Sound Spill
An essay by Thom O’Nions

The outside is not a fixed limit but a moving matter animated by peristaltic movements, folds and foldings that together make up an inside: They are not something other than the outside, but precisely the inside of the outside.
(Deleuze, 2000, p118-9)

And the room is folded into the work. The fold reconfigures subjectivity, breaks down the distinctions between interior and exterior, muddies the threshold. What exists is a broad(yet defined) field that implicates viewer, artwork and exhibition space in a play of meaning. Subjectivities produced in objects and in spaces, no more or less equal to those produced in perceiving subjects.

Sound articulates space, articulates a listener’s relationship to space. Sound makes clear that the space around us is constructed, that we are contained within an architecture, and that it is in itself part of that construction. Sound works to develop a sense of awareness within the listener, it turns perception in to a question.

In 1957, Vladimir Gavreau assembled a team of scientists to develop his research in robotics. Working in a large concrete building in Marseille the team soon found their work persistently interrupted by crippling bouts of nausea that seemed to be alleviated only by closing various windows. A team of analysts sent to examine the building soon found themselves afflicted and whilst agreeing with the effect of the closed windows could find no nearby gas leak or other cause. The team eventually traced the epicentre of the illness to an incorrectly installed air ventilator set in a large duct in the centre of the building, but still they could discern no fumes or other likely cause. After much consideration, Gavreau hit upon the answer. The vibrations of the motor were occurring at a precise pitch, below human hearing, that was having physiological effects on the team. The vast concrete building itself was serving as an amplifier, a huge resonating chamber for the vibrations, which they were inside of. By closing the windows, they were changing the resonant profile of the building, shifting the pitch away from the precise point at which it caused nausea. The team soon changed the subject of their research.

An exhibition of immanence; as a field of possible meanings or connections. The exhibition is always and only immanent. To complete it, to picture its totality, to set ones spectatorship without and not participating within, erases it. This field of meaning requires a perceiving presence to exist and this presence require this landscape to site itself within. What binds them is immanence, it is perception in itself, presumptive, guiding, partial.

Sound theatricalizes space, instrumentalizing the listener in its fluctuant spills and impingements. Describing the work of the sculptor Jack Burham in Passages in Modern Sculpture (1981, p221) Rosalind Krauss writes that it:
Contrives a very special environment of sensuous alertness, one that theatricalizes a room to the point where it is the viewer who is the actor in question. The drama of motion is one that the spectator completes or bestows on the assembled work, his participation enacting in large scale or explicit gesture the ‘subliminal activity’ which the work suggests. The sculpture makes the viewer complicit with the direction of its ‘journey’ through time; in being its audience he becomes, automatically its performer.

Robert Morris seems relevant to all of this. Morris’ sculptures mediate between the viewer and the architecture of a space. The untitled work from 1965, the four mirrored cubes on the floor in a grid. At once visible and invisible; articulating and mirroring the properties of the room, contingent upon the space in which it exists. The viewer suspended between artwork and the room in which it is contained, implicated in the cubes, shifting their position to view from other angles and the work shifting with them. A similar thing happens with the acoustics of space, the bodily presence of a viewer alters the resonance and reverberations of the room, the viewer has a performative presence.

In the essay Notes on Sculpture Morris writes: ‘Ultimately the consideration of the nature of sculptural surfaces is the consideration of light, the least physical element, but one that is as actual as the space itself.’ (Morris, 1966, p.5) This is something that can be put to sound as well, it is as actual as the space itself. The connection between Robert Morris’ work and the use of sound in artworks is to do with this positioning of a viewer in space. It is also to do with where the limits of the work lie and how these limits can be extended outside of objects. Morris’s Box With the Sound of its Own Making (1961), a nine inch wooden cube containing a tape recording of its own construction, is interesting because of the way the sound emanates from the box. Although the tape player is contained the sound spills out of the box, it occupies the space around the box, which is the space of the viewer.

Sound blurs or erases the distinction between spaces. Sound exists not only within but around objects, it articulates a loosely defined, contracting and expanding space, difficult to contain or enclose. Within this folding our spectatorship is challenged, we are implicated and we implicate.

This subject-object dialogue, this drawing together, by the subject, of the meaning diffused through the object, and, by the object, of the subject’s intentions – a process which is physiognomic perception – arranges round the subject a world which speaks to him of himself, and gives his own thoughts their place in the world.

In 2005, Achim Wollscheid collaborated with the architects Seifert / Stoeckmann on a building in Gelnhausen, Germany. Wollscheid installed along the front wall and two sides of the house multiple pairs of speakers and microphones directed both into the house and outside on to the street. Connecting the exterior microphone to the interior speaker, and the interior microphone to the exterior speaker, the work amplifies sounds from the outside on to the inside, and sounds from the inside on to the outside. The building’s walls become a permeable structure, a less stable threshold.

Points of liminality, where new meanings are generated through the interaction of works. William Burroughs and Brian Gysin coined the term the Third Mind in the book of the same name to describe the process by which their cut up technique worked. The Third Mind (1977) describes the way in which, in a collaboration between two people, what is produced is always a third mind as an ‘unseen collaborator’. Burroughs used this idea to talk about the cut up technique, a process whereby cut up sections of diverse filmic, literary, and visual sources were combined in new ways. Burroughs was interested in the new meanings that come about through the interaction of these different elements. Burroughs maintained that: ‘Cut ups make explicit a psychological process that is going on all the time anyway’ (Murphy, 1998, p.215). This idea is useful in thinking about the way sound interacts in exhibition spaces, combining in unexpected ways to produce new meanings between the works. This of course happens with all artworks but it is with sound producing works that this tendency becomes more pronounced.

Interaction of works dependent on the movement of the viewer within the space. The level of agency in the way the viewer engages with the work and prioritizes individual works and sound, constructing their own narrative reading of the exhibition.

Viewer and environment, viewer and object, object and environment. A dialogic relationship, a simultaneous entwinement.

Works cited:
Deleuze, Gilles, 2000. Foucault. University of Minnesota Press.
Krauss, Rosalind, 1981. Passages in Modern Sculpture. New York: MIT.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 1962.Phenomenology of Perception.Routledge: London.
Morris, Robert, 1995. Continuous Project Altered Daily. MIT: Massachusetts.
Murphy, Timothy, 1998, Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs.University of California Press: California.