Susan Philipsz's sound installation The River Cycle is based on the character Anna Livia Plurabelle in James Joyce’s 1939 novel Finnegans Wake. A colorful figure, she represents rivers in general and the River Liffey specifically; her middle name phonetically riffs on “Liffey,” and her first name is derived from the Irish word for “river.” In 1929, Joyce was recorded reading an excerpt from the chapter “Anna Livia Plurabelle”—a passage that is particularly lyrical, full of alliteration and onomatopoeia—and this recording was subsequently reinterpreted as a musical score by Hazel Felman. For The River Cycle, Philipsz recorded each note of Felman’s score separately and then played the recordings through a sound system specially designed for the Albright-Knox’s Auditorium.
In Finnegans Wake, Joyce describes a leaf falling into the Liffey, and the journey it makes downstream. The trees surrounding the Auditorium’s glass walls, and the lake in the distance, provide a fitting panoramic visual backdrop against which we can interpret Philipsz’s work