No ear is the same — so the sonic experience is different for each listener.
By Susan B. Apel
The Hood Museum wants to make a bit of a bang with its new exhibition Resonant Spaces: Sound Art at Dartmouth, which runs from September 15 to December 10. This is the museum’s first exhibition of sound art, and it has specifically commissioned a set of internationally acclaimed artists to bring their artistry to town. Their pieces will be shown in seven different locations around the campus and in the adjacent town of Hanover, NH.
“Sound as a medium of art is a beautiful paradox. It is simultaneously object and non-object, information and noise, substantive and ephemeral,” explains Spencer Topel, Assistant Professor of Music and the show’s co-curator, along with Amelia Kahl. The art form “requires duration (time) to unfold.” The eyes can take in visual art, such as photography and painting, at a glance (though perhaps not fully appreciating their richness). A sound installation requires more patience, a longer pause. And the encounter is never static. It changes with each passing moment of the listener’s engagement. No ear is the same — so the sonic experience is different for each listener.
Denmark’s Jacob Kirkegaard selected a four-story atrium at the Sherman Fairchild Physical Sciences Center as the site for his new work, “Transmission.” Kirkegaard worked with scientists at the University of Utah to collect seismic vibration data — sounds from within the earth, amplified through arched rock formations that are sacred to some Native American tribes. He also recorded above-ground ambient sounds from the same locations. In “Transmission,” the subterranean vibrations are presented on the atrium’s ground floor, the surface recordings on its fourth and final floor. The artist views this as a “vertical sonic space.” The work also explores contrasts in time; the subterranean sounds represent the past, the ambient sounds stand for the present. The result, in Kirkegaard’s words, is an encounter with “deep time listening.” He is renowned for his adventurous efforts in recording and presenting sound in sites large and small, from Chernobyl to his own inner ear.
Laura Maes of Belgium is counting on the sun to generate her sonics. “Spikes” consists of 200 solar-powered circuits mounted onto the ceiling of the entrance to Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. Made up of various materials, each unit makes its own unique click, turning the sun’s energy into varied kinds of sounds. Sunny days bring more clicks, cloudy days fewer. The exhibition is silent at night. Maes sees parallels with Poeme Symphonique, a 1962 composition by György Ligeti, in which 100 metronomes ticked simultaneously — but at different speeds — until a single metronome was left ticking. And then, silence.
The Hood Downtown on Main Street in Hanover NH is the museum’s gallery space and the exhibition’s headquarters. There visitors will find a map and information about each of the installations. Two artists will be exhibiting work in the gallery itself. New York City-based Jess Rowland is presenting The Other Side of Air, five works that invite the listener to partake of an intimate, interactive experience. Her pieces make use of a repurposed player piano roll from 1919 and a pair of paper speakers that will play a Bach cantata and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Two prints of copper and aluminum foils, placed on paper, can be listened to — by one person at a time — through the use of a stethoscope. Rowland enjoyed setting up the serendipitous interplay between pre-determined sounds and those produced by the listener, commenting that “. . . the actual sound heard is completely dependent on the choices and the coincidence of participant interaction.”
Other luminaries of the world of sound art who are part of the exhibition include:
–Bill Fontana has widely exhibited at such venues as the Whitney Museum in NYC, the Post Museum in Frankfurt, and London’s Tate Modern and Tate Britain. He will present “MicroSoundings” at the Life Sciences Center.
–Alvin Lucier, often cited as a pioneer in sound art, is one of several artists in the Hood exhibition who, along with Sun Kim and Kirkegaard, has presented in 2013 at NYC’s MoMA. His work, “5 Graves to Cairo,” is an underground installation at the campus Bema.
–Christine Sun Kim, an artist who has been deaf since birth, will present The Grid of Prefixed Acousmatics. Her work has been displayed in Beijing, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and at the Shanghai and Berlin Biennales.
–Julianne Swartz’s installation, Transfer, will be housed in a Dartmouth library. The work consists of several hand-hewn wood shapes that, when held by a listener, transmit a prose text or poem. She received the Anonymous Was A Woman Fellowship in 2015.
–The final artist is Terry Adkins (d. 2014), conceptual artist, musician, and sculptor, whose selected works made from “found” objects will be on view at the Hood Downtown. His pieces suggest sound but are, in fact, silent.
The artists will participate in a day-long symposium about their installations on Saturday, September 23 at Dartmouth College, to which the public is invited.
Susan B. Apel is a writer and law professor whose creative nonfiction and poetry has appeared in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Best of Vine Leaves 2015, Rhizomes, The Vignette Review, Woven Tale Press, Bloodroot, and the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Her blog, ArtfulEdge, in which she writes about arts in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, appears regularly on the dailyUV.com. She is also a contributor to the newspaper, Vermont Woman. She lives in Lebanon, NH.