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.