Monday, 25 March 2019

Response to Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises that Fill the Air by Saskia Singer

Having just joined the Student Curatorial Team, receiving an email looking for students to participate in a workshop involving experimental sound and performance, I was really excited by this prospect. It included many ideas that I had recently been thinking about, but had been unaware of how to start without any real experience.

We met as a group with Anne and Richard, to look around the exhibition and to get a feel for their ethos. The documentation in the upstairs gallery, provided a really fascinating insight into the energy that would be experienced at one of their performances in the 80’s. I felt inspired by the hectic chaos of the mass of photos and bright lights flashing with the sudden burst of sound shaking the room from wide, industrial thunder sheets. This was the most passionate I had felt from any of the exhibitions that I have seen in the Cooper Gallery so far, and couldn’t wait to see how the next two days would unfold in the lead up to the performance.

We had two days to practice together using an array of children’s toys and creating a ‘semi’ set list involving lighting directed by ourselves using strobes and torches. The DIY accessibility of it all was genius and made me ask, ‘why haven’t I thought to do this?’ Giant weather balloons filled with luminous, neon green glow sticks with harmonicas attached becoming instruments in themselves. A collection of glass funnels suspended with vibrators and torches attached, making the most beautiful sounds as they rattled off each other.

   W0B, Nalemag 2, 2018. Performance with DJCAD students Conor Gray, Calum Ingram, Julian Larrainzar, Jek McAllister, Stella Rooney and Saskia Singer. Photo by Eoin Carey.

The overall experience was extremely provocative, nerve wracking, and stimulating in different ways. Performing on the night in front of a packed room, knowing that we hadn’t went through the performance entirely and had no idea of how it would look or sound for their retrospective was terrifying. But as soon as the first sounds started, it went stunningly and was incredible to watch it evolve. The ideas have massively influenced my practice and has given me the confidence and push to incorporate the use of sound in my own work.

W0B, Nalemag 2, 2018. Performance with DJCAD students Conor Gray, Calum Ingram, Julian Larrainzar, Jek McAllister, Stella Rooney and Saskia Singer. Photo by Eoin Carey.    

Saskia Singer
March 2019

Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises That Fill The Air took place at Cooper Gallery 27 October – 15 December 2018.

Response to Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises that Fill the Air by Jakub Stepanovic

Around ten years ago, I was researching how large industrial complexes transformed cities and cultures in general. To enhance this process, I made a few visits to places like steel mills, coal mines, harbours, and power stations - which left me with an unexpected attraction to the strange beauty of these sites. Not just visually; many of the heavy machinery created colossal levels of noises, a perfect companion to the raw, often dirty shapes of the locations. While I am not doing active research of these fields anymore, the joy of this slightly odd palette of sounds and structures never left me. Unfortunately, not many people were ready to accept such attitude, and my stories about concerts made by hundreds of wagons on a large freight railway terminal, where the traditional guitar and drums were replaced by rumbling diesel engines and squeaking suspension, never generated much of understanding. So when I learned that the Cooper Gallery is about to open an exhibition named Great Noises That Fill The Air, I got properly excited. The show was a retrospective of artist collective Bow Gamelan Ensemble, (Anne Bean, Paul Burwell, Richard Wilson) who used found objects, often from bare materials like iron and glass, to generate performances.

A visitor browses panels showcasing the Bow Gamelan Ensemble work, such as posters, sketches, and snippets from newspapers. The materials were installed on welded frames and fitted with bulbs of many colors, to enhance the viewing experience.

Discovering the Bow Gamelan Ensemble multidisciplinary approach through a well-curated display would be enjoyable enough, as seeing and meeting a collective of others who share these concepts of sound perception was rather pleasant; but the gallery also held multiple events to accompany the show, many of an interactive nature, which elevated the experience. Visitors were able to engage in discussions with Anne Bean and Richard Wilson, who shared many experiences of creating the projects, and behind-the-scenes stories. Their insight on a cross-disciplinary practice – in the context of contemporary age when everyone seems to seek the ultimate niche market – was immensely inspirational.

Richard Wilson and Anne Bean speak about the origins, values, and adventures of making the Bow Gamelan Ensemble. “If they never heard someone playing on a car’s door before, they can’t say that you are doing it wrong.”

The interdisciplinary thinking was also reflected in the gallery’s symposium Scoring Noise, where artists, philosophers, and musicians debated the true and abstract meanings of noises around us.

Dr. Rob La Frenais presents his performance 'Close To The Water', during the 'Blades to Bow' segment of the Scoring Noise Symposium.

In another event, A Noise Evening, members of the public were invited to submit their sounds to reflect on the show. For the occasion, the exhibition space got fitted with chairs and pillows to allow visitors to relax while listening to detuned synthesizers, distorted samples, echoed voices, and plenty of other kinds of experimental music. This was also a good opportunity to network within the community of like-minded people. The show ended with A Sonic Meditation, a workshop led by Ariki Porteous about relations of sounds with visuals. Visitors were encouraged to jam on prepared musical instruments and find balance with screened films. Overall, it was a pleasure to have this exhibition at our doorsteps, as it offered plenty of chances to explore new audiovisual sources of inspiration and relaxation, but also to get an insight into the professional development of the artists. Neat curating details, such as invitations and information leaflets printed on grey, recycled paper to resonate with the show's theme were icing on the cake.

Jakub Stepanovic
March 2019
All photography by Jakub Stepanovic

Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises That Fill The Air took place at Cooper Gallery 27 October – 15 December 2018.