If you think the regular art crowd can be critical, spare a thought for Najia Bagi. The Manchester based musician and artist has been making work for babies. Now that’s a tough gig.
Baby Art Club is a collaboration with Naomi Kendrick at Manchester City Art Gallery. The duo have prepared multi-sensory installations based on current exhibitions. Lots of work goes into these and the audience may fail to respond at all.
“The first time I did baby art club was really difficult,” she tells me via phone. “They don’t do anything. They don’t really move around very much and they don’t want to create anything.” The audience were, as she says, “Incredibly challenging”
“I just thought, What do you do with these tiny little creatures who don’t want to make anything and don’t understand words!” And where verbal communication isn’t possible, received ideas about art go out the window.
Yet Bagi and Kendricks have perservered, creating stimulating environments which, thanks to their strong aesthetic sensibilities, rightly belong in a gallery. “Then you just watch what the babies do and whatever they do is right.”
If times get tough, Bagi has musical talents to fall back on. “I’ve twice played my guitar and sang, and had these really magical moments where tiny babies sing with me, making noise,” she tells me.
“But I felt like I had a lot more to learn from them than they did from me.” It is soon clear that Bagi is “genuinely interested” in child development. And the gallery treat her and Kendrick as artists, rather than educators.
So when the progressive Manchester venue wanted sound art to accompany a show of paintings of the Scottish Highlands, one half of Baby Art Club was right in the frame. “I was surprised at how well it worked,” she says of her evening event.
“One woman was in there for 45 minutes and people were standing in front of each painting for a really long time. They were allowing themselves to be absorbed.” One happy visitor described the experience as painting in four dimensions.
Thanks to mics, headphones and 150 objects (mostly spoons), the busy sound artist is currently adding an extra dimension to the family space at Tate Liverpool. The benefits, unlike most of those in art, are tangible
“In terms of being in an installation or in an art gallery with sound, you know that the other person in the same space is hearing what you’re hearing,” she points out. “And that creates a form of human connection which is really good for wellbeing”.
Next on the agenda could be a public artwork in the form of an interactive sound sculpture. Bagi has been inspired by the Scandinavian origins of the adventure playground, which, in the 1940s, were called Junk Playgrounds.
“It’s completely unthinkable now. You couldn’t do it because of health and safety but it was amazing. There were hammers and nails and tyres and nails and wood and saws and bricks”.
Bagi’s art playground will, of course, be a much safer space but she is still excited about the chance for kids to respond to the landscape buy creating sound. She envisions this project being realised in a central outdoor space in either Liverpool or Manchester.
“In my head they’re creating sound art and I would say it like that, but in their heads they’re just having a great time.” And that’s how to make art for people who have no interest in art.
This week: San Francisco checks in with a great interview.Â Bad at SportsÂ contributors Brian Andrews and Patricia Maloney sat down with artist Takeshi Murata and sound designer Robert Beatty on November 9, 2013, at Ratio 3, in San Francisco, to discuss Murataâ€™s most recent digitally animated video,Â OM Rider(2013).Â OM RiderÂ follows two animated creatures: a wizened old man that Andrews describes as â€œhalf theÂ Curious GeorgeÂ Man in the Yellow Suit, half like the butler fromÂ Rocky Horror Picture Show,â€Â and a hipster wolf, which rides a moped through a barren landscape and performs other aimless tasks. The video begins with the creature playing a synthesizer that gives the video its title.Â Om RiderÂ contains Murataâ€™s characteristic absurd humor and aesthetic, which mixes highly attuned lighting and composition with more retro modeling and minimalist, almost antiseptic spaces.
Takeshi Murata was born in 1974 in Chicago. In 1997, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied film, video, and animation. He currently lives and works in Saugerties, New York. Murata has exhibited at the New Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; Sikemma Jenkins & Co., New York; Gladstone Gallery, New York; and Salon 94, New York. Murataâ€™s work is featured in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens; and The Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
FYI, AP will post an excerpted text version of this interview on Dec. 3, and the link for that conversation should be:
And here is a related review Brian wrote for his previous show: http://www.artpractical.com/review/get_your_ass_to_mars_andrews/
Anna Friz and Coppice performed in their audio installation at Tritriangle on 5/25/2013 in Chicago, IL. The two installations and two live performances occupied the gallery as co-existing organisms. Â Each stemming from Frizâ€™s and Coppiceâ€™s own larger overarching projects, Frizâ€™s Nocturne and Coppiceâ€™s A Vinculum Variation are iterations, though it becomes clear that these iterations are not repetitions, but manifestations of differences in space, time, and materiality. The artists filled the spaces above my head and below/around my feet with sounds produced by other bodies: people, instruments, apparatuses, and radios. The two installations created the terrain in which the live performances inhabited. The earthy landscape, coupled with a cloud of respiration, constituted a world of transmission that enabled relationships to form in and between bodies.
In the space of Tritriangle, tiny blueish-silvery lights floating in air illuminate 82 small silver radios suspended from thin silver wires, a cloud of radios. In one corner of the space is blue light; in two other corners, yellow-gold illuminations. The blue corner holds three hand-built radios by the inventor George Kagan, an accordion, a harmonica, a chair, a mixer, and other sound equipment. Two radio transmitters fixed near the ceiling, send signals on two different frequencies to the 82 suspended radios. The radios, hovering at different levels around my head, emit gentle sounds of an accordian-played melody, breath, and radio static. The golden-brown corner contains a chair, an accordion, a box. Another corner contains a set-up with tape players, speakers, and an inductive mixing table with devices that send signals to the speakers lining the room close to the floor. These speakers emanate sounds of breathing, bellows of an accordion, air passing through processed reeds, the crackling paper inside a shruti box, pressure cuffs, and a funnel. In a third corner, golden light illuminated that illuminates a metal funnel.
A Vinculum Variation; Coppiceâ€™s Archived Air Contours
For the installation and performance at Tritriangle, Chicago-based duo Coppice (NoÃ© CuÃ©llar and Joseph Kramer) created a listening experience that compelled the listener to navigate and inhabit the space of the gallery in a fluid way. Before the performances, the audience could walk freely around the space and stop to observe what was emitting from the various speakers lining the room. During the performance, the audience stilled and the artists and the audio material activated. CuÃ©llar, playing the accordion and free reeds, moved his own body around and through the space, while Kramer used two custom-built apparatuses: his customized inductive mixing table and customized cassette tape player. Kramer, kneeling on the floor, using this table, which â€œredistributes the sounds of the Vinculum archive as they are played back through small speakers resting at different locations on its surface,â€ Â changes the location from where sounds poured. The cassette tape instrument Kramer designed and created is able to â€œmake a record of the sonic space that also reproduces the recording from moments ago while simultaneously recapturing its own output.â€ 
These devices together create space and time that shift and refuse to remain static or linear. The changes in the part of the room that contained the raw recordings from the Vinculum archive created a constantly changing environment of breathing; audio materials from their ongoing-archive emerged in the space and surrounded the audience with breath. CuÃ©llar, changing positions throughout the space of the installation, used the accordionâ€™s keys and bellows to breathe sounds throughout the room. Coppiceâ€™s contribution to the installation as a whole grounded the audience and the space itself creating a material terrain the viewer could navigate and explore.
Coppiceâ€™s installation and performance at Tritriangle emerged from its ongoing project since 2010Vinculum, a constantly shifting index of sounds, bodies, and space that involves isolating and highlighting particular sounds that are specific to Coppice. Sitting down with CuÃ©llar and Kramer in their studio, they describe their interest in the â€œbehavior of soundsâ€ Â and the ways in which different sounds demand a different kind of listening. However, Coppice is not necessarily interested in making the listener more aware of the plethora of quotidian sounds that may surround her. Rather, the listener is encouraged to connect to the collection of sounds Coppice draws from to create their compositions. The work is deeply self-referential in its consistent pointing back to itself, its own self-reflexivity. The recordings, which are used to form Coppice compositions, are stored and categorized as specimens the listener can study and discover within the work. Coppiceâ€™s archival process, which involves recording the sounds and storing them in built containers or vessels – hand-sewn pouches or built wooden boxes (for Vinculum Specimen Edition), produces a peculiar meditation on the nature of cataloguing. What is capable of being stored? What should be saved? The individual entries/specimens can then be accessed and experienced by the listener in a multitude of ways. Coppice encourages the listener â€œto play the discs simultaneously on repeat from multiple players when possible.â€ Â However, the listener has the ability to change the order and method of playback to create her own way of experiencing the archived sounds. The archive is not static and is rather presented as a collection that is open to change and re-arrangement; it is an â€œopen composition.â€ 
Coppice describes the sounds of Vinculum as quiet and having to be found from a particular point of view. Because Coppice is concerned with each soundâ€™s specific experiential condition, the recordings in the archive capture the particular spatial arrangement necessary to recognize the sound, making the archive one of space and the way the listener and the instrument inhabit space. Many of the sounds Coppice finds, makes, and records relate to the human body and its rhythms. The breath that passes through a tube and the air that traverses through the bellows of an accordion or pump organ indicate the necessity of the body to the production of that sound, whether it is the musicianâ€™s breath, hands, or feet interacting with the instrument or apparatus. They claim that it is the â€œair on the edge of thingsâ€ Â that makes its way into the auditory. Coppiceâ€™s sounds that insist on the â€œair on the edge of thingsâ€ found themselves in conversation with Frizâ€™s dreamy cloud of radio breath that floated above their audio terrain.
Nocturne; Anna Frizâ€™s Radiogenic Objects
Canadian sound and radio artist Anna Friz, who is currently based in Chicago, performed second, immediately following Coppice, in the installationâ€™s landscape. While the suspended radios picked up the transmission of an accordion-played melody, Friz began to play that same phrase in the middle of the space. The recordings emanating from the tiny radios and the live instrument in the installation mingled together in a sea of sounds and lights. When the recorded melody ended, Friz used the live accordion with its bellows to create a drone, filling the space. At one point, Friz got up, put the accordion down, turned on the handbuilt radios, picked up the harmonica, and began to play the instrument, sending it through the transmitters to the radios filling the space above my head.
Nocturne is an iteration of her radiophonic installations that began in 2006 with You are far from us, a project she has been transforming since its premiere at Radio Revolten Festival at Ã„rtzejaus in Halle, Germany. The work explores the notion that radio technology is not disembodied, and that it actually holds within it traces of bodies and perhaps even allows us to overcome distance between bodies. Friz materializes the radioâ€™s possible embodiment through voice and its breath, corporeality, and emotion. Breath and radio are intimately linked; Friz describes the phenomenon of the breath and radio static as sharing the same frequency range – a fascinating aspect of radioâ€™s embodiment. She also describes the radios and their tendency to drift from their frequencies as a precarious bodily situation, not unlike human and nonhuman animal bodies that are subject to their environments and situations. The radios are in relationships with each other, though mediated through the multiple radio transmitters that populate the ceiling of the space.
The first manifestation of the installation You are far from us involved four transmitters, 50 radios, and 5-10 hand-crank Grundigs. This installation focused on the disastrous human condition and the ways in which it is transmitted and created through radio. In her statement for You are far from us, Friz asks the question: â€œWhat nearly inaudible signals, transmitted in moments of intensity or crisis â€” what do people seek to transmit, in a moment between the intake of breath and the breath held, waiting, in tension?â€ Â Further, in turning to the specificity of the radio, she states that â€œ[b]uilt on breath and other bodily exclamations typically absent from regular radio broadcasts, the radios operate at the limit of their capacity to transmit emotion.â€ Â This interest in the radio as entity and performer itself is something Friz has been working with, an evolvement of her earlier work which conceptualized the radio as containing within itself people and that â€œthe voices emanating from the radio were the voices of the little people who lived inside. Turn on the radio, the little people begin to talk, change the station and they change their voices. I imagined the radio people waited inside while the radio was off, ever ready to perform at the click of the dial.â€ Â Now, she conceptualizes the radios themselves as the performing entities, not tied to a necessarily anthropomorphic view of the world. This is not to say that the radios are entirely outside the realm of human experience; they experience the precariousness of the world in perhaps a similar way. They tune in to frequencies and then drift off, floating and locking into a new one â€” a new world experience.
Friz describes the radios suspended in the floating cloud as sleeping, experiencing REM cycles, taking in the day and processing it through dreams. Nocturne at Tritriangle is an outgrowth of the section â€œNocturneâ€ from Frizâ€™s previous installation You are far from us, with the sectionâ€™s intent being â€œstilling the breath and relaxing [the radios].â€ Â Friz emphasizes that she chooses to privilege the auditory over the visual in the installation because it helps the listener â€œfocus attention on moving through spaceâ€ Â and instills the notion that the listener is a sensing body. The stilling of the breath and the radios drives home this recognition. When limiting one sense, other senses heighten. The viewer is no longer dependent on the two orbs situated in the front of the head as guides through space. The audio creates spatial relationships that enable the viewer to navigate the space at her own leisure. This navigational drifting relates to the radiosâ€™ own drifts. The radios experience the phenomenon of capture effect, thus causing them to detune and find a new channel to occupy. For Friz, the detuning isnâ€™t necessarily about interference, since the notion of interference corresponds to a cybernetic theory of communication with involves fidelity to a message. Rather, she is interested in exploring “fields of influence.” Â The radiosâ€™ detuning donâ€™t mark a deficiency or breakdown. Instead, the tuning into different frequencies seem to reflect human and nonhuman animal choices to take a turn, go down a different path. The suspension of the inhale,  creates the space in which life is lived, with all of its precariousness.
Coppice and Friz created an environment in which the audience and the device could all breathe together, exchanging exhalations and inhalations actualizing a cloud of respiration. Focusing on the breath allows us to recognize that we are constantly exchanging material from our own bodies with the world. Though, this body in its continual state of exchange shows us that the molecules in our own bodies arenâ€™t static and canâ€™t always belong to us; these molecules are only finding themselves to exist within us for a passing moment in time. â€œThe breath does not belong to the self. It enters and exists of its own accord. It inhabits the empty space of the lungs for brief periods and the same molecules and particles may never enter again.â€ 
 Personal conversation with Anna Friz and Coppice at the performance, May 25, 2013.
Â Coppice,Â A Vinculum Variation,Â http://www.futurevessel.com/coppice/work/performance-installation/a-vinculum-variation.
Â Joseph Kramer, “Episode 31: Porous Notion: Index Fragments and Interpretation,” Radius (Oct. 2012):Â http://theradius.us/episode31.
Â Personal interview with Coppice, June 5, 2013.
Â Coppice, Vinculum, http://www.futurevessel.com/coppice/work/recordings/vinculum.
Â Personal interview with Coppice.
 Anna Friz,Â You are far from us,Â http://nicelittlestatic.com/sound-radio-artworks/you-are-far-from-us/.
 Anna Friz, Who are the people inside your radio,Â http://nicelittlestatic.com/sound-radio-artworks/who-are-the-people-in-your-radio/.
Â Personal interview with Friz, June 8, 2013.
Â Friz describes the inhalation as suspension.
Â Meredith Kooi, â€œAristophanesâ€™ Hiccups and Relational Spasms,â€ given at Location/Location symposium organized for Field Static: A Group Show About the Object, Co-Prosperity Sphere (Chicago, IL: June 6, 2012), 6.
This week: And now for something completely different!
This weekâ€™s episode comes to us from our friends at Art Practical, whose current issue delves into the rich history of sound art in the San Francisco Bay Area. The included essays and interviews constitute a fraction of the rich and varied world of experimental sound. Here, Art Practicalâ€™s contributing editors Catherine McChrystal and Kara Q. Smith offer an all-audio version of that issue with samples of work by the artists profiled in that issue, including:
Maryann Amacher, Joshua Churchill, Paul DeMarinas, Chris Duncan, Jacqueline Gordon, Aaron Harbour, Shane Myrbeck, Pauline Oliveros, Ethan Rose, and the San Francisco Tape Music Center.
The Bay Areaâ€™s technological reign has established San Francisco as a destination for sound artists and experimental composers seeking to advance their practices through the genesis of new mediums. They explore soundâ€™s capacity to conflate sensory experience; from the earliest days of sound art, artists and experimental musicians discovered in the genre a medium that is inclusive, participatory, disruptive, and that could embody their political goals. This episode explores how sounds are both aural and physical, producing reverberations that register in our ears and bodies and that locate or disorient us in space.
You can check out the articles included in Art Practicalâ€™s Sound Issue here.
Our latest “Centerfield” post is up on Art:21 blog today. This time, I write about the multiple presentations of Susan Philipsz’ works on view right now in Chicago at the MCA and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. An excerpt from the piece follows; click on over to read it in full.
…My husband and I realize that itâ€™s kind of weird to sing our kid to sleep with a song about men dying of silicosis, but then again the lyrics to â€œRock-a-Bye Babyâ€ are pretty disturbing too. Still, the question of why someone would sing a protest song as if it were a lullaby was very much on my mind during several recent encounters with the work of Scottish artist Susan Philipsz.Â She has three installations on view right now in Chicago: We Shall Be All and Internationale at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Pledge at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. The winner of this yearâ€™s Turner Prize, Philipsz is widely acclaimed for her use of sound â€” and more specifically of voice â€” in works of art that engage the history and culture of protest. Almost all of Philipszâ€™s installations rely on her own, untrained vocals to weave densely allusive tapestries that commemorate the experiences of those struggling for a better world â€” something we donâ€™t normally associate with the soothing nature of lullabies.
Commissioned by the MCA, Phillipszâ€™s We Shall Be All references Chicagoâ€™s labor movement and its legacy of social reform in the context of worldwide struggles for workerâ€™s rights. I think itâ€™s partly the fact that public-sector labor unions are so much in the news nowadays, due to the efforts of numerous GOP legislators to quash the collective bargaining power of those unions (or even its mere visual representation) that lends such a sharp sting to Philipszâ€™s Chicago presentations. Consisting of several speakers and a projection screen arranged within a completely darkened room, We Shall Be All takes its title from Melvyn Dubofskyâ€™s We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. This book provides the definitive history of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Chicago-born labor association whose influence was especially strong during the years before World War I. In particular, Philipszâ€™s piece alludes to the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, whose anniversary is commemorated on May 1st of each year in honor of International Workers Rights.