EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Between the stage and the gallery: objects and spaces in three works by Canadian sound artists

Terri Hron

Terri Hron, Université de Montréal, CIRMMT


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Physical objects as sounding bodies are found on the concert stage as instruments and in the art gallery as exhibition pieces, and all along the conceptual, performative and perceptual spectrum between the two. This paper presentation explores three Canadian artists whose work intercepts with electroacoustic music and who place themselves, the audience and the sounding object(s) at various positions between the stage and the gallery on the performance/reception continuum. Jean-François Laporte’s invention and performance of the TuYo instruments represents the sounding object as instrument, manipulated by an expert performer onstage. This seemingly straightforward use of the sounding physical object is quickly subverted by the fantastical nature of the invention, which combines electronic, robotic and physical means to generate its sound, and whose performance is not always contingent on the presence of a performer. Nicolas Bernier has a laboratory-style setup for his work frequencies (a), in which the performer interacts with an array of tuning forks activated by computer-controlled solenoids. The accuracy possible in the performer/composer’s real-time interaction with the object array contrasts with the exactitude of sequences and mechanisms programmed in advance, encouraging questions on the performer’s function, his relationship with the object and the nature of performance in this context. Finally, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Cabinet of Curiousness invites the audience to take the role of DJ, interacting with the object as it might an eccentric jukebox inside the reverential space of the art gallery. This ostensibly commonplace object nevertheless invites a questioning on the nature of musical instruments, 
the artists’ – and our – relationship with things, as well as what performativity might outside of the concert hall ritual.
The diversity of positions represented by these works sheds different shades of light on a number of relationships, three of which we will discuss: object-sound, object-performativity, and object-work. To illustrate: is the object/sound relationship on an acoustic level, as in the case of most traditional musical instruments, whose desired sonic capacity largely determines physical design? Is it of a more conceptual or aesthetic nature? Or, perhaps, in between? In terms of performativity, can we speak of expertise, and if so, how is this determined? Can the object be performed by others, by anyone? How does the audience perceive this performance capacity? Can others compose for the object as for an instrument? This leads nicely into the object’s relationship to the work itself: does it reside in the performance of the object, in the object’s deployment within the context of another work, or is the object itself the work?

EMS14 Proceedings