The theft of sound begs for tangible variations in shape and colour.
When drawn in pictures, sound always appears in arcing waves or as curved lines to illustrate its expansion through space. These lines grow thinner and longer as the sound spreads out, disappearing as they travel further and further into unhearability. But how does one capture sound visually beyond the simplest of abstractions that can never begin to express the nuances of voices, music, noise?
Alison O’Daniel attempts just this. Inspired by a rash of burglaries targeting the tubas of high school marching bands in Southern California, O’Daniel is creating a feature film, The Tuba Thieves, the narrative of which follows a young couple, one of whom is a deaf drummer, in what the artist calls ‘a din of stolen instruments, purposeful silence, and alternative communication’. A score structures the film, arranged by three composers: Ethan Frederick Greene, Christine Sun Kim and Steven Roden. None of the film is being shown here, but each object in the show is an embodiment of the soundtrack to that movie in production.
Simply framed out of rough plywood, these sound replacements dangle from ceilings with delicate chains, kaleidoscopic windows looking into a possibility of sound. Necklace chains droop elsewhere into space, holding up only themselves as they sway in the air, like wind chimes that never chime but only cast spider’s webs of shadow. From a cluster of plinths, raw and painted, hoops hang in the air and on the wall – quiet portals between different states, different senses: tactility, sound, vision.
On view crosstown at another gallery, la Louver, O’Daniel does happen to be screening a scene from The Tuba Thieves. A faceless traveller drives through a terrible storm as a radio sputters through stories about Hurricane Sandy. A moving truck stuffed with plants has its translucent scrims shaken by some unseen force. The plants shudder individually, each to its own sound, and then all together in a seismic chorus – all incidentally scored by a deaf composer. The idiosyncratic story of the film is only hinted at here, but the evocative fragments of both the scene and the objects made alongside it uniquely embody the possibility of sound as abstraction, seismicity and object.
Sound made physical obviously weirds the divide we set between senses, but seismic bass, a vibrational surge that shimmies up limbs and shivers the sweat right off the skin, is music too. Sound metamorphoses into tactility. A metaphor transfers one state to another, it bypasses the hesitancy of simile, which hedges its bets with ‘like’ and ‘as’, and leaps into equal exchange: this is this. A metaphor abandons the literal for the poetical, makes sharing experiences, life, visions possible in ways that strict and basic expressions cannot. Alison O’Daniel’s objects are metaphors, not stand-ins for sound but sound for the soundless, with texture and movement and colour giving utterance to objects, scoring together a symphony things.
This review was first published in the October 2013 issue.