Press release

Every sound is a small action and broke world

An exhibition by Christopher Willes
Dec 10 2016 - Jan 3 2017
Opening Reception: Saturday Dec 10, 2017, 3-6 pm

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 works on view include a sound installation, concrete LP record, a book of scores, and a music performance. 

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. This interest is played out well here in the work satellite, which utilizes sub-bass frequencies via a large subwoofer installed directly within the gallery wall itself. satellite  works with the real-time phases of the moon's orbit (29.5305882 days) as its form. Throughout the entire exhibition, a software program generates in real-time a series of bass tone pieces using divisions of the moon’s orbit time as inputs (frequencies below 29.5305882 hz, as well as time divisions of the moons phases); a process which takes the entire duration of the exhibition to play out. These tones, which are often so low as to be felt more than heard, provide a slow, almost imperceptible, clock to the exhibition.  On December 13th, the evening of the full moon, the gallery will host a concert with musician Anne Bourne in which she will perform scores from the exhibition publication alongside satellite, marking the last super-moon in 2016. 

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; a collage (playfully referencing to the “Musique Concrete” electronic music tradition) working with materials from the acoustic ecology of those sites. Two photographs of the sound mirrors are imprinted on the sleeve of the record, which is also on display.

The field recordings themselves can be heard within the gallery via an ultrasonic loudspeaker, a super directional loudspeaker that focuses sound like a flashlight, making the location of the source obscured depending on one's position in the room. This technology, originally developed by the LRAD corporation, has been coopted into advertising strategies in recent years in urban environments, and has been increasingly used by police forces as a crowd control tactic — the most recent example of which occurred during the alarming police militarization of the Standing Rock Hunkpapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota water protector ceremonies. Considering the particular histories of how government, military, and corporate entities continually develop and exploit new technologies of listening for the perpetuation of violence and capitalism, the work looks to reflect on and deflect that paradigm, re-appropriating these historical instruments of “passive” psychological warfare and marketing into intimate and quiet encounters with the sonic.

At the same time, another genealogy of thinking about, and through, listening is at play here in Christopher’s work. Invariably, his practice is indebted to a post-John-Cage history of experimental music, consistently drawing on and elaborating from the precedents of artists/composers such as such as Maryanne Amacher, Hildegard Westerkamp, Marina Rosenfeld, Bill Dietz, and the recently passed Pauline Oliveros in particular (whom Anne Bourne recently performed with in Toronto). This counter-history is one that is in fundamental opposition to the militarization of the listening act, instead insisting on the ambiguity of the listener as politically forceful. 

Indeed, much of Christopher’s work is interested in tracing specific lineages of experimentation with sound that emphasize the unstable act of listening as a position worth insisting on again and again. And so the exhibition publication happily brings together several generations of artists whom Christopher shares commonalities with, and highlights works which consider a social political dimension of sound more overtly. Included are a series of drawings by American artist Christine Sun Kim which playfully collapse the space of music notation with gestural traces of American Sign Language. Born deaf, Kim’s work explores a rewed approach to thinking about sound as a communication medium and the notion of sound as a form of social currency. Christopher has contributed a series of experimental scores which play on traditions of “sonification” (the well practiced process of translating data into music which has dominated much of 20th century contemporary classical music). The scores work with images of police crowd control tactics which the artist witnessed during the Toronto G20 Summit (2010), and the Montreal student uprisings (2012/13), and ambiguously suggest a further performative action to be determined by the user. Finally, the seminal Canadian composer and sound-walking pioneer Hildegard Westerkamp agreed to re-publish a short text she created in 1995, which speaks to the psychological and political implications of sound on the listener within public space. In doing so she elaborates how normative gender paradigms might be entangled in how we listen, a notion worth interrogating anew.


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

Christopher will be in residence at Artscape Gibraltar Point in March 2016 as part of an 811/ Artscape partnership for the season.

8-11 Gallery 233 Spadina ave. Toronto
Open Wednesday - Saturday 12-5pm

performance program:

Satellite: Anne Bourne  
December 13th, 7:05pm (super-moon)

8-11 will host an intimate concert with musician/composer Anne Bourne. Anne will perform (vice and cello) a response to “four chorales”, a series of open form scores by Christopher Willes which are included in the exhibition publication. 

The concert will occur simultaneously to the ongoing sound work satellite, which utilizes sub-bass frequencies via a single channel subwoofer installed within the gallery wall. satellite takes the real-time phases of the moon's orbit (29.5305882 days) as its form throughout the entire exhibition, and so the concert will mark a moment in that cycle - the last supermoon (at 7:05pm Toronto time) in 2016. 

Among many other notable activities, Anne has been a dear friend and collaborator of the late American composer Pauline Oliveros, an artist whom the works in the exhibition are greatly informed by and indebted to.

The moon is a natural satellite. It circles the earth in cycles that phase with the position of the sun/earth. A new moon occurs when the moon is exactly positioned between the earth and sun. This “synodic period”, as it’s called, is exactly 29.5305882 days long. To simplify that massive thing a little, there are several major events in the phases of the moon: the new moon, the full moon, the first quarter, the third quarter, and the phases in between them. 



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, Intersite 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 relationship 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 researcher 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 Mettler and renowned composer Pauline Oliveros. She played on the premier recording of Pauline Oliveros’ composition ‘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.