Art

The Expanded Listening Experience of a Polyphonic Sound Installation

With just a bit of attention, one can enjoy radically spatialized music, with voice and sounds experienced in ways far different to stereo listening.

Installation view of L’exposition d’un Rêve (“Exhibition of a Dream”) at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation to France (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

PARIS — It is polyphonic sonic dreamtime when dallying in Mathieu Copeland’s disembodied sound-sculpture L’exposition d’un Rêve (“Exhibition of a Dream”) at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation to France, a private Portuguese institution created in 1956 by British financier of Armenian origin Calouste Gulbenkian. Leisurely ambling through this hour-and-a-half-long audible extravaganza, or plunked down on the plush carpeting, one is immersed in a highly textured and nuanced sound mix. The blend is apparently based on geometric forms that range from simple abstract shapes based on paintings by Portuguese artist José Sobral de Almada Negreiros from the 1950s and more recent monochrome paintings by Olivier Mosset, to complex geometric mandalas and patterns based on designs by Philippe Decrauzat, Myriam Gourfink, and Eduardo Terrazas.

At least that is what we are led to believe by the accompanying catalogue, which contains reproductions of these abstract shapes. But even after two long visits (one with a number of other people present and the other with a sole accompanying audiophile friend), I was unable to detect in the sonic architecture of words and music any such geometric forms. Not that I cared overly much. The tracks dazzle with subtle complexity. They are sensitively arranged to play through 33 dangling Meyer speakers and 3 subwoofers on the floor. So I felt only a bit thwarted that the installation’s promise to expand the bandwidth of my consciousness through the enticement of “mental mandalas” was stymied. I had hoped to experience something like the audible equivalent of gazing upon patterns of raked sand in a zen garden, but did not. Granted, dream apparatuses operating as speculative art often have only a tissue of vague clues, but these hints must be perceptible. These were not to me or my audiophile amigo. Therefore, the pretext was something of a disappointment and a distraction from getting lost in what actually was ravishingly perceptible.

Installation view of L’exposition d’un Rêve (“Exhibition of a Dream”) at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation to France

But if you put aside the inducement for the inner eye, L’exposition d’un Rêve is an immediate delectation, delighting the ear. No matter how the sound engineers got to what was vibrating the air, these audio textures played and shifted splendidly and surprisingly. With just a bit of attention, one can enjoy radically spatialized music, voice, and sounds experienced in ways far different to stereo listening. The encounter is something like that at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House, where the perception of sound fluctuates with the turning of the head. But here, empty (silent) spaces are also in the mix. Sounds and voices shift around the space, but in formations impossible to ascertain by just listening. As such, the show is something of an agreeable exercise in artistic excess.

L’exposition d’un Rêve is conceived by Copeland as a long playing record with 12 songs (three can be heard in measly stereo here) derived from 12 dreams and set into frolicsome being in an otherwise empty gallery. At first glance the show evokes Yves Klein’s immersive Le Vide (The Void) 1958 show at Galerie Iris Clert, where Klein went beyond the monochrome canvas by emptying out, whitewashing the gallery and “impregnating” the empty space with his consciousness. But here sound holds the attention and the search for invisible forms occupies the mind. To create this album-as-exhibition’s libretto, dreams of Gabriel Abrantes, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Frank-Martin Strauß, Tim Etchells, Alexandre Estrela, Susie Green, David Link, Pierre Paulin, Emilie Pitoiset, Lee Ranaldo, Susan Stenger and Apichatpong Weerasethakul were interpreted into musical tracks by the German industrial music legend (of Einstürzende Neubauten fame) FM Einheit (aka Frank-Martin Strauß) with Stenger, Volker Kamp, Robert Poss, Saskia von Klitzing and the Gulbenkian Choir singers.

Installation view of L’exposition d’un Rêve (“Exhibition of a Dream”) at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation to France

Some of the spoken-word-over-ambient-music tracks, like Susie Green’s, have a jangly and twangy guitar sound and staccato rhythmic flair I associate with the non-conformist 1980s recordings of Laurie Anderson and the Talking Heads by way of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s landmark recording Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics. What is artistically rewarding about them is that the immateriality of memories and dreams is matched here by the intricate immateriality of spatialized sound. Visceral sensations of unity and fragmentation vibrate and flutter in and around the head: an art experience as surrogate for aimless time and invisible engagements.

L’exposition d’un Rêve continues at Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Delegation to France (39 Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, 7th arrondissement, Paris, France) until December 17.

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