For eight years now, the swell of streets around London's eastern periphery have resonated with a constant, hidden traffic of sombre, resigned strings, disjointed piano chords that occasionally arrange themselves into melody and resilient, dignified voices that speak out from the past. The source of this resonance is artist and composer Graeme Miller's 'Linked', an extraordinary public art work created in 2003 in response to the construction of the A12 Hackney to M11 link road, the motorway that provides access to London from the east and whose construction in the 1990s required the demolition of 400 houses, including Miller's own.
The work consists of 20 transmitters installed at points along a route that snakes through the streets alongside the motorway, between Hackney Wick and Redbridge. At each transmitter, with the aid of headphones and a receiver set, you can listen to the recorded testimonies of people that once lived in the area now claimed by the motorway. Against a backdrop of rich, emotive music, these voices recall the geography of phantom places, memories of everyday life, and the period when this was all brought to an end. Journeying through this soundscape, it becomes possible to piece together a patchwork of 20th century East End life, together with a very real sense of the histories severed and communities broken up in the march of progress and redevelopment.
The route is approximately 4 miles long and, despite the impressive broadcast range and clarity of the transmitters, discovery and exploration form a major part of the experience of this work. Particularly in the residential sections of the route, it's almost as if the ghosts of the now absent neighbourhoods have taken refuge in the streets that remain and are there waiting to be sought out. Sometimes, as you walk, the recorded voices mesh with the mix of accents and languages that animate the present day East End; along other stretches of the route, the voices relent and give way to the ever-present hum of the motorway.
The brilliant thing about this work is that it's completely free. You can pick up headphones and a receiver from the Museum of London or one of the libraries on the route, and for 3 months you're free to explore it any way you want (although, eight years on, the libraries unfortunately aren't as well stocked as they were, so it's best to phone ahead first and check or contact the Museum of London directly).
Linked' is a work inextricably linked to its environment, and a huge part of its success is that it remains in constant dialogue with the change happening around it. This is especially true at this point in time, as can be seen on those sections of the route where the landscape suddenly opens up to reveal a skyline dominated by cranes towering over flats and motorways in mid-construction, all spreading out from the Olympic site in Stratford.