On Saturday i went all the way to the Stanley Picker Gallery , that's in Kingston and Kingston is in zone 6! I had never ventured beyond zone 3 before. Apart from the endless Piccadilly line trips from Finsbury Park to Heathrow airport and back, of course. But i'd travel the globe for a good show about sound art. And Sound Matters: Exploring Sound Through Forms is not only very good: it is impeccably curated (there isn't one weak work and each piece is acoustically insulated from the neighbouring ones), seducing and has a clear and simple concept as it explores the physicality of sound by looking at the connections between contemporary craft practice and sound art.
The added bonus for me are that i've discovered a couple of interesting artists and designers.
Performance ceramicist (surely this term exists, right?) Keith Harrison noticed that potter Lucie Rie had the same Roberts radio in her studio as he uses in his own studio. His other sources of inspiration were her potter's wheel and her use of manganese slip. Lucie Rie vs Grindcore are two potter's wheels customized to become a set of turntables which Harrison then connected to two transistor radios. A grindcore metal record is played on one deck, a raw clay one covered with a layer of manganese is played on the other deck.
The resulting sound might or might not be to everybody's taste but visually, the installation and performance (at least the one i saw in the video) are stunning.
Textile designer Ismini Samanidou collaborated with sound artist Scanner to explore a shared interest in mapping, the physicality of code as well as in the visual and technical similarities between the softwares they both use. The larger of the two Weave Waves textiles they created visualize the artists' own breath. The recording of their breathing was processed through a software and the data was then translated it into a digital jacquard weave design. The other, smaller piece used a software to map the loudest areas of London and Manchester. The details of the fabric structure and the interpretations of the cities can be explored through magnifying devices. Meanwhile, the soundscapes, recorded on the locations, also become audible.
The wooden horn uses the geometry of the hendecahedral (that's 11 sides) horn shape to naturally and spectacularly amplify sound. The shape of the horn is designed using vector maths and Owl Project's bespoke software, Bevelator78.4˚, to calculate the cutting angle between horn planes.
Owl Project had another work in the show: the rather ingenious Sound Lathe, an instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound. During the performances, the movements are turned into electronic music. 8 sensors rest on the turning spindles and translate its changing profile shape into data which is then converted into sounds. At the end of each live demonstration, a unique wooden object is produced that will preserve a memory of the performance.
Studio Weave's Polyphony functions as a large compound ear that separates, abstracts and re-organizes the sounds coming from multiple directions through listening horns. I was alone in the very quiet gallery so i didn't really get a good feel of the installation. However, i'm glad the exhibition gave me the opportunity to discover the works of Studio Weave. Do check out their portfolio, it's an impressive one.
Sounds of Making in East London is a 10″ vinyl record that celebrates the work of the 21 of the many skilled makers who live and work in East London. The record captures sounds as diverse as the clatter of lyric poet John Hegley's typewriter, the chopping of garlic in a Michelin star restaurant, the tap of rock 'n' roll cobbler Terry de Havilland's hammer and the sound of a bell being tuned in Britains oldest manufacturer.
Wilcox later asked Yuri Suzuki to create a new sound work inspired by Sounds of Making in East London. The young artist selected a few tracks and mixed them. The resulting record was pressed with loop grooves (the tracks continuously repeat) which allows various points of the record to be played simultaneously on Suzuki's Prepared Turntable, a device that allows music to be played by 5 tone arms with individual controls. The ensemble creates an overall soundscape that further interprets the energy of East London's makers.
The voices and sounds in Tweed were recorded in the Outer Hebrides, remote islands off the North west coast of Scotland. The first voice, of weaver Catherine Campbell, was recorded in her weaving shed and shop in Plocrapool, on the east coast of Harris. The next voice was recorded in a weaving shed near Callinish on Lewis in 1998 as the weaver was demonstrating how to work on the Hattersley loom (used to produce Harris Tweed since 1919.) In the background are voices and mechanical sounds from a mill at Shawbost as it was about to be sold.
Max Eastley's steel and canvas sculpture is covered in tiny metal fragments animated by a motor fitted with magnets. The ongoing movement generates a subtle, quiet sound. Landscape was originally created to be installed within a Georgian fireplace, as an echo to the 18th century practice of placing a landscape-painted screen in the fireplace during Summer.
The gallery guide is online.
Near Now's mission is to work closely with designers and artists to develop and produce innovative works that explores creativity and technology in a playful, yet critical, way. Ototo is one of their first commissions and it was designed by Yuri Suzuki and Mark McKeague from Dentaku. (In case you were wondering, the name of this design and invention studio comes from the Japanese version of Kraftwerk's song "Taschenrechner" / "Pocket Calculator".)
Unsurprisingly (because we all know that these two never do anything remotely dull), the designers came up with a brilliant work: an experimental PCB based synthesiser that allows you to combine sensors, inputs and touchpads and easily create your own electronic musical instrument. You can make a drum kit out of some saucepans or an origami that sings when touched. Ototo is designed to let anyone unpack a kit and interact with sound however they want to, no soldering or coding required.
Ototo means "Little Brother" in japanese and indeed little brotherly characters are appearing all over the synthetizer, indicating the role of sensor inputs, speakers, headphone outputs, buttons, holes and other functional elements.
Ottoto is a small kit easy to customise. In fact, it was designed for children and for anyone who's afraid of touching electronics. You don't need to code, just to plug and you're good to go and experiment with physical computing without even realizing it.
After the presentation, we got to play with the Ototo instruments created a few days before during a workshop organized by Near Now. The instruments used oranges, plastic cups half filled with water, old knives, computer fan, paper coffee cups, pans and bits of cardboard of all sizes.
The plan is to release Ototo before Christmas. At a very affordable price.
*Near Now is currently offering "artists, designers, writers, ecologists, technologists, policy specialists, architects, cultural geographers and food scientists" the opportunity to do Internet of Growing Things, to develop new work focused on food and future agri-cultures.
The photo above lured me to take the train to Peckham Rye and visit the South London Gallery. The image is the one relentlessly featured in the online mags announcing At the Moment of Being Heard, a show of works and performances that reflect on sound and modes of listening.
Sadly, Aquaphone Cornemuse Opus 143 is not presented in the exhibition. But in case you were still curious about it, the Aquaphone is part of a series of 'instruments d'écoute' (instruments for listening) made with glass objects used by chemists. The Aquaphone works in closed circuit to amplify tiny sound phenomenons. The glass element is partly filled with water and with air that acts as sound transmitter.
Even if the Aquaphone Cornemuse Opus 143 is not part of the exhibition, it still embodies accurately the tone and character of the show. At the Moment of Being Heard is the quietest exhibition about sound i've ever visited. You hear salt being slowly poured, speakers quietly growling, piano strings being struck, shutters falling down echoing inside your head only. At times, you might even hear silence as well.
Tuned piano wires stretches all over to the ceiling in criss-cross patterns. The wires of Eli Keszler's installation are periodically struck and scraped by mechanical beaters to deliver deep and resonating sounds that reverberate through the main gallery. The result being quieter and much more harmonious than my description would have you believe.
crys cole's sound sculpture lays nearby and unassumingly within the gallery floor's vents. One part of the work is a small heap of salt that fills the vent in the left corner of the room. Its counterpart is located in the vent at the other side of the space, but this time there is nothing to see, if you bend down slightly you can hear the sound of the slow action (it took 108 minutes) of filling the first space with salt.
Filling a Space with Salt (in two parts) nicely echoes a photo by Reiner Ruthenbeck showing a lady closing the shutters outside a gallery. The black and white photo elicits the loud clang of the shutters inside you head, even if nothing in the room is actually making that sound.
Singing, by Rolf Julius, is made of seven suspended speakers which emanate a low, resonant hum. The vibrations in the cones cause sieved black pigment on the membranes to shift in sync with the quiet composition.
At the Moment of Being Heard is a nice, subtle, almost meditative show where i spent more time than expected. It reminded me that i love sound art as much as i dislike writing about it. Speaking of which.... I've only blogged about the pieces in the main gallery but there's more works upstairs: Baudouin Oosterlynck's score-drawings made over journeys in Europe in search of silence, Rolf Julius' curious videos of upturned speaker cones submerged in ash and a lonely and almost undetectable speaker playing an outdoor rural Summer soundscape.
At the Moment of Being Heard doesn't stop there. Live performances and special events run until September at the SLG and also at nearby off-site venues. This one looked good, i'm sorry i missed it:
At the Moment of Being Heard is on view at the South London Gallery until 8 September.
One last project exhibited a few weeks ago at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal. You might remember that a while ago I interviewed Arthur Heist about the workshop Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets. Before that, i talked with Nicolas Maigret about The Pirate Cinema.
This time, i had an exchange of emails with Mario De Vega to talk about Thermal, a performance in which he uses microwave ovens to alter the molecular composition of different materials. The work also uses custom-built hardware to sonify the electromagnetic activity produced by the overheating of the content of the ovens.
Hi Mario! Thermal is an audio-visual performance in which several objects are modified using a microwave oven. Now I'm sure you've been asked that questions many times but isn't it dangerous to put objects inside a microwave? The photos from the performances look a bit on the hazardous side to me. Do you have to take certain precautions?
I over-expose danger and confront human vulnerability through a frontal situation. Security advices are given before the performance starts and audience are free to leave the room. I give information and advice of possible danger.
Of course, by overheating a device which development comes from radar technology research from WWII, confronts a complex paradigm: the oven could explode during the performance, gases are highly toxic and electromagnetic activity aim to be materialized thorough acoustic pressure.
Thermal is a confrontation with our own vulnerability using an electronic device that mainly everyone can recognize, a device that modified nutritional facts, social interaction and climate. The action has a political content itself without intending being political as principle. It confronts and intimidates through presence, ambiguity, over-exposed information and acoustic pressure. It also has a visual aim. I'm interested in how electronic devices or arrangements suggest context through ambiguity, in other words, I'm interested in producing events and situations in which codes are visible but not completely "readable". We could be able, in this case, to recognize an object (microwave oven) but our understanding of things reduce our approach, resulting in a situation with dislocated semantic structure in which things are there, frontal and visible and more over we can not understand what is happening.
During the performance, you put materials such as wax, ceramic, magnesium, carboxylic acid, pvc, etc. inside the microwaves. Could you describe how some of them react? Did any of the material you used react in a way you did not expect?
This has mainly a sculptural mean; with Thermal I'm interested in research materialization, irritation and modification as main topics. I modify materials, amplify, expose the process and materialize the results through different outputs. Technically, by irritating the molecular composition of matter, microwaves reflection change by absorption. We can think this in terms that certain materials absorb more than others, and here absorbing means less reflection and less dynamic range in an audio event.
The first one has the aim to amplify electromagnetic activity, high frequency mainly into the 2.4 GHz range. For this I use SNUFF and LIMEN, electronic devices based on logarithmic detectors used to demodulate high spectrum electromagnetic signals into a human audible ranges.
The second later is luminal activity. Using mainly a custom amplifier (BABEL) to convert lumens into sound.
The third part is electro-mechanic, using mainly a contact microphone to amplify friction and mechanic activity produced by the oven, rotating plate movements, for example.
More generally, could you describe what is going on during the performance? What can the audience see, smell and hear?
What you hear is mainly activity that in a normal situation humans would not be able to codify as acoustic pressure. I use electronic media to demodulate, amplify and over expose highly toxic electromagnetic pollution produced by an electro-domestic device used by 40% of the population worldwide. Burnt plastic and overheated corrosive materials are toxic; smell is an important issue for Thermal.
If I understood correctly, the main instrument for this audio-visual performance is the microwave oven. Did you have to modify the household appliance for the work?
No, the ovens are not modified. This would be a very complex and even dangerous task. For me it's even more interesting to use the devices as they are, I just simply amplify its activity.
Any upcoming project, event or research field you'd like to share with us?
Probably I should then here expose deeply my apologizes to delay this interview so long. I've been working in a solo exhibition in Mexico City during the last two years (SIN); the opening was on the 20th of June in a Museum located downtown named Laboratorio Arte Alameda. It's composed by 6 site-interventions, curated by Carsten Seiffarth and a retrospective salon curated by Michel Blancsubé.
If you're curious about Mario's work, head to Berlin Art Link, they recently visited the artist's studio.
Other works exhibited at Sight and Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc in Montreal: Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets and The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users.
Photo on the homepage: © Kimberley Bianca / transmediale. All other images courtesy of the artist.
On 12 July, the Arts Calalyst organised one last evening of discussions in its Clerkenwell Road HQ.
The Language of Cetaceans brought together two men who share a passion for whales. One is environmental scientist and marine biologist Mark Peter Simmonds who investigates and raises awareness about an issue that is far away from our sights: the threats to the life of marine mammals caused by the increasing emissions of loud noise under water. The other is artist and inventor Ariel Guzik who has spent the last ten years looking for a way of communicating with cetaceans.
The evening started with Nicola Triscott, Director of the Arts Catalyst, showing us the Field Guide To UK Marine Mammals. I had no idea there were whales, dolphins, seals and sharks sharks on the coast of the UK!
We might think that oceans are silent but they are filled with noises and animal conversations. First of all, marine mammals, fish, and a few invertebrates depend on sound to locate food, identify mates, navigate, coordinate as a group, avoid predators, send and receive alert of danger as well as transmit other types of information. It's very dark deep in the ocean so hearing is the sense they rely the most on.
Nowadays, however, whales and other mammals cannot hear with each other because of all the man-made noise intruding on their habitat.
Some of these sounds are so loud, they are driving the animals away from areas important to their survival, and in some cases injuring or even causing their deaths. The intense sound pulses of mid-frequency military sonars, for example, have been linked to several mass whale strandings. But it's not just the military that is to blame. The fossil fuel industry is firing loud air guns fusillades to detect oil buried under the seafloor, undersea construction operations drive piles into the seafloor and blast holes with explosives. Add to the picture, the dramatic growth in shipping traffic that generates a constant noise.
Whales are particularly vulnerable because they communicate over vast distances in the same frequencies that ship propellers and engines generate. The whales are not only unable to communicate with each other but they also panic when the noise gets too loud. When they are hit by a blast, the creatures flee, abandon their habitat and with that the source of their alimentation.
NGO Ocean Care has launched the Silent Ocean campaign. Have a look at their video, it explains the issue with more clarity and details.
And here's the video of Mark Peter Simmonds's talk:
Ariel Guzik then presented his attempts at creating instruments that would mediate the communication between cetaceans and humans. One of his latest instruments is currently shown in the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The devices that the artist developed over the course of his career go from Laúd Plasmaht which uses the electric variations of Mexican cactuses to make a concert for plants to Nereida, an underwater capsule that doubles as a musical instrument to establish contact with cetaceans.
Here's Ariel Guzik's talk. It is not as fast-paced and entertaining as the one by Mark Peter Simmonds but Guzik is one of those 'crazy' visionary artists whose work involves biology, physics, music and a deep respect for the environment. His work, i'm sure, will fascinate you:
The rest of Ariel Guzik's talk is over here!
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guest tomorrow will be Marco Donnarumma, a young performer and sound artist who gained fame across the world for a series of performances and instruments that use open biophysical systems to explore the sonic dimensions of the human body. His interactive instrument Xth Sense won the first prize in the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition and was named the 2012 "world's most innovative new musical instrument" by the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, US.
We'll be talking about Xthe Sense and also about a work that intrigued me a lot: Nigredo, a 'private experience of altered self-perception and biophysical media' that uses Xth Sense. One visitor sits in a blacked out room facing a mirror and wired to sensors that capture the low frequency sound pulses of their heart, muscles and vein tissues. The signals are augmented, and fed back to the subject's sensory system as auditive, visual, and physical stimuli. Marco will tell us more about the effects the installation had on the public during the show. It includes sensory deprivation, feeling of being physically touched, etc.
The show will be aired this Wednesday 17th of July at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Photo on the homepage: Marco Donnarumma, Hypo Chrysos. Image Chris Schott.