Vol. 29 Issue 4 Reviews

Amnon Wolman, Ron Kuivila, Phill Niblock: Sound Art at Gasp

Neil Leonard, curator, Gallery Artists Studio Projects, Brookline, Massachusetts, USA, 4/5, 12, 19 March, 2005.

Reviewed by Alexia Rosari
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

“At Gasp we believe art is a powerful tool that enriches, reflects, and propels change that affects human experience… the art of today is produced in a context where differences should be tolerated, distances are negotiated, and otherness must be embraced.” This statement by Gasp co-owner and co-founder Magda Campos Pons is a token of the positive energy and enthusiasm that flows through this newly established gallery in Brookline, Massachusetts. Ms. Campos Pons and husband Neil Leonard are two remarkable artists, teachers, and entrepreneurs, both internationally acclaimed for their work in video, photography, painting, and sound art. Together they founded Gasp in September of 2004, creating a unique venue “by artists for artists,” which not only functions as a gallery but also as a space for studios and projects. I had the pleasure of visiting a three-part event in March 2005 by the title “Sound Art,” curated by Mr. Leonard. This was my first time visiting Gasp and I was impressed by both the beautifully open gallery layout and the exceptionally warm reception I was greeted with by the gallery owners and their staff.

The first exhibition, End of Deviation, which ran on Friday March 4 and Saturday March 5, was an installation by Amnon Wolman, a sound installation artist and composer who splits his time between Israel and New York. His works include computer-generated and processed sounds, symphonic works, vocal and chamber pieces for different ensembles, film music, and music for theater and dance.

End of Deviation consisted of two notebook computers, four loudspeakers, and two projectors. The installation was set up in the back room of the gallery, allowing the visitors to comfortably relax on pillows while quietly absorbing the sounds and visuals. The concept of the installation was simple: the computers were each running a Max/MSP program producing stereo sounds and visuals of six independent clocks and manipulated photographs (see Figure 1). The clocks controlled the sounds and the changes in the visuals. I personally felt myself drifting into a timeless space and losing track of chronological time while being carried by the soothing sounds; I profusely enjoyed Mr. Wolman’s installation.

Gasp imageFigure 1

Appearing quiet and reserved at first, Mr. Wolman soon revealed his passionate and playful nature by sharing with me what sparked the idea of this installation:

I got excited about the idea of parallel “clocks” that measure different time units and that led to the sound and visual processes. Each of the pieces so far is a solution for some problem that is raised by the clocks and time issue in the previous piece. So far I have been lucky because every solution created another problem, which got me excited and was a reason for the next installation.

End of Deviation challenged the idea of physical time and proposed its own way of measuring time, both acoustically and visually. According to Mr. Wolman, “Time is measured in specific drops that hang before flying down. Images and sounds are used to portray the time between a single occurrence and another, dividing this unlimited time into smaller units that progress in parallel dimensions of time.”

As I was enjoying the sound installation I struggled to make out what the photographs represented. Albeit this was primarily a sound installation, I was quite intrigued by the images. To my amusement, Mr. Wolman conveyed to me that they were images of men’s chests, a collection of which he happened to own and therefore ended up using. “This is because I am gay and also because I worked on another piece, Peter and Mr. Wolf,with the great video artist HD Motyl, which was based on men's chests. It’s fun for me to know that men's chests are the source for the images, but it really is irrelevant to the piece… the clocks are the important visual part.” If you want to find out more about Mr. Wolman and his work, visit his Web site (www.amnonwolman.org).

The second event took place on March 12, featuring Ron Kuivila in a one-hour sound art gesture and performance comprising “two and a half pieces.” Mr. Kuivila is a conceptual artist and composer who has pioneered the use of ultrasound and who has explored compositional algorithms, speech synthesis, and live performance sound sampling, to quote only a few of his many acoustical adventures. He has performed and exhibited his work throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Mr. Kuivila is a faculty member of the Music Department at Wesleyan University.

Mr. Kuivila’s installation was being presented by means of six loudspeakers, placed in thoughtfully selected locations within the main room of the gallery. The speakers were carefully positioned so as to allow sound to be played back, re-recorded, then sent back out through the same sound system with the goal of playing with the gallery’s acoustics, creating feedback and ringing effects. Curator Neil Leonard pointed out to me that Mr. Kuivila spent a significant amount of time “tuning” the room by experimenting with the positioning of the speakers.

The first piece, Outgoing Message was a sound collage of “sounds synthesized based on the specifications for dial tones, ring tones, and busy signals,” as Mr. Kuivila explained. The piece began with individual tones being tastefully laid out in intervals, creating a feeling of suspense and anticipation. It later progressed with a collection of increasingly sustained tones building up to a sensation of “waiting,” filled with intensity up to the end of the piece.

The second piece, Architectonirama was comprised of two sections, the impulse structure being the same in both. Mr. Leonard explained:

Architectonirama is a study that intertwines the expansion and contraction of time structure (the concept of irama) with the perfect regularity of electronic pulse. The algorithm for acceleration is based on Jim Tenney's Spectral Canon for Conlon Nancarrow. As Mr. Kuivila performs the piece he records each successive iteration of the piece and plays it back in the space, in tribute to his teacher Alvin Lucier who explored the use of architectural space in his I am Sitting in A Room.

In the second section of the piece, the impulses were being picked up by a microphone which was in the signal chain of an amplitude-triggered phase shift network. In Mr. Kuivila’s own words: “The second part brings out tonal qualities of the room while the first part is more in relation to the rhythmic properties such as flutter echoes, etc.” Mr. Kuivila’s work allowed the audience to intensively experience the acoustical three-dimensionality of the physical space they were in. I personally find it especially stimulating that this installation will always be a unique variation of itself, depending on the shape and dimensions of the venue it is being performed in.

The March “Sound Art” series wrapped up on the 19th with a four-hour sound installation and performance by legendary and world-renowned minimalist composer, photographer, and filmmaker Phill Niblock. Mr. Niblock lives in New York and has also been known as the director of the Experimental Intermedia Foundation since 1985. The evening opened with the mid-1960s underground classic, The Magic Sun, a 17-min experimental black and white film shot and directed by this artist. He used a unique negative process to create this beautiful, almost fluid black and white photography-like masterpiece. To my personal delight, this film has recently become available on DVD through the Atavistic label (Music Video Distributors).

The Magic Sun was followed by an approximately three-and-a-half-hour-long presentation of three individual video projections, simultaneously documenting people at work in rural Asian areas, crafting shoes and textiles, fishing, working in fields, and forging iron. The videos were accompanied by an underscore based on ten pieces of Mr. Niblock’s thick and loud, drone-like signature music running off a notebook computer. The drones had been meticulously constructed by means of layering and shifting single pre-recorded notes played by instruments such as saxophone or cello. The subsequent rubbing of the different harmonics and frequencies created a modulation effect resulting in this drone-like sound. Mr. Leonard added a live component to several of the pieces by improvising to the rich sound texture on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. By slowly walking through the facility while playing his instrument, Mr. Leonard contributed a moving element to the frequency spectrum of the drone sound. This loud, dark, and rumbling underscore combined with the colorful and laborious footage induced an almost trance-like state within the spectators. It was a quite impressive and intense sensory experience.

Sound Art at Gasp proposed three very distinct sound installations and performances, and proved that there are indeed no limitations to the possibilities of how sound can be expressed, challenged, and at the same time intertwined with visuals. The series was a stimulating and enriching feast for the senses, consistent with the driving force and innovative spirit behind the gallery’s statement. Sound art fiends would be well advised to take note of the Gasp Web site (www.g-a-s-p.net) in order to remain informed on upcoming events of this nature.