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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Saturday Sound Art

Dropped by three exhibits yesterday, all of which inadvertently commented on the still awkward status of sound art in galleries.

Blackbird Space, in the city’s steadily gentrifying Dogpatch neighborhood, is a single, inviting cinder block room in the lower level of a small compound of residences, just up the street from the good soul food restaurant Hard Knox. A group show titled “Pause” is running for one month, through February 27, having previously shown at Factory Model in Miami last December as part of the Art Basel festival. Around a dozen artists are represented in “Pause,” with one sound art component: Roddy Schrock‘s small, two-speaker installation, which he’s described as “grunts, groans, pops, fizzes, and shimmering delicate waterfalls of metallic noise” (fundamentallysound.org), which sums it up well. The sounds were generally small and dry, and it would have been interesting to hear how they worked in a more populated room. The exhibit was co-curated by Christopher Culver, director of Factory Model, and Blackbird Space proprietor Rebecca Miller. More info at blackbirdspace.com and factorymodel.org.

Over at SF Camerawork are two separate exhibits. These days, when images are set in motion there is usually sound involved, but the three videos currently being screened here are really just traditional, if artful, documentaries. Jenni Olson‘s The Joy of Life pits narration against shots of San Francisco; Natalie Zimmerman‘s Islands shows actors attempting to summon tears as part of a casting call; and Jem Cohen‘s Chain, the most impressive of the three, portrays the parallel stories of two young women: one homeless, the other traveling the United States for a Japanese company; one barely a ghost on the commercial landscape, the other an agent of commerce. The videos, collectively titled “Traces of life on the thin film of longing,” are showing through February 24.

Also at SF Camerawork through the 24th is a collaboration between Alexander Mouton and Christian J. Faur titled Ethereal Landscapes, consisting of a small book, a set of headphones, a computer monitor and, connecting them all, a hand scanner, the sort of thing a cashier might use. Each page of the book has on it a photo and a zebra code; scan it, and a mix of sound and image appear on the monitor. The projected images and sounds vary from documentarian to abstract, from raw to manipulated. I saw images from science and nature, and heard noises that often go unheard. Reportedly the system shows different images depending on the time of day. The full video is streaming at Mouton’s site, unseenproductions.net. More info at sfcamerawork.org.

Two galleries, three exhibits, lots of sound, but also evidence of an art form still finding its place. Though Schrock’s name is in the “Pause” catalog, he, unlike the visual artists, doesn’t get a page to himself. The sound of the three films at SF Camerawork overlapped because they were being shown simultaneously in one large room; there was some attempt, in the Zimmerman, to focus the audio with a hemispheric speaker system above the viewing bench, but most of the voices were muffled. And the Mouton-Faur, which was intended to blur the lines between book, video and sound by emphasizing interactivity, also reinforced why those media are so compelling when exerienced individually, no accessories required.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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