contoured aluminium by the artist Ebba Matz has added an artistic feature to the area, which it previously did not ask for – but which is needed. Interpretations were not long in coming, and they are richly varied; from pipe cleaners, projectiles and waterfalls, to glistening sunshine formations. The sculpture is not functional and lacks harmony. And not only that, it lacks symmetry. It says: shh, quiet, listen. In an attempt to capture the silence along one of the city’s busy roads, this soundwave of uncomfortable grace chafes, prickles and disturbs. The traffic provides the background noise for the aluminium structure, reminding us of the sounds that sometimes arrange themselves into music. Its sculptural sister is the whisper in the staircase, a long drawing a millimetre into the stone, which suggests a gentle soundwave.


Where does music come from? When Ebba Matz began thinking about the origins of music, she soon discovered that the question of where music arises has been asked for centuries, or even thousands of years. In modern time, Ingmar Bergman asked this question in a now-legendary Swedish radio broadcast. Bergman’s programme was popular and many people have continued to ponder his music question. As an artist, Matz took it a step further than most others and added time, space and sound to the question about the origin of music. She gave it a visual form, going back to the origin of compositions, to materialise sound, pause, and silence. The question of where music comes from also involves the mystery of what drives us to discover and explore. Matz saw at an early stage that sound would not materialise into harmonic shapes; on the contrary, asymmetry was what characterised the shape of sound. Having the courage to challenge symmetry is one potential key to understanding humanity’s development. The two sculptural sisters in shh, quiet, listen touch on the mysteries of mankind.


A number of key persons were to accompany Matz on her quest for the shape of sound. John Cage was one of them. He was a composer whose experiments with silence had a seminal influence on some contemporary art. His explorations can be summed up with his own words, “There is no such thing as silence.” Another person who stood by her side in the early drafting stage was Bill Brunson, professor or electro-acoustic composition at the Royal College of Music. In her attempts to understand music, Matz formulated “shh, quiet, listen”. The quote by Cage, “There is no such thing as silence” (1957), was chosen. Together, Matz and Brunson captured the soundwaves of these words in the professor’s studio. They appeared in sharp outline on the computer screens. The next step was to interpret these representations of sound. Today, you can study the interpretation at the College.

Ebba Matz gives urban walkers the chance to be human in monumental environments. In that way, she is phenomenal at capturing the large scale from a human perspective. The tone, the rhythm, is always there. Her representations can speak through music. Not least through the pauses of experienced silence in a noisy city.

Curator: Kristina Möster Nilsson



Ebba Matz was born in Leksand in 1963. She studied at the Royal Institute of Art and has been prominent on the Swedish art scene since the early 1990s, working with sculptures, photographs, objects and installations. Her art is set in the zone between public and private; several of her works capture the monumental scale but are always based on the human being and human dimensions in architecture. With narrative playfulness and a joy in discovery, she infuses patterns with an energy that is easily interpreted in musical terms. Silence, like rhythm and pulse, are part of her artistic expression. Ebba Matz sensitively conveys the importance of the individual human being in the monumentality of the city. Together with architects and landscape artists, she has created several artistic projects for public spaces. Ebba Matz lives in Stockholm.