A brief review of the current MoMA exhibit, Soundings: A Contemporary Score, based on Joe’s visit on Monday 8/26/13:
Upon entering, the white hiss of a Tristan Perich installation begs each visitor Varèse’s query, “What is music but organized noises?” (Varèse and Chou 1966, 18). Already five minutes late for the lecture I’d come for, I decided to save Perich for later.
I entered the next room just as “A Closer Look – Silence, Space, and Visualization of Sound” led by Midori Yamamura was beginning. Before her guided tour, Yamamura asked that we sit and find silence together. The 10-15 of us sat quietly on the floor together as other museum-goers walked in and around our circle, stared questioningly, and proceeded on their way, opening and closing the glass door to our location causing the sonic environment to fluctuate rapidly between muted museum chatter and that awful noise of Perich’s installation outside the entrance. How was I supposed to find silence in that?
When Yamamura called us back, I opened my eyes in slight frustration and disappointment. I had participated in similar deep listening activities before in settings where the group has been able cumulatively detect all the nuance of a room’s sound, and of all places, I expected this lecture in this establishment to allow for such if not more.
Putting my frustration aside, I focused on Yamamura’s brief overview of musique concrète, John Cage’s effect on the music community’s perception of silence, and introduction to the visualisation of sound with Carsten Nicolai’s featured piece, wellenwanne Ifo.
We eventually rose to our feet and began the tour, taking part in two other experiential activities along the way. The first prompted us to visualize our sonic experience of my favorite work of the day, Ultrafield, by sound explorer, Jana Winderen. This piece, housed a dark room to focus visitors only on sound, is composed of recordings found in nature that would normally be too high-pitched for human ears to perceive. By slowing down her recordings of bats, fish, and underwater insects, Winderen has altered the variable of time, something rarely possible, to allow us to hear our world as this mysteriously beautiful soundscape.
Throughout the rest of the exhibit, I especially enjoyed works by, Florian Hecker, Jacob Kirkegaard, and Christine Sun Kim, a young artist who, deaf since birth, has been interacting with sound very intimately on her own terms. Her “simple” work takes on a whole new meaning to me after reading her interview with TED:
“I’m completely deaf, but I can hear a tiny bit on the right, with the help of aids. (I can’t actually recognize or identify what the sound is; it’s just noise.)”
Upon exiting, I approached Perich’s installation with slight disgust for noising all over my meditative moment early. Wanting to give it the fair chance I knew it deserved, I read the blurb under the work’s name. The Microtonal Wall asks that viewers step up to its speakers and listen. What I had as annoying white noise had morphed quickly into very precise sound: 1500 unique pitches emitted from 1500 individual speakers. Curious about the possibilities of such a work, I walked parallel to the wall changing my pace to alter the rate of the change of pitch. Suddenly I was making music. Talk about engaging an audience; I had only heard noise when I first stared blankly at the 25 feet of speakers, but once I recognized its organization, I was listening to music.