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datum sound show
While much sound art theory seems to suggest that sound is an underdog in the opposition between sound and vision, it is possible to view sound art as a point of crossover, as well as contention, between the two. The matter-of-factly titled 'datum sound show' presented sound works by members of the Brisbane-based datum visual arts organisation in a one-night event held at Metro Arts.
The exhibition demonstrated how sound functions in space. Sound is not readily contained: it fills rooms and spills out beyond their boundaries, often claiming the space for itself along the way. Sound reaches out to the viewer, provoking physical sensation and subjective response. At the same time, the formlessness and intangibility that is inherent in it can tie the work to the particularities of spaces, and make the work vulnerable to them. Sound must operate in the here and now of the space, and compete or cooperate with intrusions of ambient sound or noise. In these respects, the artists were fortunate in having access to a variety of locations within the Metro Arts Building.
The recorded nature of much sound work in some way predisposes sound artists to draw upon, or sample from, the media culture which surrounds them. The work of Clare Chippendale locates itself within this media landscape somewhere between fictional representation and real life, integrating details of the everyday with the detritus of popular culture. Two monitors in the centre of a darkened room display footage from B-grade movies, with a soundtrack of recorded telephone conversations between Chippendale and friends. Rather than the voyeuristic titillation one would expect from such eavesdropping, there is a sense of neutrality, a lack of connection, in the work. The dialogue becomes background noise, the silent monitors blank screens, the speakers extras in their own lives. Like the boredom induced by 'reality television ', what we become aware of here is the mixture of intimacy and inanity that comes from intruding into someone else's life.
From the darkness of Chippendale's installation, we are drawn into the warm glow of Amanda Cuyler's work. Perfectly positioned in a neglected corner of the build ing amidst an assortment of beaten and battered lockers, Cuyler creates a visceral viewing space into which we are physically drawn. To experience the work it becomes necessary to lean in closely to the slickly repulsive surfa9e of a canvas covered with fleshy pearls of tapioca, and to use a set of earphones protruding from the canvas. The headphones serve to keep the viewer on a short leash while a soundscape of gym sounds, mixed with a monologue on the pleasures of bodybuilding, reveals the humour of the imagery and the locker room ambience.
In contrast to these plays on intimacy, the work of Jacqui Vial manipulates sensory experience. Upon entering the small space, we are greeted with a blinding light aimed directly at the eyes. Moving out of this spotlight and into the pitch blackness of the space, the viewer becomes enveloped in a distorted and disorienting soundtrack. Once again, the work finds its source in media culture; samples are contorted and distorted to create ominous effects from the most inane of starting points. Digital editing technology renders sound itself malleable material; it is bounced back and forth, folded in on itself, stretched, strained and filtered, and finally the viewer is brought into the middle of it all, left to find his/her own way in the dark.
Approaching the media in quite a different way, the contribution of Tara Pattenden deals more in the currency of music and sub-cultures. This multi-media event demonstrates a sampling and mixing approach not only to the creation of work, but also to the experience of culture. Pattenden stages a sort of music video-clip 'performed' through the improvised mixing of pre-recorded audio and video samples. The result is a formless , amorphous melding of elements distinct from, while nonetheless exhibiting signs of, mainstream video-clips and dance party visuals. The flow in and out of different video and audio streams is echoed in the viewing experience, with the use of the cinema space allowing spectators to sit and watch the event unfold in contemplative mode or drift in and out of the space, channel surfing from one artwork to the next.
A related sampling and mixing approach is used by Laura Hill to create an immersive sound environment that bombarded the senses. Consisting of a soundtrack of evocative but unidentifiable sounds seemingly emitted at random from multiple speakers around the room, the work conjures the idea of sound itself being cut and pasted, torn and reassembled, in a chaotic sensory collage. The combination of random noise bursts, semi-musical interludes, sudden interruptions and aural tangents coming from all directions combines with slide projections displaying miscellaneous and variously acquired images, to create an all-encompassing environment founded on the 'fuzzy logic' of random association. If we think of the relation between sound and vision as an opposition, then in Hill 's work we can find an example of the two sharing a space through the use of randomness and chaos as an equalising force.
Moving from this state of sensory overload to the work of Chris Comer, one enters an empty, darkened space, in which we can hear only a plaintive, sobbing sound. This audio seems to retain the grain of the voice from which it was sourced despite the voice's reversal and manipulation. Language itself becomes unintelligible, and yet the emotion that lay behind the original spoken text is still present in a wordless, murmuring state. The barely discernible form of the CD player in the darkness only adds to the feeling of emptiness, as if the confirmation of these sounds as recorded trace and not physical presence somehow emphasises the sense of loss.
The matter-of-fact title of the sound show points to the simplicity of its intent. Rather than attempting to define sound practice, it presents a few different ways of working with sound. In so doing it explores some of the dynamics associated with exhibiting sound, it provides an opportunity for the work to claim a space for itself, as well as providing a welcome opportunity for the viewer to sample from a diverse selection of sound.