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

Oliver diCicco’s Sirens Sound Sculpture (San Francisco)

An installation by Oliver diCicco, titled Sirens, filled the large hall at the gallery and performance space SomArts (somarts.org) in San Francisco from January 10 through February 14 of this year. I missed the opening, but was fortunate to be almost entirely alone when I stopped by a few days later. Sirens consists of 11 free-standing, drone-emitting sculptures. Their hemispheric shape brings to mind the horns of some mechanical beast, while their purpose suggests oversized tuning forks, and they move with the lilt of a human-proportioned metronome. When turned on, they filled the room with rolling, gently overlapping layers of long, held tones.

In diCicco’s telling, the work was inspired by the ocean — the title comes from the Sirens of mythology, the motion from the waves. An artist’s brief statement, pinned to one wall, includes the following excerpt from the Wallace Stevens poem “Sea Surface Full of Clouds”:

An uncertain green, Piano-polished, held the tranced machine Of ocean
The following images show from afar how Sirens was situated in the SomArts space:

And these two show, close up, some of the construction. The top image is the device that emits the tones, while the bottom is the counterweight system:

For the first time ever, I used the movie option on my camera to capture some video, complete with sound. For some reason I can’t figure out how to get this embedded youtube.com video to center horizontally in this post, but that probably won’t bother anyone but me:

Someone else has posted a longer video, 3:07, recorded at the January 10th opening, and it includes an interview with the artist: youtube.com.

Sirens was almost certainly the best use of the beautiful SomArts space since Ellen Fullman‘s Long String Instrument was installed there back in April 2005 (somarts.org, disquiet.com). The room has the stark white walls of a traditional gallery, but those walls are an illusion; they’re set inside a rougher, unadorned warehouse space, visible if you look up. Here are images of the room, and of the sculpture with one individual standing beside it in order to depict the scale of the piece:

Sirens didn’t run continuously. There was a small egg-timer-like contraption that you had to set in motion:

Between its size and the sonic element, Sirens is a work difficult to image being permanently installed anywhere. But from the details of the individual objects — the refined craftsmanship, the elegant mechanisms — to the way the combined structures commanded the architectural environment to how the sounds further filled the room, it is a phenomenal accomplishment. Those sounds, by the way, were attributed to the unit Mobius Operandi (mobiusmusic.com), of which diCicco is a member, along with Jason Reinier, Avi Rose, Pam Winfrey and Christie Winn.

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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