By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
By Arrissia Owen
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
Listening to members of FLOOD hold forth on SoundWalk, their one-night-only transformation of Long Beach's East Village Arts District into an indoor/outdoor gallery of sound-art installations, can be a bit daunting, what with their invocations of concepts such as Brecht's estrangement effect and Derrida's extension of Kant's consideration of the frame through which we consider not just art, but also life.
But there's nothing to be scared of, children, as SoundWalk is simply a big audiovisual playground in which you have four hours to freely frolic, taking the installations as you find them. Simple novelty? Deep meditation on sound as a transformative environmental factor? There's just one more chance to find out just what it can be to you, however, because SoundWalk's 10th iteration is also its last.
"MoMA's first major exhibition of sound art signals the genre's shift in direction within the arts scene from upstream to mainstream," says FLOOD member Marco Schindelmann, who was recently appointed president of the Arts Council for Long Beach. "When a song is performed at a wedding reception, it has been appropriated by popular culture. As other cities are now hosting similar events, sound art has joined the party. FLOOD wishes to remain true to our aim of raising awareness of alternative artistic practices, aesthetic sensibilities and innovative approaches by continuing upstream."
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Just what the fuck is "sound art"? Well, start by thinking of music as a specialized subgenre of sound art, organized with special attention to rhythm and melody. By the 20th Century, a few brave souls began to question the artificial constraints on the "artistic." Composers such as John Cage began to democratize sound, implicitly arguing that hierarchies placing a Steinway above toy piano, the "musical" above the "non-musical," or even sound above silence were artificial constructs. The Beatles brought such thinking into popular culture by mixing musique concrète into their compositions. Their most obvious example, "Revolution #9," would be right at home in SoundWalk, except it would be a four-hour performance with players in funny costumes and maybe something interactive for whomever happened by.
The best way to understand sound art is to experience it—a move that dovetails with opening oneself to what is always around us sonically. A decade ago, FLOOD inaugurated SoundWalk to counter what member Frauke von der Horst called "a certain ennui with the physical environment in which we function on a daily basis," as well to counterbalance how auditory art had come to rest on its laurels.
"The other senses have been catered to and challenged in a certain way," Schindelmann said a few years ago. "We had music, but we didn't really have painting, sculpture or cinema for the ear. But now technology has reached the point where that can be done."
SoundWalk was also an antidote to problems inherent to placing multiple sound installations in an indoor space, where their respective effects are often muddled by galleries configured to accommodate only the visual. Curating the event for an entire neighborhood was an opportunity to place each installation so it could be experienced without any integrity being compromised, what with artists designing their installations with their particular location in mind.
Last year, for example, Clowns & Fetuses transformed the dark room at the Art Exchange into "Mystery Cave," a combination of dream machines; fluorescent lighting; large, fluorescent-painted, rock-formation sculptures; interactive videos; and sounds that combine to enhance a listener/viewer's physical and psychological space even if you weren't high and found yourself wanting to live there forever (not that I would know anything about that, officer. My eyes are naturally dilated).
An example of the treasures to be mined this year is F. Myles Sciotto's "NeuroArchitectures." Participants are provided with wireless EEG headsets that transmit selected data that is mapped into spatial parameters within the otherwise-empty storefront at the Best Western, creating what's described as "an interactive installation exploring how our bodies and minds can develop a dialogue with the surrounding environment."
You get four hours of such stuff, then poof, SoundWalk is gone. FLOOD promises to be back in 2015 with "a more expansive and more daring event that will explore and respond to the synaesthetic experience in which cognitive boundaries dissolve and the senses converge."
Yeah, I'll be checking that out.