-- A Cyberspace Review Of The Arts

Volume 18.02
March 5, 2011



Over the last few months I've experienced three very different assemblages which combined objects, constructions, sculpture in the broadest sense, with sound. All of them were impressive in very different ways. Just to keep things in order, I'll start with the most recent and go back in time.

Sequence of Waves at St. Cecelia's Convent

Sequence of Waves (1)
This room contained a set of automated instruments, while a video image was projected on the wall to the right.
Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, and also the patron saint of a large Roman Catholic church, school, auditorium and so forth in Greenpoint, or rather where Greenpoint begins to become Williamsburg. It used to be as well the name of a convent, but apparently convents are no longer popular, and the church, which continues in vigorous existence, has allowed the building to be put to various other uses. One of these was a astonishing one-day mixed-media event in which sculptural design and sound, musical and not so musical, played the predominant roles, put together by a person or persons whose nom de guerre is Rabid Hands. (I won't 'throw that into the ditch of what it means'!)

Sequence of Waves (2)
A handmade analog sequencer. As the center pole rotates, various circuits are completed, driving a series of other devices.
The convent building is rather small, with small rooms; 'nuns fret not at their narrow convent room' was, I guess, the design principle. One might say the building is the antithesis of our favorite contemporary art spaces, large, empty, glossy factory lofts and garages with large glass windows and expensively suited attendants. This building was jammed with an indescribable variety of 'instruments', some of which spanned more than one room (and one climbed the staircase) while others were small, even tiny. Almost all of them made sounds of one kind or another, some for the human ear, and at least one other for a house radio station, which collected sounds and rebroadcast them into the house. There were also intermittent performances by human beings and, in one case, some rather large rocks in a cage. All of the sounds mixed in with one another in the small space of the convent, but the visitor was not overwhelmed with a uniform cacophany; rather, one kept getting a different variety of sonic threads and textures as one moved around. In effect, each member of the audience was inside the instrument they were listening to and a participant in playing it.

Sequence of Waves (3)
This combination of fans and ribbons made a large, soft, windy noise as well as creating a striking display of fluttering light.
The convent's largest room was a small chapel. This space hosted the 'Gamelatron', a robot gamelan orchestra built and operated by Zemi17 (Aaron Taylor Kuffner). The operation of this assemblage was not entirely random as were some of the other devices; rather, different sections of it were fed by midi sequencers, so that the train of sounds produced by it were an interwoven mixture of fairly coherent melodic sequences (or so it sounded to me). The chapel still has its benches, so one could sit in it and drink in the play at one's leisure, unlike any other part of the building, which was full of devices and wondering multitudes of such density it was sometimes hard to find a place to stand, much less sit.

Sequence of Waves (4)
Here, someone is adjusting a secret machine in the basement of the establishment.
An idea of the sound can be obtained from this video, but in the case of St. Cecilia's, unlike this video, there was a continuous background of sound coming from the rest of the house. That was only fair; there was probably no part of the house where the Gamelatron could not be heard, as a sort of unifying sound principle flowing throughout the entire house. It was the star of the show.

Sequence of Waves (5)
I don't know what was going on in this room. There were two people in it (one is visible on the left), the large lantern you see in the middle, and a rather large video camera barely visible to the right. I couldn't hear anything from the hallway, but it was certainly picturesque.
(The Gamelatron was assisted by a similar percussive device provided by Phillip Stearns and Martyna Szcz (from 3rd Ward) which 'responds to inactivity in the room.')

One of the more curious constructions (and that is saying something here) was the Radio Room, curated and partially built by John Roach, mentioned above. There were a number of small instruments or devices in the room; these were picked up and broadcast throughout the house by radio for a variety of receivers. Roach also went about the building with a microphone and transmitter in his pocket, so that other performances or displays could be fed back to the radio and retransmitted. The effect of this construction resulted in a elaboration of the background texture.

Sequence of Waves (6)
The pieces of the mannikin rotated at different speeds, while images were projected upon its surface.
Quite a few constructions invited audience participation. A favorite mode were strings and wires available to the touch of passers-by, directly or indirectly, or resonating what went on near them. The strings taken out of a piano and amplified with feedback were a favorite of the many children present. Some of the constructions spanned two or more rooms. Some were more effective sonically, while others were chiefly sculptural in effect. In another case one could affect sounds being generated by a music box in another room and conveyed via air ducts by manipulating knobs.

Sequence of Waves (7)
This is a part of John Roach's automated ratio studio, in which numerous instruments played themselves and were broadcast throughout the building.
An interesting aspect of this event was the variety of its audience -- people of all ages and kinds showed up -- and its happy artistic collectivity. I've usually experienced this sort of event as something produced by your average lone monster crank genius, but this was different -- one work flowed into another quite happily. That may be a sign of some kind of corner being turned in the artistic world.

Sequence of Waves (7)
A small part of the Gamelatron.
There is no way I can possibly give an accounting of all that I saw and heard here, and I am sure I have only scratched the surface of its totality. I encourage readers to check the links below, because many of them contain videos or sound recordings which are the only way one can get a sense of the event. True, 'Ya hadda be there.' and for once I was. Those who participated, even if only to walk through, will be talking about it for a long time.

Links to related sites and pages:
Sequence of Waves 'Home' Page and Blog
Rhizome/Ceci Moss
Cinders Gallery
Gamelatron at Galapagos
3d Ward Sequence of Waves Pictures
Village Voice review
Another Sequence of Waves Home Page
Martyna Szcz(esna)
Flickr -- lots of pictures!
Weingarten-Bieber duet
english kills walk thru and sequence of waves interview 01.29.11
HVAC Music Box

And check this out for a brief taste of sight and sound:

The Forty-Part Motet

The 40-Part Motet Installation, not in New York, however, but Tokyo.

And now, back to October, 2010....

In October, for the second time, New York was visited by Janet Cardiff's "The Forty-Part Motet" which, oddly enough, was presented at the Frederick P. Rose Hall of Jazz at Lincoln Center, a seriously institutional outfit not in Lincoln Center but up an elevator at the busy intersection of 60th Street and Broadway in the Time Warner Center -- Downtown, so to speak.

It was a sort of appendage to the White Light Festival, designed by Jane Moss (see below) at Lincoln Center, "a new annual fall festival that focuses on music’s transcendent capacity to illuminate our larger interior universe", "a reprieve from the digital din" according to the New York Times (although some of the pictures suggest that some sort of electronica may be sneaking around in the background). In spite of this rather weighty epigraph, the videos make much of it look at least entertaining or enlightening. The motet installation fell into this category.

The installation is a kind of performance of Thomas Tallis's Spem In Alium Non Habui, which one might call one of the Renaissance composer's biggest hits. A peculiarity of this work is that it is a complex polyphonic a capella piece written for forty separate voices. Once squeezed through an ordinary citizen's sound reproduction system, most of the ability of human hearing to separate the voices is lost. In the original performance, the singers stood in groups in a large hall, some on balconies, so that their voices could be distinguished by location and differences of resonance by the small aristocratic audience in the middle of hall.

In this case the 'singers' were black speakers on single-leg supports about five feet high, placed in a ovoid arrangement in a large room. Each speaker produced sound as recorded by a microphone in front of an individual singer. Although some seating was provided, wandering about was encouraged by the setting so that one could get the benefit of the distribution. The result is that one could hear the work from a number of different angles, making it possible to separate the voices or allow them to mix in more customary manner. It is about the only way a normal human being can hear more than three or four voices of similar timbre at once.

It was interesting to hear this piece in this way, in a sense for the first time, but I felt that an opportunity for a light show (which seems to have occurred with this piece elsewhere) had been foregone. Maybe I am spoiled by too much hot media. I think, too, that my purely abstract sense of the music, necessary for the advertised transcendence, was distracted by my wandering, which after all required that I not fall over the speakers or the other listeners. You win some, you lose some. It was certainly a worthwhile effort and similar things could be done with more and different kinds of music.

The installation, is normally resident in Ottawa, Canada, but has toured the world and is evidently still touring.

Some relevant links:
Wikipedia: Spem In Alium
Studio 360 Blog
N.Y. Times on Jane Moss

Lior Shvil: Once Upon A Time (2010)

And now, back to September....

Once Upon A Time (1)
The installation from the east.
Made of 'reinforced concrete, metal & galvanized poles, chain link fence, drive in audio system, PA system, Theatrical Par flood lighting, wood, plants, nylon, food product remains', 16' x 25' x 40', Lior Shvil's sculpture represented the drive-in movie theater of another era to visitors at Socrates Sculpture Park this last fall and winter. Unfortunately, it spent much of the last two months of its life buried under the snow (of yesteryear? There seemed to be enough of it for several of them.)

In the midst of the installation, looking forward, one saw through a partly built 'screen' the skyline of New York City to the west; under it, in large letters, is the inscription 'AMERICA' in large red letters, indeed correctly identifying the view to westward. There is a chain link fence next to a sort of concrete platform that seems sliced out of a drive-in's parking area. On a post at one side is, sure enough, an old-time speaker of the sort you hung in your half-opened window back in the day (if you have days enough), and at higher posts a set of angular loudspeakers.

Once Upon A Time (2)
-- and from the other side of the fence --
The drive-in speakers emitted pieces from the sound track of what sounded like a 1940s romantic movie -- I could not say which -- on some kind of continuous loop that took about five minutes to run, while the taller speakers periodically emitted barks more worthy of a concentration camp or military base -- the 'real' world of the 1940s, perhaps, impinging on the era's dream machine. The food detritus had disappeared as food detritus tends to do in an open area.

I found the piece profoundly evocative, although not particularly nostalgic -- drive-ins were already fading out by the time I was old enough to drive to one. 'Once Upon A Time' applies not only to the fables presented by the drive-ins of old, but to the drive-ins themselves. Some still remain -- see Wikipedia on drive-in theaters but there are only a few.

Once Upon A Time (3)
The loudspeakers of reality....
The work seemed to encapsulate and represent an era which I myself touched upon only a little before it vanished. Yet even this may date me hopelessly; some teen-agers came up to the structure while I was there and seemed cheerfully confused by it. We got into a conversation about drive-ins and I told them how the speakers were hung in the window. They looked at one another and one said, "Ooh, gross." Then they wandered off. Not for them were the curious artifacts of yesteryear. One can take this as a part of the work itself, the ice on the cake, the snows of yesteryear.

Link of interest: Lior Shvil's web site

Gordon Fitch

Collages and Drawings
Spring Studio
64 Spring Street at Lafayette, NYC 10012
springstudio (at)
Opening Reception Sunday March 13 6-8pm
Gallery Hours 5-6pm M-F



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March 5, 2011