Byline: ROB DEWALT
I've always been a noise lover, and I've always been a visual-art lover, but until a few years ago, I was uncomfortable with and completely skeptical of any intentional marriage of the two. Music, and sound in general, usually appeared with visual art in
a way that left me thinking, "this noise is just an attempt to make up for what is otherwise lacking in the work." Granted, some video art that offered a strong auditory component stirred something small in me, but I still felt that most of it was pretentious,
if not simply bad.
And then I had a long conversation with ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. During an interview with Byrne back in 2004 (to preview his performance with the Tosca String Quartet at the Santa Fe Opera), we swerved off-topic and began talking about musicians' contributions to Shhh ... Sounds in Spaces,
an exhibit of audio installations at London's Victoria and
Albert Museum that ran for three months that summer
(visit davidbyrne.com/art/art_projects/shh for sound samples).
When I brought the exhibit up, Byrne became giddy.
His contributions to the headphones-required exhibit were
intentionally oblique: sounds of splashing and flushing water (the "Water Walking Symphony") accompanied a trip to the
toilet; as you rounded corners, a voice might have whispered
or warbled in a chorus, "walk with me, walk with me," like a taunting nursery rhyme; and in a piece called "I Will Not Pick
Up the Phone," the public scourge of all museums -- the cellphone ring -- greeted you as you walked down a ramp toward two large galleries of plaster casts and electrotype reproductions. And then there was a contribution by Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins: "Expectant Mood," an infrared-light-triggered song --
a short, gibberish-laden reaction to the Renaissance-era work
in the museum's prestigious Raphael Gallery.
"Sound work in the presence of visual work only matters if you react to it in context," explained Byrne. "The very fact that you have a pre-existing negative reaction to sound work in relation to it [visual art] means you're already affected by it. It's not up to the sound artist to tell you whether that's good, bad, right, or wrong. But I don't see why one of the major senses shouldn't be applied to the realm of art in this particular way. When you taste, 80 percent of what you're doing is smelling. When you're in a face-to-face discussion, you usually see someone as much as you
hear him. All people have visual and auditory tells during
conversation. Isn't art also supposed to be a conversation?" Yeah, I suppose it is, and besides -- listening to a painting will probably garner fewer weird looks than, say, sniffing or licking one.
The conversation continues from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18, as Pennbrick Gallery (141-143 W. Santa Fe Ave.) hosts a one-night-only exhibit titled Noise, featuring work by New Mexico artists Martin Back, Brian Bixby, Geoff White, and David Leigh, Maryland artist Mark Brown, and Spanish artist Blanca Rego Constela.
We're bombarded by so much external noise that sometimes we wear headphones specifically designed to cancel it out. I wear them at my desk while I'm working -- to block out the noises associated with being at work. Noise is in our everyday lives like never before, and we allow it -- perhaps because it's difficult to avoid, or maybe because it helps block out the internal voices that, helpfully or not, shape our actions and reactions to our environment and to each other. I'm interested to find out how this group of artists blends sound and sight -- and how that conversation will manifest itself over the course of three hours, rather than three months.
Noise of noise
If you find yourself still craving
some decent sounds after the
weekend, head over to Corazon
(401 S. Guadalupe St., 983-4559)
at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 21, to catch a performance by Chicago indie rockers Oh My God. Core members Ig (keyboards/vocals) and Billy O'Neill (bass/vocals) deliver a rowdy round of heartbroken ballads, melodic tunes that simmer in punk, post-punk, and conventional pop-
rock pots. It's a little Devo, a little The Clash, and a lot The Smiths, edgy and
hedonistic without the usual pretensions of self-aware art rock -- a painting worth licking, you might say. Ig and O'Neill
are joined by Zach Verdoorn (bass/
guitar/vocals) and Danny Yost (drums) from the South Dakota band The Kickback. Pixies-esque Albuquerque
foursome Lousy Robot opens. There's a $5 cover, but it's $2 with a valid alcohol-servers' permit (service-industry night: useful for bartenders and waiters, not
so useful for the dude workin' the alcohol-free KFC drive-through).
-- Rob DeWalt