Every sound is a small action and broke world

An exhibition by Christopher Willes
8-11 Gallery, Toronto, Dec 10 2016 - Jan 3 2017

Every sound is a small action and broke world explores a sensorial delineation between the infra-noise of political conflict, and music’s capacity to make something else audible. Borrowing its title from a line in the poem “Other dimensions in music, ghostcatching” by Fred Moten, actions here initiate from the forcefulness of sound— its vibrational persistence, its material in-betweenness in relation to objects, the body, space, and language. Informed by the compositional language of American experimental music, the exhibition includes several sound works that complicate attention, material memory, and the concert as a mode of display. 

The works on view include a sound installation, a concrete LP record, a book of scores, and a music performance. The installation, satellite, utilizes sub-bass sounds via a subwoofer installed directly within the gallery wall itself. Working with the real-time phases of the moon's orbit (a cycle of 29.5305882 days) as its form, a software program generates a series of bass tone "songs", which take the entire duration of the exhibition to play out. These bass tone pieces, which are often so low as to be felt more than heard (based on frequencies below 29.5305882 hz), provide a slow, almost imperceptible, clock to the exhibition.  

A central element to the exhibition is a one-off LP record, made of concrete, which documents a trip Christopher made in the fall of 2016 to visit the sites of the “sound mirrors” located along the English Channel — a series of massive concrete objects that were constructed by the English military before WWII as an experiment using sound to locate incoming aircraft (pre-dating the advent of radar). The field recordings impressed onto the surface of this record detail the birds, passing aircraft, and environmental sounds found around the sites of the sound mirrors. These recordings are heard in the gallery via an ultrasonic loudspeaker, a super directional loudspeaker (also originally developed by the military, during the 1960s and 80's) that focuses sound directionally, making the location of the sound source obscured depending on ones position in the room. These objects echo two historical moments of military experimentation with listening technologies over the 20th century, re-appropriating these historical instruments of “passive” psychological warfare and marketing into intimate and quiet encounters with the sonic.

At the same time, a different genealogy of thinking about, and through, listening is a play here within the exhibition publication “start very quiet and get very loud”, which brings together an intergenerational group of artists considering the politics of sound in public space, including works on paper by Christine Sun KimHildegard Westerkamp, and Christopher Willes. On December 13th, the evening of the full moon, the gallery hosted a concert with musician Anne Bourne in which she performed scores (voice and cello) from the publication alongside satellite, marking the last super-moon in 2016. 

Christopher practice is largely performance based and highly collaborative, and so the exhibition marks a renewed approach to working with duration and the “participation” of the viewer/audience through the crafting of unusual listening situations. Considering the cultural and technological conditioning of how we listen, the exhibition looks to experimental music practice as one which is fundamentally committed to the ambiguity of listening as a political and ethical imperative for being in the world. 

This work was made possible thanks to support from MacDowell Colony, NY USA. Special thanks to Xenia Benivolski, Penny Willes, Robert Willes, Ellen Furey, Claire Harvie, Yuula Benivolski, Ame Henderson, Adam Kinner, Paul Chambers, Anne Bourne, and Phil Melanson, as well as the Chalmers Family Fund

The artist acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

8-11 Gallery
233 Spadina ave. Toronto
Documentation by Yuula Benivolski

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Christopher Willes is a Canadian artist and composer. He makes performances, music, exhibitions, and writes about contemporary art. Select projects have been presented at The Art Gallery of Ontario, The Music Gallery, In- tersite Visual Art Festival, The Rhubarb Festival, and Open Ears Festival. Collaborations include works with Public Recordings, Urbanvessel, Small Wooden Shoe, Dancemakers, Ellen Furey, Ame Henderson, Evan Webber, and Adam Kinner. He studied music at the University of Toronto, and received an MFA from Bard College.

Christine Sun Kim uses the medium of sound through technology, performance, and drawing to investigate her rela- tionship with sound and spoken languages. Selected exhibitions and performances have been held at: White Space, Beijing (solo); Carroll/Fletcher, London (solo); nyMusikk, Oslo; Berlin Biennale, Berlin; Sound Live Tokyo, Tokyo; and the Museum of Modern Art / PS1, New York. Kim was awarded TED and MIT Media Lab Fellowships.

Composer Hildegard Westerkamp focuses on listening, environmental sound and acoustic ecology. She was a re- searcher with R. Murray Schafer's World Soundscape Project, is a founding and board member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology and until recently was editor-in-chief of its journal Soundscape. She has taught courses in Acoustic Communication at Simon Fraser University; has conducted soundscape workshops, given concerts and lectures, and has coordinated and led Soundwalks internationally. Some of her compositional work appears in US filmmaker Gus van Sants’ films Elephant and Last Days.

Anne Bourne is a composer/sound artist who improvises parallel streams of extended cello and voice. She has worked with many awarded songwriters internationally, including Jane Siberry. Anne has created works with Eve Egoyan, Fred Frith and John Oswald, Andrea Nann and Michael Ondaatje, Peter Chin, Duane Linklater, Peter Met- tler and renowned composer Pauline Oliveros. She played on the premier recording of Pauline Oliveros’ composi- tion ‘Primordial/Lift’ in New York, 1998. Her work ‘Silo: there is beauty in decay, Agnes Varda, was presented at In/ Future, 2016. She recently performed with Pauline Oliveros, Ione, and Doug van Nort at XAvantXI Music Gallery 2016; and solo at Tone Deaf, 2016.