Arsenal: artists exploring the potential of sound as a weapon gathers together eleven artists whose work explores the potential of sound in different ways by highlighting the dangers of beauty, the power of voice and language, the sounds and noises of industry and modern life, discourses around sound and noise, and the latent forces in rhythm and repetition. Some of the works refer to historical moments in which sound has literally been deployed as a military weapon through sheer volume and repetition. Others make subtle use of the medium and allude to its less obvious potential as a weapon.
Although the works are very diverse in form and content, they all use sound as an artistic material, manipulating and tailoring it to suit particular needs. The history of recent art reveals a staunch loyalty to the visual; it has been explored in its countless ramifications through photography, film, video, digital art and more classical mediums such as sculpture and painting. Sound has enjoyed less of a starring role, and its potential may still be further realised. The artists in Arsenal combine mediums and materials in various ways, but they have all incorporated sound into their work in effective and affecting ways, engaging with the medium’s potential as a weapon.
The works in Arsenal have been specially commissioned for the exhibition; in some cases they are versions of actions and performances that used sound as a weapon, and which until now only existed as ephemeral performances. In other cases, the artist’s practice was heading in a direction that seemed relevant to the theme of the exhibition, and it made sense to invite them to make a new work for Arsenal. Each artist has been invited to create an image or text especially for this catalogue. These contributions sometimes relate directly to works on display, but have in other cases offered the artists an alternative opportunity to engage with the concepts of the show.
Rod Dickinson’s Nocturn: The Waco Re-enactment, September 16 2004 (2006) is a newly edited video of footage taken during his 2004 re-enactment of a sonic siege carried out in 1993, when the FBI surrounded the compound where Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers were living. During the siege the FBI used psychological warfare tactics against the Davidians. This "psychotronic" warfare involved blasting the compound buildings with loud, continuous audio and bright light. Dickinson’s re-enactment of the siege reconstructed some of the sound material used by the FBI, based on the artist’s research and conversations with a survivor of the event. The resulting soundtrack is a baffling mixture of unpleasant noises such as a dentist’s drill or rabbits being killed, disorienting sounds such as pop songs played at varying speeds and repetitive re-transmissions of conversations between Koresh and an FBI agent. Extracts from the transcript of these dialogues are reproduced in this catalogue.
Thomas Altheimer’s expedition to Guantanamo Bay in November 2005 is the subject of his video triptych Impossible. And yet there it is! No, impossible. Parallel Action #3.3.048 - A Sonic Attack On Guantanamo Bay (2006). Under the guise of his alter ego Thomas Herzen, the artist’s mission involved recruiting a column of ‘Europeans’ in Jamaica, sailing to Guantanamo Bay and playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major (1805), also known as the Eroica, from a mountaintop overlooking Camp Delta. The aim of this sonic attack was, according to Herzen’s account, to liberate the Camp “with the hope of turning Guantanamo Bay into a huge European, neo-colonial, spatial installation.” The minor failures that dogged this theatrically ambitious plan create a fascinating narrative, and highlight in a very timely way the tragic absurdity of both the mission and the situation at Guantanamo Bay.
Mattin weaves together text and sound to examine noise and its commodification. His Thesis on Noise (2006), included in this publication, is a series of polemical aphorisms about his understanding of the medium of noise and its potential. In eleven succinct points, Mattin explores the past, present and future of noise as a concept and form, from early instances in industrial settings to the possibilities generated by current noise practice.
The brutal potential of sound can sometimes defy expectations and manifest itself in muted tones. The soundtrack to allsopp&weir’s To the Place or Being in the Place (2006) is based on a foreign language-learning cassette for speakers of English. The artists edited together instructions, words and phrases that were spoken in English by the instructor on the tape. Set to languid shots of foliage swaying in the wind and fragments of city living, the words and sentences are repeated by an actor, whose native tongue is not English. An auxiliary soundtrack, played out in the gallery space, features the original phrases as read by the teaching voice. The contrast between the two deliveries evokes the struggle of belonging, which swings between a desire for assimilation and the impossibility of absolute integration. The words are read in rapid-fire succession, and the actor struggles to keep up, sometimes missing out phrases entirely. Sound, through the voice and language, becomes the enemy of identity.
Tillmann Terbuyken and Thomas Baldischwyler's Untitled (2006) is a sculpture with audio that uses extracts of Glenn Gould's legendary 1955 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations (1741). The soundtrack emphasizes the beauty of Bach's composition, while also making a feature of the repetition that is characteristic of the Variations. This repetition holds the potential to be disturbing to listeners. Untitled draws attention to the power of such divinely beautiful music, which is so exquisite that it risks being almost unendurable to humans. The sculpture's painted surface makes a subtle allusion to clouds, and is suggestive of the magnificent yet volatile nature of Bach's music.
Audio Addiction (2006) by Jasmin Jodry and Mo Stoebe is a music video for the track 9 Samurai by dj kode9 and dubtronic poet Spaceape. Using a high contrast black and white aesthetic, the work traces a fantasy narrative that follows the development of an audio virus in a scientific laboratory, and its impact on society and music lovers.
Dealing with the possibility of aestheticising antagonistic sounds in music, Pablo Gav’s composition will sit at the threshold between public space and the gallery, and function as an invitation to the visitors. The composer has designed a sound piece that incorporates both transformed and natural sounds. His essay Music pissing on flies shitting on bombs (2006), about his composition of the same title, explains the visual nature of his music and gives an account of the creative process of making the work.
Giorgio Agostoni’s A text for an exhibitions that regards sound as a weapon (2006) is a montage of different narratives that explore various perceptions of the possibility of sound as a weapon, and was written specially for this catalogue. The three sections in the piece highlight the subjectivity of definitions of noise, silence and aggression.
Sonic Warfare: the Logistics of Affection by the academic Steve Goodman traces a history of sonic warfare, from biblical times to the present. It samples minor events, scientific discoveries and technological innovations, demonstrating that the drive to use sound as a weapon is not new, and that innovations in sonic weaponry are often the result of a warped but highly developed form of creativity.
The works in Arsenal: artists exploring the potential of sound as a weapon address the multiple possibilities of looking at sound as a force, a medium, and a subject matter. I would like to thank all the artists for their enthusiasm and vision in responding to my invitation to participate in the show. Finally, I would like to thank LAND (Ben Tomlinson, Charlie Tweed, Sara Watkins, Siobhan Wootton) for their unwavering support in making the exhibition a reality. Ellen Mara De Wachter
TALKS AND EVENTS
1st July 6pm
Location: Alma Enterprises
Talks by Rod Dickinson &Thomas Altheimer followed by the artists in discussion
15th July 6pm
Location: Alma Enterprises
Live performances featuring Mattin, Culver, Alan Courtis & Sakada
A publication is also available to purchase in the gallery or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Arsenal is guest curated by Ellen Mara De Wachter.
For further information and images contact Siobhan Wootton E: email@example.com
T: 07913 653910
|Jasmin Jodry & Mo Stoebe.
Title: Audio Addiction (2006)