SOUNDWORKS, ICA, London

‘The message that we wish to convey as a very concerned government concerned with this baked bean mountain is that people should eat more baked beans…not only to solve this economic crisis…’  begins Stewart Home’s Attic Beans Echo presumably a satirical dig at the coalition’s spin on the financial crumbling in the UK and elsewhere.

SOUNDWORKS plays host to over 100 audio works by invited international artists available online in addition to the bricks and mortar installation at London’s ICA which runs in conjunction to Bruce Nauman’s Days. Much of the work offers a compact reflection of the personal and private human experience, so a ‘private view’ at home via the internet seems fitting somehow. Having said that I did go into the ICA to see/hear Days then moved upstairs to the sparse room where SOUNDWORKS is situated. Unfortunately, the cacophony (which lacked any artistic merit) from the bar and function rooms flooded the space and frankly made it impossible to hear a thing. The listener is able to choose which pieces to hear on an iPad inserted in the middle of a cube on which one can sit (an interesting situation when more than one person, nee strangers, are in the room).  Due to the volume of material, one wonders if only the die hard sound art enthusiasts will have the patience to listen through all or most of the works.

So back to the couch at home with headphones. The collection is presented in alphabetical order by artist first name and therefor seemingly random.  From worked ambient environmental pieces to compositions touching on the musical side of things such as Andy Holden’s piano and strings renditions of Simpsons theme tune and the Sugababes’ Push the Button finds pop clashing with Prokofiev. There is the expected circuit board manipulations such as Chelpa Ferro’s and the occasional perfunctory titillation (try Michael Dean’s n evoking Vito Acconci’s Seedbed). I hesitate to use the word ‘experimental’ for most of this sound art as that would imply ‘new’, and technically many of the pieces reach back nostalgically embracing anachronistic methods and very obviously referencing  to John Cage, Steve Reich (Penny Slinger & Dhiren Dasu’s Timepiece is a direct reference to Reich’s Come Out while Atau Tanaka’s work is a play on Reich’s Piano Phase using Pong as its basis) and the two Pierres, Henry and Schaffer. Here we find much use of cassette tapes and vinyl. Charles Free’s Matchbook Delinquent & the Full Moon Pinata presents something like a warped cassette found in an attic. Dirty magnetic tape holding recordings over recordings formulating a strange sense of barely remembered moments and nostalgia. Again this is found in Haroon Mirza’s use of the analogue (skipping and scratched vinyl) titled “4” 33 RPM (referencing Cage’s 4′33″).

As the exhibition will be experienced in the main outside of the ICA (ie in living rooms around the world) it takes the control out of the artists’ hands utterly as there is no specially designed acoustic dampening or installed reverberation paneling however the heterogeneous collection stands strong regardless.

The quality of the works are outstanding and there are too many to mention but there are several standout pieces.

Dan Fox’s hilarious tale of confrontation with Naumen’s hired henchmen whilst setting up at MOMA, Bruce, Imperial is a deliberate ode to Nauman’s play on ‘truth’ and the artists role therein. Through a told story, Fox reiterates the need for engagement by the consumer to determine for themselves what is true, the absurdity of the art world and the culture of celebrity. With By the time, impressive in its simplicity, Bonnie Jones spells out letter by letter ‘by the time I reach the end of this sentence our bodies will have changed’ while Brandon LeBelle, a lead academic in sound art theory, repeats, not on loop, but recorded repeatedly as if in a morning journal ritual, ‘365 is a significant number’. Similarly Clare Glasson’s repeated phrase in A 1000 times – around 3000 years – April 2012 provides a strangely emotive suggestion to ‘give everything up….if you want to be given everything’ though I found Floriano Romano’s repetition of Don’t Pay Attention somehow less moving. Moments With and Without My Mother, by Edwin Burdis seems mostly an edit of accumulated memories via movie quotes, soundtracks and incidental music including Poltergeist, Deliverance and The Incredibles to name but a few. The piece manages to come across as both sentimental portrait and cultural protest against Americana and mass media consumerism, those things which make up our memories and determine  who we are as supposed individuals.

The irony of the SOUNDWORKS exhibition is found in the potential availability of ‘unlimited’ virtual space making possible massive curated exhibitions which in a physical environment would be unimaginable and the material itself. This is how fine art accessibility is moving forward with youtube and streaming possibilities. Because of this the volume of work represented here brings into focus current theoretical discussion concerning mass availability of media via wireless networks, whilst simultaneously much of the collection harks back, almost longingly to a more physical audio process.

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