At the Moment of Being Heard

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'Aquaphone Cornemuse Opus 143', 2001

Photo © Leopold Oosterlynck


Photo © Leopold Oosterlynck

Performance at the opening of Lineares Universum, Hans Peter Kuhn, 2012, Klangraum Krems

Photo: Hans Peter Kuhn

'Singing (detail)', 2000/2013

Photo: Andy Keate


La Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine. Photo: Asier Gogortza (Ertz Festival)

'Symphony Natura'

Photo © York Wegerhoff

'Filling a space with salt (in two parts)', 2013

Photo: Andy Keate


Seven speakers hang from the ceiling of the South London Gallery’s cavernous main room. They are filled with black pigment and a low rumble shakes their surfaces. This is ‘Singing’ (2000/2013) by the late sound pioneer Rolf Julius. Suddenly, the rumble is interrupted. Bursts of piercing noise pound out of the opposite wall, courtesy of New York composer Eli Keszler’s ‘Neum’ (2013). Struck by mechanical beaters, piano wires stretched across the gallery buzz, their sound reverberating through the space. Visually, conceptually and sonically, both ‘Singing’ and ‘Neum’ are incredible installations. It takes careful curating to show multiple sound works in a single space, but it works here to mesmerising effect.

An installation by Canadian sound artist Crys Cole cleverly links process and end result. In the corner of the room, pure white salt overflows from one floor grate, while a recording of the act of pouring the salt plays from another. The final room shows Belgian artist Baudouin Oosterlynck’s ‘Variations of Silence’, a series of music score drawings made as the artist travelled through various countries in search of silence. As travelogues, they’re interesting documents, but they lack the impact of the rest of the show.

What’s so powerful about the sound art on display here is that it’s immediate; it happens in real time. Keszler’s piano strings are being struck right now, creating art in the moment. And as you walk through the galleries, hearing the mumbling of fellow visitors and the rush of the buses outside, everything becomes part of one awesome sonic experience.

Eddy Frankel

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1 person listening
Fari Bradley

Baudouin Oosterlynck's role in this ambitious exhibition is to remind us that innovation in sound is not new, nor is it dead pan serious. He released his first vinyl of musique concrète and poetry in 1978, yet many people think sound art began when Susan Philipsz was the first person ever to win the Turner Prize for a sound piece (the Turner is the Oscars of the art world). Yet what of Philipsz's predecessors, and the culture of sound she came from? The reason this is one of the best sound art shows we've seen yet is down to how the curators have considered the space. For sounds sharing an open space is every curator's conundrum - will the sounds clash, or drown each other out, will it be too much for visitors...and so on. Too often curators opt for headphones, or one sound installation per room. Here however, a dialogue is created between the sound works, where they not only avoid clashing but share the space perfectly and create an additional, new piece out of their interaction with one another. People often ask 'What's the difference between a sound sculpture and an installation?' The best answer I've been able to give is that an installation interacts with the space and is site-specific, whereas a sculpture can be moved form spot to spot and will remain the same. It is mobile in intent, if you will. South London Gallery, while ambitious, are subdued with this show there's no trumpet playing at the entrance, no press release claiming to have shaped our artistic landscape. Yet the exciting live program that runs throughout the show, albeit too exciting in that even detracts from the exhibition itself (you can attend an event in one of the SLG's offsite spaces for example and completely forget about the show), includes some of the most bombastic sound artists of our time. By this we refer to the likes of French film and sound projectionist collective Metamkine who burnt film live during the performance and used the film projectors and indeed an amped up piano wire to create the most intriguing, if sometimes ear splitting live sounds. For those who go to South London Gallery more than twice a year 'At the Moment of Being Heard' will remind them of the installation before this one, because it is echoed by Keszler’s piano strings strung from wall to wall. Pae White filled South London Gallery with coloured yarn which spanned and criss-crossed the room creating supergraphics and a mesh to walk beneath. There's also resonances with Konrad Smoleński's unforgettable piece at the Polish Pavilion in the 2013 Venice Biennial "Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More". The sounds sculptures are similarly integrated into the architecture of the space, and your attention passes from object to object much as it does in SLG. However in Venice, massive church bells are set face to face across the room, close to floor and swing slowly into action, their is echo picked up by microphones and fed through two walls of massive speakers behind the bells, which boom out the processed sound once the bells have quit swinging, this sound in turn set off a wall of empty lockers behind each wall of speakers. The transition of the original sound of the bells speaks of classicism, of original thought, which modernity can only echo and rattle at. The acoustic signal appears to move the molecules of both animate and inanimate objects with equal force, just as the contrasting salt of Crys Cole and the black pigment of Rolf Julius are tested by the "real time" sound of Eli Keszler’s mechanical beaters, as they hit the piano wire and ring out in the space. Sound is not just something you hear, it's a tool, that exacts physical effects on its surroundings and shapes a space. This show wants you to remember that.