© Devon Turnbull, courtesy Lisson Gallery
© Devon Turnbull, courtesy Lisson Gallery
  • Art
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Devon Turnbull: ‘HiFi Listening Room Dream No. 1’

5 out of 5 stars
Eddy Frankel

Time Out says

Do you listen? Like really, seriously, actually listen? Or, like most of us, do you whack in your Airpods and stream some AI-curated playlist of ultra-compressed dross that gets half-drowned out by screaming tube trains and roaring traffic as you commute. We treat music as diversion, as soundtrack, as background. It’s there, we just don’t listen.

But Devon Turnbull listens, really listens. And he wants you to listen too. The American artist and designer (aka OJAS) has filled the gallery with handmade towers of speakers, throbbing tube stereo amplifiers and austere turntables and tape machines. There are boxes of records scattered across the space, piles of tapes. This is a brutalist shrine to music, a space for meditation, quiet prayer, concentration and worship at the altar of sound. 

What Turnbull expects of you, as you sit on meditation chairs on a raised platform in front of all the equipment, is attention. He’s the child of Transcendental Meditation teachers, he knows how to slow down, zone in, consider. Your job is to listen with intention, to devote yourself to the act of letting music worm into your ears as it pours out of the speakers he’s built.

As I walked in, a guest DJ was playing a hazy, trippy, intense Japanese drone record (Somei Satoh’s ‘Emerald Tablet/Echoes’). The whole room felt like it was humming, vibrating, moving. It was incredible. Turnbull’s there himself most of the time, choosing albums, playing records as if it’s performance art. He showed up and played modern jazz, 1980s fusion, classic hard bop, all relayed in perfect, crystal clear sonic fidelity. 

Is it a bit of a stretch to say that a guy playing records he likes on a really nice stereo is art? Sure.

It fell apart for me when he put on the Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzalez album and I wanted to burn the place to the ground. But this isn’t about tastes aligning or loving every record he puts on. It’s about the act of sitting in this room and listening. And that act is genuinely powerful, meditative, vital; it’s a break with the outside world. It makes you realise how little you actually listen in real life, how much sound you take for granted. 

The quality of the sound reproduction is obviously special. It’s warm, clear, enveloping. This is a sonic environment designed with nerdy obsession and fanatical precision. It’s so far removed from your everyday headphones, or from portable speakers burping out bass lines in a London park. It’s a tailored suit in a world of fast fashion, a beautiful dinner in a meal deal universe.

But the reason it works as art is because it feels so unusual to intentionally concentrate on a single thing like this, so out of the ordinary of everyday life, and that – equally – feels sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I used to pore over albums because I could only afford one a month, how I’d obsess over liner notes and thanks lists and band photos. But more than anything else, how I used to actually listen. 

Is it a bit of a stretch to say that a guy playing records he likes on a really nice stereo is art? Sure. But the physical, emotional, conceptual impact of this work is undeniably powerful, you just have to listen out for it. 


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