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The Organ as Installation

Olivia Block at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

The opening roar of this excerpt of a recording suggests a crowd going wild, not so much at a concert as at a vuvuzela-filled soccer stadium. In this case, the stadium is a stately gothic structure, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, and the ecstatic noise is coming from its E.M. Skinner pipe organ, in an original piece of music by Olivia Block. Advance notice of the performance, which was recorded live on April 21, 2017, described it as something that “straddles the line between musical composition and sound installation.” The installation aspect is in part related to how Block’s use of the organ explores the contours of the space, and also how speakers distributed throughout the building suggest that attendees wander amid the sound to hear it from different vantages. The work, as reproduced in this stereo document, moves from recognizable organ tones to fantasms of eager, treble-piercing waves. Live performances are difficult to reproduce, spatially informed ones all the more so. This recording, by Alex Inglesian, gives us a sense of the work’s breadth and impact.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/olivia-block. More from Block, who is from Texas and lives in Chicago, at twitter.com/oliviablock and oliviablock.net, and on the piece at renaissancesociety.org.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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