Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Center on Contemporary Art, On the Boards, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle
August - September 2005
Climax Golden Twins, Christoph Cox, Jim Haynes, Eyvind Kang, Jesse Paul Miller, Thurston Moore, Steve Peters and Christine Wallers, Steve Roden, Marina Rosenfeld, Toshiya Tsunoda, Stephen Vitiello, Jennifer West
Curated by Fionn Meade and Rob Millis
A month-long series of programs, performances, and exhibitions co-curated with Rob Millis, In Resonance looked at the state of sound-based art practices and included a group exhibition at Bumbershoot Arts Festival, an evening of live performance at On the Boards, a site-specific installation at Center on Contemporary Art, and a panel on sound-based art practices at the Henry Art Gallery.
In Resonance Catalogue PDF Download
When the innermost point in us stands
Outside, as the most practiced distance, as the other
Side of air.
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Perhaps Max Neuhaus is accurate in declaring ‘sound art’ “has been consumed,” merely a trendy term for almost any contemporary artwork that incorporates sound. While his incisive, albeit over determined, assessment will and likely should continue to guide critical discussion of the resurgent interest in this field of contemporary art, In Resonance brings together artists who consider sound as primary to their work—artists who employ a sound-based practice. And while their aesthetic backgrounds vary widely—music composition, sculpture, architecture, film and video, punk rock, drawing and painting, phonography—the contributing artists share important elements of practice: creating and collecting a personal catalog of sounds; recording, conflating, and/or performing arrangements from these catalogs; and acute consideration of how sound will be presented and experienced through a given work. This last, taking a highly personal sound-based practice and translating it into ‘spatially-existing’ works of art—a ‘most practiced distance’ to borrow Rilke’s phrase—aptly describes the focus of In Resonance on works that seek to inhabit and animate a space.
With Climax Golden Twins, the duo travels the globe recording and collecting strange and obscure ambient sounds, overlooked musics and ritual sites—a self-styled archaeology—that they then compress, edit, distress and accompany to hypnotic effect in their sculptural machines and untethered recordings; Thurston Moore brings a distinctive cross-disciplinary approach to his combine sculptures and installation works, drawing sounds from his avid collecting of far-flung musical styles ; Los Angeles artist Steve Roden’s work often begins with a set of self-prescribed rules devised to explore an area of interest or curiosity. Roden’s Transmissions from Space (2005) series, for instance, begins with a vowel=color conceit borrowed from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles and idiosyncratically transposes it onto the text of astronaut John Glenn’s inaugural transmission from outer space. Roden’s ethereal yet handed approach results in a sound sculpture for installation, as well as related drawings and sculptural forms, all built from the energy released by applying seemingly arbitrary rules to intuitively soughtout components; while Stephen Vitiello’s investigation of sculptural space in Fear of High Places & Natural Things (2004) uses a subsonic composition to choreograph the sway and ripple response of an elegant arc of suspended speakers—attuning his catalog to striking visible ends.
Composer and turntablist Marina Rosenfeld’s As Now, Is Now (2005) transforms the private experience of playing a written score into a visual translation, publicly shared by player and audience. Bands of light expand and contract over super-8 footage of built and natural environments according to patterns determined by the artist but interpreted by performers. The superimposed measure functions as a score for bowing—or blowing, breathing, beating—as Rosenfeld’s graphic schema becomes an open poetics for players to translate—the bands’ width and opacity mintimating possible duration, volume and timbre. Installed, As Now, Is Now includes a multi-channel recording of the score played by Rosenfeld and invited performers that encourages the viewer/listener to listen for each individual interpretation but also step back and hear it as an ensemble response. Building on previous “orchestra” works that explore improvised social dynamics—musicians and non-musicians performing together—Rosenfeld will travel with a version of As Now, Is Now to the Tate Modern in London where, following a twoday workshop, thirty female improvisers will perform what Rosenfeld terms an “emotional orchestra”—amateur and professional players meet, familiarize, and then perform an array of bowable instruments with only the score to follow.
In Amplify (2005) Jennifer West invites friends and fellow Los Angeles area artists to improvise their own sound performances by manipulating everyday objects according to simple instructions on a hand-written notecard:
1. Produce sound that is potentially unrecognizable (when it is recorded and played back without its
image); 2. Perform 1 or more everyday objects. 3. Perform the objects until you’ve exhausted their potential. (Do Not Destroy my Bresson Book)
With overt reference to Christian Marclay’s recent installation Shake Rattle & Roll (fluxmix)(2004)—where a white-gloved Marclay plays out the auditory possibilities of objects from the Fluxus collection of artist-made goods in the Walker Art Center’s collection—West mixes the audio and video documentation of her guests’ intimate playing to conjure a four-channel cacophony of wit and ingenuity—a woman destroys a cabbage, alongside someone cobbling a cardboard box into a resonance chamber, or a young girl delighting in the cinch and cut of a pair of scissors snipping the air.
Installed as a dual projection, this self-awareness folds back on itself, acknowledging convergent ideas and influences (both communal and art historical) as the footage of the performers intermittently jumps to the upturned face of a bass amplifi er and close-ups of West performing a scatter piece in response to the performances— a miscellany of objects (figurines, jewelry, zippers, a live snake, etc.) hop, skip and tremble across the amplifier’s surface. The final installation mix is looped and amplified through four customized speaker boxes which viewers are encouraged to sit on in order to feel the low frequencies, a sensorial conduit between audible, visual, and touched.
In Toshiya Tsunoda’s Scenery of Vibration, the resonance of everyday objects is teased out through piezo-ceramic plates wired together to emit enough current and pressure to make the display sing. Drawn from Tsunoda’s phonographic practice of capturing the sonic details of objects, Scenery is a study-in-miniature of his highly regarded discography. Widely known for lyrical field recordings of various warehouse sites and Japanese seaside towns (known to the artist since childhood), Tsunoda releases the sonic depth of landscapes via the resonance of objects often found in situ. And so the sea, in Tsunoda’s collage work, becomes the sound of the sea through the resonant possibilities of the boardwalk railings in a port town rather than the expected capture of a seascape. The observer plays an active role here in hearing and recording askance as Tsunoda’s ear hones in on the minimal possibilities in a chosen environment. By returning to hear further into familiar places and given objects, Tsunoda has built a study of the kinetics of wind and air, transforming inert matter into audible landscapes.
Alchemy, a site-specific installation by artist Christine Wallers and sound/artist composer Steve Peters, consists of a series of large, spun brass bowls, each resting on a square steel plate suspended by wires from the exposed beams of Center on Contemporary Art. Unseen transducers attached to each bowl direct sound through the basin, quietly resonating with the whispering of disembodied voices. Derived from 32 readers delivering over 300 written messages from people around the world, Alchemy transfigures the recorded hopes of a wide network of people asked to imagine the future. With each bowl having a different level of electronic processing, the comprehensible words are progressively altered into pure, abstract tones as they flow between the bowls, moving through the space in a quiet wave. Alchemy refers to Alvin Lucier’s seminal work, I am Sitting in a Room (1970), where the composer repeatedly recorded himself reading a text in an empty room, playing back the successive layers until the natural resonant frequencies of the room eroded the edges between Lucier’s words and softened his declarations into an overwhelmed, abstracted drone. Here, Peters and Wallers have transformed wishes from around the world. As hope after hope drops into the carefully arranged basins, each solitary voice mixes with disparate chorus.
Jim Haynes’ Fragments of a Former Moon further explores the connection of structure and sound as four glass walls exposed to cupric sulfite and aluminum chloride form an abandoned site where small floor speakers— accompanied by light sculptures—broadcast a quiet floor composition made of drone fragments and textural abrasions. Collaged from short wave radio static, electric fi eld disturbances, controlled feedback manipulation, and textural scrapings of rusted metals, cut glass, and stones, Haynes delivers the whir and expanse of imagined entropy.
As a group exhibit, In Resonance presents sound-based work that articulates space and form—a practice of measured distances and great immediacy—embracing the overlap, interference, and harmonies that arise in between and welcoming the threads out to other mediums. With the field of ‘sound art’ best understood as having formed, in part, from a late 60s and early 70s transition away from the focus of what an art object is—a time when “overall, object gave way to space,” as curator and critic Anthony Huberman recently surmised —In Resonance contributes to a further shift, well underway, from deliberations on what ‘sound art’ is toward a focus on attuned translations of sound into the spaces of contemporary art.
1 ‘To Music,’ Rainier Maria Rilke, Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, translation Stephen Mitchell (Modern Library Edition, 1995). For an interesting discussion of Rilke’s fascination with what he viewed as the synaesthetic potentialof phonography, see Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation, William Gass (Basic Books, 2003)
2 Max Neuhaus, Introduction to the exhibition VOLUME: Bed of Sound, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, 2000.
3 Christoph Cox’s essay here further discusses this trajectory back to Neuhaus, the oft-ascribed father of sound art, but also Edison and the early history of phonography.
4 Moore’s role in founding both the Ecstatic Peace label and Sonic Youth’s SYR has promoted a broad range of artists, composers, improvisers, writers and musicians. SYR’s Goodbye 20th Century, for example, included important works by John Cage, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich and James Tenney.
5 Anthony Huberman, ‘The Sound of Space,’ ArtReview, May/June, 2005. Huberman discusses the under recognized role sound played in this shift, particularly alongside well-documented histories of video installation, land art, and architectural art experiments of the time.
6 While venues like SculptureCenter (NY) and The Mattress Factory have successfully embraced and showcased sound-based exhibits, challenging medium specificity and drawing great interest, many institutions and venues around the country with resources and complimentary programming have yet to prominently feature sound works. The Henry Art Gallery is working with Steve Roden to realize a new work involving the James Turrell Skyspace Light Reign in 2006.
“A Convergence of Sound Artists,” The Seattle Times
REVIEW, Shelia Farr, The Seattle Times