By Rob Young
This month, American Artist Bruce Nauman’s multichannel sound artwork Days comes to London’s ICA. The visceral piece comprises a stream of seven disembodied voices - each projected from its own pair of speakers - reciting the days of the week in random order and in various styles, from fast to gabbled to slow-paced. As with Raw Materials, Nauman’s appropriately monumental, yet insidiously invisible multi-speaker piece that filled Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2004, the viewer/listener must penetrate what at first sounds like a dense polyphonic hum of unintelligible speech, and tune the ears to each discrete voice: an exercise in directed, concentrated listening.
To complement this extraordinary work, the ICA has commissioned more than 100 artists to participate in an online gallery of sonic art, spoken word and music in a virtual group show entitled ‘Soundworks’ – previewed exclusively here. The new works will also be aired at the ICA but it is the online gallery that it is pushing as a groundbreaking new way to experience sound art.
The ICA arrived at the list after calling on various cultural institutions and tastemakers, including Wallpaper*, to nominate an artist. They come from a wide range of practices, from conventional music making and installation to video art, sound design, performance and the spoken word, and include Wallpaper* pick and now Turner Prize-nominee Luke Fowler. There’s also a healthy old-guard contingent, such as Throbbing Gristle founder Cosey Fanni Tutti; polemicist Stewart Home; William Furlong, a pioneering force in audio art; former Red Krayola associate Stephen Prina; David Tibet of Current 93; and avant-garde film-maker Peggy Ahwesh.
‘Soundworks’ adds up to a formidable survey of contemporary approaches to audio as an artistic medium. Brandon LaBelle, in the spirit of Nauman, recorded himself saying ‘365 is a significant number’ once a day for a year, while
Sue Tompkins’ My Dataday weaves together pop lyrics and dismembered slogans. Tim Skinner’s Altering The Meandering Existence
is a seven-minute outdoor field recording of birdsong, thunder and passing planes; Alan Dunn’s The Sound Of Ideas Forming is a spiky sample-collage on a bed of vinyl crackle. Yesterday We Saved The World Again, by China’s Yan Jun, features the artist munching crisps, one at a time, in crystal-clear stereo.
Luke Fowler meanwhile – who is about to
present a major new film commission at the Hepworth Wakefield (from 23 June) and is best known for his film on RD Laing, All Divided Selves
– collaborates with experimental musician Richard Youngs on an electronic/vocal track called Zoning Suite 1. ‘Richard plays a 1980s German synth module that has a built-in drum machine,’ explains Fowler, ‘and I am processing him live through a Serge Modular panel, and there are overdubs of our vocals and percussion.’
‘Soundworks’ is a strictly headphonic exhibition: digital files are accessed via headphones, emphasising the disembodied condition of much sound-based practice. LaBelle, a sound theorist as well as practitioner, says: ‘To locate a work [such as Nauman’s] within a specific gallery space immediately relates to the architecture, and the particular moment of a visitor being there. With the online gallery, the listener is free to organise his or her own experience. I imagine it can function both as a listening experience and a documentation centre, where listeners can browse, sample, access or drift through the collection.’ Fowler is similarly positive. ‘Perhaps with the online show the ICA wants to propel a dialogue about sound into public consciousness. You could do that by posing particular questions about sound, or alternatively you could take a wider net – a sort of freeform, optimistic attitude. I’m happy to see both, if each of the approaches is
Bruce Nauman’s Days and ‘Soundworks’, at the ICA, London, runs from 19 June to 16 September 2012, ica.org.uk. The ICA is offering Wallpaper* readers discounted ICA membership. Become a member from just £25 (normally £40) to enjoy a range of benefits and discounts for the exhibitions, events and film programmes.
To purchase membership, please call the ICA box office on 44.20 7930 3647 and quote 'Wallpaper'. Visit www.ica.org.uk/membership for more information.
Wallpaper’s Soundworks playlist was selected by Rob Young