Singing - Rowena Easton and Mike Blow
A glance at the pages of the visitor’s book can give
a unique insight into an exhibition. At the ‘Machines
for Singing’ sound installation at the Gardner Arts
Centre, I was surprised to see how much discussion had been
generated there. Heading the comments was the line, ‘The
most amazing twaddle of the year. Try to spend more wisely
next time.’ It was followed by the remark, ‘This
is not art’. This kind of debate tends to surface wherever
there is no discernible product which has been made by the
bare hands of the artist. ‘Machines for Singing’
makes the building itself into the art-piece, manipulating
‘live’ organic sounds to produce surprisingly
melodious song-like effects. The room is empty except for
a circular seating arrangement in the centre, and several
speakers positioned around them. Microphones, which have been
‘plugged in’ to the venue, pick up rumbling creaks
and groans overlaid with eerie echoes and otherworldly noises.
There are even moments of unexpected beauty such as the ripple
of a sweeter song like a bird call.
The work is designed to challenge the perception of buildings
as static objects by allowing us to hear the subtle movements
of the composite materials responding to their environment.
Yet, there is something fundamentally unsettling about the
concept of the ‘living building’ which recalls
dystopian images of technology overpowering humanity. Indeed,
a fellow visitor neatly summarised this view with the phrase,
‘This is art – classical Greek theatre meets 1984’.