Just what is it that makes incidental sound so stimulating, so compelling?…

We were killing time at the Hammer Museum on Wilshire before going to a movie. Alongside the permanent displays of the collections there were some temporary exhibitions. One of these was being shown under the umbrella of ‘Hammer Projects’ and was by the artist Lucy Ryan. The main exhibit was a film piece (called ‘RP31’) based around test strips used by projectionists to focus projectors prior to showing films. 31 of these still images are edited together into a near-stroboscopic animation shown on a 35mm projector in a continuous loop. This occupies a darkened space with a few seats like many other museum film installations – though the physical presence of that big piece of projection equipment is striking. ‘RP31’ is labeled ‘silent’ but the projector’s movement conspires in creating a multi-media environment of sound and image. Raven has an interest in the archive and the way that the lives of various media are prolonged – tracking down the material for this film has meant speaking to projectionists, film processors and manufacturers. The test strip piece also shows a concern with the marginal…the mundane stuff that is usually pushed to the edge and, often, forgotten.

The other piece in the show is called 21Hz. This is sited in a carpeted lobby off the walkway around the museum’s courtyard. Three armchairs mark the space as an installation. The piece is played on 4 speakers and comprises audio samples from optical and magnetic film soundtrack test material. These are short bursts of sound most of which are rather indistinct but sometimes the flow of static and buzz is interrupted by, for example, piano music. This being Los Angeles it is perfectly comfortable to sit in this indoor/outdoor space and let these sounds bounce around mingling with the not-too-distant sounds of the adjacent street. It makes for compelling listening but as if to emphasize the incidental nature of the work people traverse the room on their way to the restrooms. In fact the randomly organized sounds in the piece seem at times to be a supplement to the environmental noise though it is unlikely that this is the artist’s intent. I say ‘unlikely’ as nowhere have I been able to find the artist discussing this work. The leaflet that is given out at the Hammer has an essay by the exhibition’s curator Corrina Peipon that mentions 21Hz in passing but dwells on the film piece. In the current issue of Bomb (Number 121/Fall 2012) there is a lengthy discussion between the artist and Jason Simon that makes no mention of the audio work. Even the artist’s website only provides the short description I have quoted above without expanding on the work except with a visual depiction of a test strip still. It is interesting that work that deals with the marginal and even the fugitive should in itself be marginalized within the record of the artist’s practice. So on websites (both Lucy Raven’s and Bomb’s) there is some indication of what the film works are like (with stills and moving images) there is no sense of this for the sound piece.

It seems that this work is a kind of by-product of the visual. This marginalization is, of course, both a problem and a pleasure. The other question that springs to mind is about why it is a pleasure to listen to these overlooked (sic) sounds. I am reminded of Markus Popp/Oval’s record ‘O’ where 70 short abstract compositions are spread over 2 discs – each a beautiful, if often hard to grasp, slither of sound. And ‘The Conet Project’ also comes to mind. Maybe it is in their suggested state of neglect and in their uncanny detachment that these sounds are so rewarding.

Los Angeles. 31st October. London 7th November.

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