Bill Viola - The Talking Drum
The Vinyl Factory / Brewer St Carpark, London
The Vinyl Factory and Blain|Southern presents The Talking Drum, 1979, and Hornpipes, 1979–82 that comprises the early works of Bill Viola. Seeking to explore the resonances of an empty swimming pool, the latter works existing as sonic manifestations embody the abstract however apparent for one to understand. I enter the space situated lower level, underground of Brewer Street Car park.
The work explores and presents the logical development of Viola’s early experiments with audio, with at attempt to create a physical presence, an entity, a material thing that defines the space profoundly (just as much as darkness) seeking to define the physical effects of audio on audiences and surrounding spaces. The exploration and manipulation of physical sound waves through the addition of electronic playback and modulation allows the space to be entirely fulfilled by the resonances of an empty swimming pool.
Behind the wall containing text, the latter to be read before entering the space in order to gain an insight to the exhibition, (room / space … what are we to enter? … ) is something generating noise. Something rather mechanical yet erie, and I can faintly hear the sounds of a drone, a constant static hum. As I enter the darkened gallery space, I begin to picture an essence, a view I thought may be visible, sculptures, instruments, however neither of the latter visible. Instantly I observe a bench situated in the centre of the space, accompanied by low lighting. I seek to distinguish the space however it takes me several attempts for my eyes to adjust within this disorientation. The room is of a larger scale than my initial thought, and I remind myself that I am underground, standing at the doorway of an empty parking level.
As I begin to emerge, I give this experience to myself which allows me to become the narrative.
At the fundamental point of entrance, one is unaware when suddenly all that is begins to evolve.
Will I be greeted by a reconstruction of a swimming pool, a drum, a hornpipe? I am not entirely sure. Totally abstract in form, I could not directly distinguish what I was hearing. I recall prolonged hornpipes but the drum was not within my hearing. The projection of the resonance of an empty swimming pool creates a secondary resonance, a resonance still existing inside the given space however at an underground, tunnel like level, with sounds manipulating the space, the latter forming a presence of its own which allows my experience to evolve gradually. Wherever I position myself, each experience becomes individual as the sounds are presented through a static 6 - channel speaker system, above head height. Distancing myself from the area, my presence becomes an absence, and I become the outside listener, however once immersed in the space, I am in conversation with the sounds - body in conversation with the latter, reminding me of the resonance experience of an underground subway, or an emerging train approaching the platform. The latter penetrates the walls resonating through my chest.
The persistence of the resonances allows the particular space to form a reverberation of sounds across the room after the sounds are produced. They're played back and forth and swim in directions I cannot control. They begin to fill the corners and passageways of the enclosed, allowing a number of echoes to build up and gradually decay space, once the slightly humid air has absorbed the latter.
The exhibition is presented as an art of sounds governed by time as music relies on time in order to exist, music becomes an art of time — a frozen time with a possibility for change, as without time the structure of the piece would be out of form, an open structure allowing one to interpret time, even though without structure, time is endless. Through sound decay, an innovative experience is created. An orchestration of events of ambient sounds that are profoundly musical enables the space and sound to change over time simultaneously. However, the lack of structure within the piece leaves the duration open to interpretation. Time then becomes lost and only the senses are left to guess. As a result, the piece ends once the lister exists the sound journey without physically leaving the room. Sound therefore becomes a spatial and architectural phenomenon that aims to bring forward a consciousness in order expand our level of awareness.
I still cannot hear the drum. Is the Talking Drum a symbol of Non - Western influence, existing metaphorically as a form of communication - the call and response affect? Instantly reminding me of the American Minimalists of the 1950’s and 60’s, La Monte Young for example with Composition No.7 1960, with the instructions To be held for a very long time. The latter instantly forces my mind to The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, and the prolonging note of a trumpet. The reason I mention Young, is apart in relation to Viola, as Viola lived in Japan, where he studied with Zen priest Daien Tanaka (Young also interested in Zen, as a result sustaining a huge influence on his music) which is clear within the sounds portrayed, a manipulation of time, portraying a language (music of a poet) suggests a reference to his early compositions:
Playing on rhythm, repetition and series, he works as a composer. As in music, his compositional elements are cycles, dichotomies or harmonic opposites - foreground background, time/timelessness, active space/empty space, sound/silence, stillness/motion.As in music, silence and in activity areas important as sound and activity.And, as in music, duration is the most important element of all:rhythm and timing create the narrative.There's perceptual timing and conceptual timing; if percept is to become concept, time must move slowly."Duration is to consciousness," he has said, "as light is to the eye."Sustained duration forces thinking instead of only seeing; it’s a metaphor for contemplation.
(Youngblood, Gene, METAPHYSICAL STRUCTURALISM The Videotapes of Bill Viola, Santa Monica: Voyager Press, 1986)
What normally is regarded as background noise is for Viola becomes a foreground figure or object, a positive space as appose to a negative space.
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