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Suzanne Cromb and Elizabeth Johnson
Sound Garden, Two Events Two Rooms took place in the long and narrow room of the Development Space. It consisted of an arrangement of pears, placed carefully on tiny pillarlike plinths mounted sequentially along two of the walls. Black string was fastidiously pulled taut around nails which formed a broad, geometric pattern down and. along the slightly beige walls and around the pears. At the front of the room stood an old upright piano.
The wallpaper-like patterning of the pears and string alluded to a room, rather than a gallery. It suggested a place of the performative, but of course it was up to the viewer as to how much (if anything) happened. The work also suggested an outside space, that of a garden. The succulent fruits with exotic birds tattooed on their skins, created a stage-like setting in which the walls assumed the presence of trees. The fruit was for visual devouring, while the music alluded to the ambience of bird song.
A period of viewing time before the performance formed the "overture" to Sound Garden. At first, the presence of the piano in the space seemed to exist only as part of the visual installation, as its awkward position at the front of the space did not suggest the setting for a musical performance. The audience had time during this "overture" to notice details such as the tiny birds on the pear skins which were reflected in the intricate engravings on the piano's surface.
After a short time when people had gathered in and outside the space, the music began. There was no announcement, no "hush" that usually anticipates a musical performance, instead people 's voices gradually diminished as Cromb's playing continued. At Cromb's feet was a cassette player that she operated with her toes, offering an interesting replacement for the piano pedals. Gradually, the cassette player was introduced to the improvisations, offering a prerecorded piano accompaniment which she dipped into and out of, as she played this duet with herself.
The performance was in three movements, in a musical sense as well as a literal one. Each musical movement involved physically moving the piano further into the room and with this shift came a dismantling of part of the piano. Cromb used this as a metaphor for her own dismantling and editing process of the music. The detached "limb" was simply and carefully placed on the floor. The movement and dismantling reminded one of the Fluxus Piano Activities of Philip Corner where a piano was (rather violently) dismantled, the sound of this being the music. As Cromb and the piano moved leadenly through the narrow room the audience moved awkwardly to accommodate the change. It became apparent that it was indeed a "pushing" through the space and the audience which questioned the traditionally separated roles of audience and music performer.
The third movement was played on the internal strings of the piano as Cromb had removed its entire front section. The instrument exposed its wonderful patterns and taut strings, again reflecting the string in the wall installation. The exposure of the inner workings of the instrument emphasised a corporeality of abjection in the performance. This abjection was also evident in the "untuned" sound of the intervals as they veered off a typical Western "equal temperament" to an Eastern sounding note. The increasingly sparse playing of notes and the plucking of strings in the piano amplified the Eastern mode further, alluding to an Indian sitar and perhaps the attainment of a contemplative state. After the third movement the piano was almost against the back wall and Cromb had edited out her view of the audience who stood where the performance had been.
In Sound Garden, Cromb and Johnson successfully hybridised the forms of traditional Western music performance and sound installation to form a new event.