Sounding the Angel: recording the memorial at the Angel of the North

3 July 2024 | By: Prof Anne Whitehead | 4 min read
Angel of the North with recording equipment

The Angel of the North sculpture is one of the UK’s most iconic symbols and is synonymous with the North East of England.

In a wooded area near Antony Gormley’s artwork, which was installed in Gateshead in 1998, visitors have been leaving tokens of remembrance at a grassroots memorial site. 

Sounding the Angel is a Newcastle University project led by Professor Anne Whitehead, in collaboration with sound artist David de la Haye, and supported by the Catherine Cookson Foundation. 

Professor Whitehead shares how this unique project documents a profound dialog between the people who leave memorials at The Angel, the sounds of the memorial site, and the resonances of the Angel of the North itself.


  1. The memorial at the Angel of the North
  2. The stories behind the objects
  3. Sounding the Angel
  4. To engage with the project

The memorial at the Angel of the North

For some years, there has been a grassroots memorial site in a stand of trees that lies in the shadow of the Angel of the North. Visitors hang tributes to their loved ones from the branches of the trees or place them on the ground beneath. The objects that are left there include photographs, toys, baubles, ribbons, and funeral cards. Some trees have been claimed as individual ‘plots’, with stones and fencing placed around them, while others commemorate a number of different people.

Objects at the memorial

Tributes to loved ones hanging from tree branches at the grassroots memorial. Credit: Prof Anne Whitehead.

The memorial is unusual in that it does not mark the site of an event. Roadside memorials, which are a familiar and widespread form of grassroots memorialisation, are placed at the site of an accident, as an act of commemoration and as a warning to other motorists. The memorial in the trees, in contrast, has arisen in response to the Angel of the North, and it commemorates lots of people. The project asks: Who is being commemorated at the Angel, and why? What does the Angel mean to those who leave tributes at the site?  

Our project aimed to create a unique record of the memorial site through sound. We hoped to capture the voices of those who were leaving tributes at the Angel, in order to learn the stories behind the objects that were left. We also aimed to make field recordings over the course of a year that would capture the atmosphere of the site across the seasons. We planned to place these recordings in conversation with the resonances of the Angel itself, placing contact microphones on the sculpture to hear the vibrations of the wind and traffic reverberating through it.

The stories behind the objects 

The project centres on two very different stories of leaving tributes at the Angel. One participant had spent his life in north-east England, and he chose to scatter some of his wife’s ashes at the Angel. The Angel of the North held a long and deep association with his wife, who had campaigned for it to be erected in Gateshead, and who held a particular fondness for the sculpture. Our second participant had seen the Angel on her first visit to the area, and it made a significant impression on her. On subsequent visits, she brought her family and friends to see the Angel, and built up a shared love of the sculpture with them. When her brother died, she was far away from her parents in South Africa and she did not have a grave to visit. She therefore commemorated her brother at the Angel by tying ribbons in a tree.

While these stories differ, they nevertheless chime with each other. For both participants, the situation of the Angel over a former mine held significance – our first participant had a long association with the mine workers of the North East, while the father of our second participant had worked in the gold mines of South Africa. Both participants found meaning in the wind’s dispersal of the objects they had left, drawing comfort from the idea that the memories they held had now become absorbed into the place. For both participants, too, the act of commemoration brought important feelings of connection, whether with the dead or with family members far away.

A further link between the stories lies in what they have to say about our changing rituals of grief. Many people now choose to commemorate loved ones outside the traditional space of the cemetery, and scatter their ashes at locations that have personal significance. Equally, many people who live at a distance from family and friends craft their own places and rituals of remembrance.

The Angel of the North, and the memorial site that has arisen there, offers a comforting place for many who seek to commemorate loved ones, both because the Angel forms a guardian presence, and because the offering is placed in the company of other memorial tributes.

Sounding the Angel

The project created a 30-minute sound piece that combined the voices of the participants with samples from the field recordings made on site at the Angel. Running through the piece are the contact microphone recordings of the interior of the Angel, and these differ from season to season. The winter recording was made during Storm Babet, and the raindrops echoing from the surface of the Angel can be heard. In the summer recording, the microphone has captured the muffled sounds of children playing on the sculpture and people chatting nearby. Layered into the voice recordings, the vibrations from the Angel evoke associations with the former mine workings below.  

Each section of the work is introduced by a loud booming sound, which was made by the metal structure of the Angel contracting. Integrated as a marker of the passing year, the repeated sound calls to mind the ritual tolling of a bell.  

Sounds from the site across the seasons are also layered into the soundtrack. There are fragments of the dawn chorus from early autumn, a summer blackbird singing from the top of a tree at the memorial site, the whispering of leaves and grasses, and the ever-present sound of the traffic rumbling past on the motorway. The sound samples capture the atmosphere of the site over the course of the year, as well as resonating with – and amplifying - the words of the participants.

To engage with the project

Listen to the sound piece free of charge online. For the best auditory experience, we recommend listening with headphones.

Read more about the project on Professor Whitehead's personal blog or get in touch by email.

Professor Whitehead and David de la Haye will be presenting an INSIGHTS Public Lecture on the project on Tuesday 3 December 2024. Public lectures are free and open to all, but pre-booking is required and will open one week before the event.

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Header photo credit: David de la Haye.

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