The sound created is like rain on a roof, in fact looking up it is exactly what I imagine rain would sound like on the corrugated iron roof of the Moores Building. Beginning lightly, almost imperceptibly, the rapid staccato tap of the motors on the wires builds in momentum, becomes a torrent, eases away, falls momentarily silent and starts again. There seems to be infinite but minute variation between the tiny individual sounds. The experience involves my whole body. A shiver runs along the piano wire and up my spine. I am completely absorbed in the circuit of the work; my bones become part of the medium of the sound, transmitting its vibrations.
The sensation is not entirely pleasant. It is almost enervating, as though the tension in the wires has created a similar kind of tension in me. The sound seems unrelenting. And then suddenly a silence falls, I’m told later by the gallery assistant that the installation pauses for 15 minutes every hour. Slowly other sounds trickle in to my awareness; first the those of the birds in the courtyard, then voices from the foyer, creaking floorboards, traffic from the road outside. The installation has sensitised me to the ordinary non-sounds of quietness.
This sensitisation is a key part of the work; it brings an awareness of the role of hearing in our apprehension of the world around us. As the installation starts up again I realise that the room is alive with movement that cannot be perceived by my eyes, which see only stillness. My ears and, as I have discovered, my bones are sensitive enough to perceive this movement. Hearing allows us to perceive invisible things that happen right in front of our eyes, and remote things that happen outside of our reach.
In this way the installation is about reaching beyond the surface appearance of things, beyond their outer layer. The work’s visual appearance is crafted with such attention to re-enforcing this idea that it becomes almost paradoxical. The untreated wood and scaffolding pipes, the bare electric cables gathered upwards to a point on the ceiling create a structure like the skeleton of the house stripped of its shell, its infrastructure exposed.
A small migration is very beautiful to look at, but like a giant musical instrument its beauty comes from the unique fitness of its underlying form for the generation of the sound it creates. Its beauty is also the result of the relation of the structure to the space around it. It seems exactly suited to the Moores Building. The bare rafters, corrugated roof and rough whitewashed walls echo its stripped bare aesthetic. But its installation is not unsophisticated; the lighting extends the imprint of the form to the space around it casting long shadows and illuminates portions of the piano wire whilst making others invisible.
Other works in this beautifully installed exhibition work on similar relationships of structure, space, sound and shadow. For example Simo Alitalo’s sound sculpture Viileaa (Sounds cool), a large fishing net or sail-like structure made up of springs and small speakers that seems to have gathered up sounds of the sea and placed them in the gallery, and Ed Osborne’s Harvester, 3 long freestanding microphones, like oversized conductor’s batons that create feedback loops in a complex dialogue with the visitor’s movement. Both conjure oblique perceptual effects; the relationship of shadow to form, of sound to movement.
The integration of technology and the relationship to the perceiving subject in these works has a maturity and richness that can often seem lacking in visually based interactive work. As Nigel Helyer, curator of the SonicDifference exhibition said at its opening, sound art is precocious, it has always formed the avant-garde of technological art practice, and certainly at BEAP SonicDifference’s sound installations lead the way.
Shawn Decker, A small migration, SonicDifference: Resounding the World, curator Nigel Helyer, The Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, BEAP 04, Perth, Aug 26-Sep 26
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