Relay assembles a number of works that manifest particular engagements with sound. Particular as each engages with sound from another discipline and as each engagement exhibits a singular subjective preoccupation and its movement into the world.
Sound is not an object of inquiry for these works; they are not concerned with sound itself but about sound in relation, sound in correspondence.
Sound never existed on its own in a phenomenologically reduced environment but broader modes of engagement continue to herald sound’s omnipresence, its pervasion of all areas of our lives.
Sound is an object of fascination in the current cultural climate — sound is everywhere — as if prior to this excess of exposure, this clamour in the arts, it merely existed as a mechanism of oral transmission, atmospheric accentuator; subordinated, as writing once was to speech, to the visual. This din makes it difficult to listen out for quieter murmurs, those attenuated by historical distance or obscured by arbitrary classification.
In conversation some time ago, a friend was recounting the difficulties in sourcing antecedents for sound art from the field of classical composition — Varése et al — as to do so would be tantamount to intentional misappropriation; a cultural embezzlement inadvertently legitimated by certain tranches of continental theory and far from difficult to locate in contemporary practice.
My response was that many artists, and not only visual artists, had at some point engaged with sound and that these works, whilst they could hardly be said to characterise those artists’ practices, might provide more appropriate historical material for initial analysis; particular engagements with sound, though by no means as snappy as sound art, more appropriately describes work which comes to, or from, sound via the artist.
These filaments run through creative practice in such a way that they resist being warped into fabrics. These loose strands resist being twisted into generic threads and amplified, as we so often hear with Russolo’s Intonorumori or Cage’s 4’33’’, by the way that they fray into sound; Balzac’s Le Chef-d’ouvre Inconnu, Arman’s Coleres or fray sound into something else; Böll’s Dr Murke’s Gesammeltes Schweigen, Knizak’s scores.
All of these works transform our idea of what sound is, or rather transform our perception and experience of sound, but the cultural hubbub that surrounds the threads drowns out the strands. It often takes the interlocution of practitioners in other fields to point out their audibility, to show how and where they fray from or into sound.
More work is required to determine the frequency with which these works occur. This would not be the undeniably hard work of encyclopaedic collation, where the structure inevitably enforces decisions on what constitutes a legitimate entry. It is more a process of assonance, of incomplete correspondence, through which this ravelling may be identified.
It seems necessary to reiterate that these works will resist being subsumed under a heading. In fact, this always leads to so much discussion about the adequacy of a given heading to incorporate works, past, present or future, after its inception to the degree that works, instead of being examined in the space of their own particularity, become valuable by the extent to which they fit the heading.
An assonant process leaves these works in place and shows where they engage with, or fray into, sound. It provides us with a means to resist those ordering processes that would either treat them as mere lint to be picked off a surface whose aim would be homogeneity or, at the expense of those elements that make them particular, restrict their ravelling potential by resolving them into a group.
Relay is intended to provide one route into this process, not just by the exhibition of works but also by highlighting the way these works were brought into being and subsequently into proximity.
The artists, possibly with one exception, come to sound from other fields — photography, sculpture, philosophy — but sound is not the object of thought nor is it an afterthought in their works for Relay; it is inscribed within the processes of thought and practice through which the works were instantiated.
Bernard G. Mills’s Title Roll is a new installation that tracks a record collection spanning forty years. Scrolling through the spines of the collection over a two-hour period, Title Roll creates a double vision that continually superimposes a partial view over the whole.
Whilst inherent to the work of memory, this diplopia is preceded by a process that operates outside the visual; an ongoing selection driven by auditory stimuli. This is reflected in the physical order of records in the collection: mainly grouped by genre, the occasional insertion of a disc without regard to those adjacent marks a process of archival disordering whereby items are incorrectly re-inserted into the whole. Over time, this process reveals a narrative of use; a procedural selection that defies the conventions of indexing.
For the viewer, coming to the work from the other direction, this process operates in reverse; the partial first, then the whole and perhaps, if they recognise a sleeve, the memory of a song, melody or refrain. These recollections mark the starting point of Title Roll; the identification of sound’s activity in memory and its actuation in the everyday.
Clare Gasson’s film The Ballad of Albatross Way traverses multiple narratives as it approaches a blind spot; a point at which the end can only be seen after turning a corner. As with all oral traditions, as lines are forgotten and replaced and the narrative alters, parts of the ballad’s narrative are displaced en route providing the possibility of escape from its personal, localised landscape.
At the same time, whilst the ballad’s narrative moves back and forth between restricted and open spaces, the film’s image is constrained to a circular pan in which structures emerge from the detritus of an interior space; the piles and stacks of possessions recalling the architectural clutter of manifold cityscapes.
The intrinsically visual form of the survey at first appears to dominate the work; the ballad receding into the role of soundtrack. Yet the film is a distorted mirror of the ballad; it comes after the sound and incompletely reflects it. The camera’s circular pan prevents the viewer from entering the work; we can only look onto the space from an outside. In contrast, the ballad takes us along with it, involves us in its journey and in so doing, usurps the primacy of the visual within the narrative.
Two wall mounted texts intervene between these works in the exhibition space. Yve Lomax’s Roll and the example and Mo White’s a round... expand elements of the artworks that are particular to their concerns. Yve Lomax’s philosophical treatise on the nature and composition of the example at first appears to refer, from a particular position, to Title Roll when in fact it makes everything, including itself and its constituent parts, an example. The work shows that the place of the example, the space an example appears to occupy, is paradoxically, the very space it can never fully occupy.
Mo White’s exploration of the impact of the circular pan on film recurs at different speeds to the reiterations in the other works as it recalls past attempts to destroy cinema’s pleasures by way of the preventative effect of the pan and the eventual, one might say inevitable, decline of such attempts through the disruption of desire.
Through its articulation of repetition and difference, a round... highlights a feature of the relay; as it and the other works are reiterated, repeated, relayed, the position we take in relation to them is altered; as Roll and the example states, “the space ‘beside’ and in which the life of an example unfolds is empty of a place that can be owned.”
In the second show, Ed Osborn’s Swing Set suspends several swings in close proximity and at angles such that a normal swinging motion would cause them to collide. On the seats of the swings are bare loudspeakers broadcasting ranges of long tones and static that slowly change while the swings move. The motion of swings without people lends them a haunted air, as if the actions of children who once used them continue to remain in place long after they have departed.
In Swing Set, sound and motion are separate in the same space. The combination exists, as it might do with an actual swing and human occupant, in the causal interaction between the literal swinging and the sound, the swing itself and the utterances of the occupant. Swing Set articulates the moment at which sounds begin; displacement, both as the basis of sound transmission and in the absence of the swing’s occupant — both physically and in the sense of emotional redirection away from its connotations of abduction — the still swinging swing so often used to denote the missing.
This redirection suggests another type of abduction, introduced by the American pragmaticist[sic] C.S. Pierce and further characterised as the probational adoption of a hypothesis, where our thinking logically considers multiple possibilities prior to making a decision. In this sense, Swing Set calls the defaults of our associative processes into question.
Giles Drayton’s Index explores the division of our lives as marked by tintinnabulant indicators — alarm clocks, school bells, church bells — through the construction of a full scale church bell composed of over one hundred circular sheets of wood.
Index is a static object. The stratified form of the object itself suggests a geological composite and its stepped surfaces indicate the graphing of a changing frequency of an event that has already occurred. The work is temporally frozen yet indicates a past and future ringing. It lingers out of time, in an interval determined by its last or next ring. Its archaeology places us in a state of recollection and when we bring it to mind, we ring for it.
As Index provokes the idea of a bell and its ringing, it also enacts the bell’s function as prompt or signal, as the marker of an event that has already happened or is about to happen.
As with Title Roll, we bring sound to the work — our recollections of sound — but whilst Title Roll is continuous division, Index is pure division or pure meter. Its sound is not absent but neither is it silent, as it does not contain the possibility of being rung. We substitute for this impossibility and are relayed back to Yve Lomax’s text where she writes “the place of an example is perpetually opening up onto a space of substitution.”
Again intervening between these works are two new text works, Kate Briggs’s Bell Fabrications and Angus Carlyle’s If You Were To Clap. If I Were To Listen. Briggs’s more direct association with Drayton’s Index furnishes us with a number of tintinnabulant resonances ranging from the anticipatory plagiary of the bell in dreams where the ringing of alarm clocks both stimulates the sleeper into a dream narrative and provides its finale, to the peculiar fabrication of Pavlov’s use of bells in academic memory.
In foregrounding the temporal in the first instance and the vagaries of memory in the second, Briggs both contextualises and extends Index into social, historical and psychogeographical landscapes. It is important to note here that the text was composed between the concept and realisation of Index and so resonates in the interval of the work.
In contrast, Carlyle’s text pushes out into the origins and mechanics of sound transmission, its receipt and a wonder that remains undiminished by factual and scientific expositions of the process. Also, in contrast to the description to my earlier reading of Swing Set, Carlyle acknowledges the work as a departure point for the text but resists providing an interpretation, he “prefers to listen.”
These works, as with the others I referred to previously, cannot be grouped; they resist being formed into a set from which a heading can be derived or applied. Each maintains a distinct and particular engagement with sound; photographic, narrative, physical, structural, philosophical and so on. Their proximity amplifies the assonant; we see and hear relays at work, their loose and tight connections, their disparities and resemblances.
This assonance is shown by the text works; how the relay frays into other fields, other engagements, and other interests that leave the works in place. They exemplify the possible or, as Yve Lomax writes, ”the example is a potentia.” In doing so they resist the traditional role of supplement designed to provide an exposition of the work and the artist in monographic and historical contexts.
Relay is assonance in practice — these art and text works stand by themselves, not alone but in correspondence with those in proximity, others elsewhere and with us. This correspondence is always incomplete.
One correspondence that ended abruptly has been of great
sorrow to us during the development of this project. Deborah
Rawson, director of eta. and Meta.Gallery passed away almost
a year to the day as I write this.
We would have experienced greater difficulties in realising
this project had it not been for her vitality, generosity and
support during the early stages of the project. We dedicate
Relay to her.
Exhibition Paper for Relay