Snap Crackle and Pop - An installation by Tony Kemplen, Bloc Space, Sheffield
Sound art is currently central to the agenda in Sheffield. Normally conservative gallery spaces as well as the more inventive are currently displaying works involving sound.
As part of an increasingly innovative program, Bloc Space in Sheffield are showing Snap Crackle and Pop, an audiovisual installation by Tony Kemplen.
Tony Kemplen is no stranger to multiple ways of working. His past work has included various installations, remodelled objects, manipulated toys, text and video to mention but a few. This time he has utilised the most irresistible of materials: bubble wrap.
Upon entering the space the viewer is instantly made aware of the delicate and subtle nature of the material itself. The bubble wrap is suspended from a metal grid in the ceiling and draped in veils down to the ground from each side of the above grid. The mesh curtained grid shimmers in the light and changes subtly during the changing daylight or under the evening strip lights.
Passing one curtain of bubble wrap and then another viewers slowly begin to fade into the bubble wrap ether and enter another undefined space. As you lose sense of your surroundings the soundscapes switch you from visual to audio mode and then to audiovisual. The visual device of the bubble wrap successfully aids the viewes change of perception. When immersed in the space you can begin to engage with your own minds visual environment stimulated by the sounds.
At regular intervals you can find the source of the menagerie of sound. Speakers housed in metallic dishes reflect an unfamiliar and distorted image of the viewer. This echoes perfectly the transformation of the original source material for the sound recordings into unusual remodelled soundscapes.
The sounds themselves emanate from eight speakers from four separate stereo sources. Each channel is set on shuffle for random playback. The phases of each track are significantly different creating a wide variety of sounds. One of the most arresting phases sounds like an artificial jungle. The manipulated bubble wrap has become the sound of birds, rain and insects in a metallic amazon. Reminiscent of David Tudor's Rainforest, this is not the first time Kemplen has entered the jungle with his work. 2003's Dawn Chorus‚ was a sound installation transforming concrete sounds into birdsong installed in the glasshouse of the winter gardens in the centre of Sheffield.
Another section slowly creaks along like the floorboards of an empty dishevelled house or the ghostly deck of the Marie Celeste. This creakiness brings to mind elements of some of the finest surrealist soundscapes by Steven Stapleton's Nurse With Wound.
While submerged in the environment a further phase sinks into an aquatic abyss. This phase joyfully oscillates between the sound of blowing bubbles and an active lava swamp. The passage could be straight out of the Radiophonic Workshop. Indeed as you are listening you can begin to wonder and marvel at all the activities carried out to coax and tease each sound from the source material.
The press release states the use of bubble wrap as a low tech aid to stress relief, but any compulsive poppers will be disappointed as viewers are not allowed to burst the bubbles. This may cause anxiety to those who find the lure of bubble wrap irresistible. Be warned!
However there is much to savour in this exhibition. A seemingly simple material has been woven and manipulated in such an intriguing and playful way that you can't help but leave and head for the nearest stationers to buy some bubble wrap. Do try this at home.
Review by Neil Webb
Neil is a sound artist based in Sheffield
Sonic Circuits 10 – Selections from the 10th Annual Festival of Electroacoustic Music
Electroacoustic CD packaging gains a long overdue sense of humour facelift through snorting amphetamines and going punk-rock fanzine, thanks to this timely little design gem from the long running series of Sonic Circuits compilations. The CD comes in a glue-sniffer style plastic bag with an hilariously iconoclastic set of stickers to vandalise your laptop with and a booklet full of photocopier art and typewriter font text. At last some product design that recognises that today’s electroacousticians are more likely to have had their formative musical experiences in three chord garage rock bands than in the back row of the string section of the local county youth orchestra. All this, of course, brings back memories of the days when Chumbawumba were still a credible band and Napalm Death and Oi-Polloi were blasting raucous alternatives to Thatcherism at me through the tinny medium of my mum’s crappy old mono record player. I half expected to find an interview with a balaclava-clad member of the ALF inside or even details of local hunt sab action. Great stuff! But I digress…
Sadly, no such great news on the music front I’m afraid, with many of the contenders firmly in the ‘also rans’ category, some falling at the first fence and a select few being shot dead in the paddock and mashed up for dog food well before the start of the race. Clocking in at just over 16 minutes, the longest and most satisfying piece is from the prolific septuagenarian Hans Joachim Roedelius. A founder member of the influential German group Cluster, his piece Frag’s Pferd is an interesting listen that evolves gently and at points compares favourably to the vision and effortlessness of the best work of Parmegiani or Francis Dhomont.
William Price’s tasty little Three Short Pieces for Tape #3 mixes sources lifted from folk, popular and art music. This piece is a good example of variety, unity and economy that some of the other composers on this compilation would do well to pay attention to, more about them later.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Japanese pieces included on the CD are highly derivative of native forms of Far East electronica. Sawako Kato’s piece Crab owes much to Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing desk work and Atsushi Yamaji’s piece Petsound draws from the noise furry of Merzbow and the bleeping repetitive field recording manipulation of Saturo Wono. Petsound breaks down into 12 short sections over its 5 minute duration and is one of the small group of pieces on this CD that stands up to repeated listening.
Jon Christopher Nelson’s Dhoormages consists of a series of short electro-clips that pays homage to three seminal electroacoustic works through the manipulation of the recording of a rather noisy door. The result of this valuable conceptual thinking is a piece in which sound processing is actually related to the concept of the work, a rare achievement and one to be applauded when so many contemporary electroacoustic programme notes appear to have been rushed off as after thoughts.
And then there are the real stinkers. Peter Blasser’s The Moon Camera could have been lifted directly from a late Daevid Allen era Gong session and, in trying to hijack and appropriate Allen’s charm, this shameless little rip off is completely shallow, pointless and actually rather offensive. Oh, sorry, my mistake, he mentions Supercollider in the programme notes so it must be ok, right?
Malte Steiner’s Signale is created from the sound of digital artefacts only and, well, sounds pretty much as you would imagine really, just like someone randomly skipping through a load of plug-ins. The piece represents the worst excesses of the current c-sound/ Max/MSP cult as it display a complete lack any conceptual context, any intellectual appeal beyond techno-onanism or any meaningful compositional structure. I am amazed that Stiener claims to have endured "20 years of electronic sound research" and yet still manages to produce a creatively bankrupt, undergraduate level piece.
Christopher Coleman's My Grandfather’s Kalimba features some chiming Reichian ear candy. Moments of this piece are to Ligeti’s Continuum as the Blasser piece is to Daevid Allen and it also features some percussion work highly reminiscent of some of Benoit Moerlen’s playing in the various incarnations of Gong, from the charming to the Oldfieldesque prog sterility of the post Allen period.
Other pieces included on the CD are by Michelle Kinney, Rod Stasick, Barry Schrader and Garry Verdake and are inconsequential though the Verdake piece has the additional burden of lasting for 12 full minutes. Voices bubble away in an unchanging texture and a drone enters half way through for no apparent reason and carries on, unchanged, till the end of the piece. I actually did fall asleep whilst listening to it and that’s a first! Like so much of the work on this compilation there is only rudimentary exploitation of the stereo field as a creative parameter and this results in the piece sounding flat, amateur and boring.
All mouth and very little in the trouser department then it would seem from Sonic Circuits, who claim to showcase the latest and best artistic uses of technology but deliver a bulldog with rubber teeth. Steal a copy for the stickers if you can!
Review by Richard Whitelaw
Richard Whitelaw is a member of BEAST in Birmingham and is the Programme Director of Sonic Arts Network.