Image Credit: nycdailynews.com
More often than not, our use of sound is split between a medium by which we communicate and a form of entertainment. Sometimes both. However, the idea that sound itself, and it’s infinite connotations, is something to be contemplated and examined is more rare, especially in EDM culture.
This month the Museum of Modern Art in New York is stepping out on a limb, and giving sound a chance, with it’s latest exhibit “Soundings: A Contemporary Score”. Organized by Barbara London with Leora Morinis, the show features work from sixteen international artists, primarily in their thirties, from Uruguay to Scotland.
Being the MoMA’s first dedicated sound exhibit, the show has it’s share of ups and downs.
Sitting in a small carpeted room, you can absorb Jana Winderen’s “Ultrafield” collage of sounds originating from bats, fish and insects normally created at pitches too high to be heard by the human ear. Pitched down and strung together, the soundtrack is both disturbing and beautiful.
Richard Garet creates a sound still life of sorts, amplifying the sounds of a marble rolling in place on a metal platter spun via a vintage turntable for his piece “Before Me”. The sounds are conducted through an old amplifier and equally dated speakers whose historic smell is released by the heat from the accompanying spotlight. The placard compares the marble’s lack of progress to the eternally punished Sisyphus of Greek Mythology, damned to rolling a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down ad-infinitum.
Carsten Nicolai’s “Wellenwanne Ifo” utilizes sub frequency sounds to send ripples across a thin sheet of water, and display the visual effect via an oversized mirror, stroboscope and a digital projector. The resulting concentric circles are hypnotic, and the work, which appears curiously like a DJ booth, is right at home among The MoMA’s other minimalists.
Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” isn’t far off. With fifteen hundred one-bit speakers each tuned to it’s own microtonal frequency and cleanly affixed to wall-mounted lasercut metal plates, the installation looks like a Bang and Olufsen wet dream. From a distance it sounds like a vacuum cleaner, or an airport tarmac. Visitors line up to shuffle past with their ears perpendicular to the wall; the movement generating a sound an awful lot like a dive bomber in the popular 80‘s arcade game, Galaga.
Camille Norment merely references sound in her piece. Gutting an iconic 1950’s Shure microphone, the interior is replaced with a flickering light casting a ribcage of shadow onto the adjacent wall. The simplicity is eery, but clever at best.
Another one note is Marco Fusinato’s Mass Black Implosion. Utilizing sheet music from the work of Greek composer and collaborator of Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis, hundreds of inked lines are traced from music notes to the center of a quadrant of pages forming a one-point perspectival diagram. The most redemptive quality being that the resultant form is reminiscent of Xenakis’ Philips Pavilion exhibited at the the Brussels’ World Fair in 1958. It is not mentioned in the placard, and likely lost on most.
Aside from some insulating carpet and a few foam stalactites, it appears that neither the artists nor the curators spent much time considering the sounds that a group of visiting museum patrons make. The constant murmur of gawkers who forget themselves make some of the exhibits difficult to enjoy, and the interaction with the exhibits is primarily one-sided.
Overall the show is timid, but noteworthy. We applaud the MoMA for widening its scope and embracing some new young talent for a change. Let’s hope there is more to come.
The show runs through November 3rd, 2013.