LET'S REVIEW: Silent Sound is all around at new UCSD Calit2 Gallery exhibit

Do you think it’s possible for a room, a space or an art gallery to “come alive” and be transformed into a living, organic entity?

Shahrokh Yadegari, UC San Diego music professor and head of Sonic Arts at the Qualcomm Institute, thinks so. Yadegari is talking about the sound installation piece, “Silent Music” by Canadian sound artist Robin Minard, which went up at the Calit2 Art Gallery in Atkinson Hall on campus, April 6.

“The gallery space that Minard has created, with its flower array of speakers and tape loop of sounds, takes on a life of its own and becomes like a living organism or being!” said Yadegari.

Minard’s installation resembles a minimalistic flower garden where you might go to sit on a bench and listen to the quiet sounds of nature — the titter of birds, the rustle of leaves or the bees buzzing in the early morning.

But “Silent Music” is both a combination of elements from the natural world and from the world of high technology. Immersed in the garden of flowers and nature sounds are speakers, wires, computer programming and synthetic sounds, some of which move across the room.

Upon entering the space, you notice two low, dark-brown wooden benches, one on each side of the room. Growing from the baseboards and climbing up the walls in unusual and artistic patterns are long-stemmed black flowers. You hear delicate soft sounds barely perceptible. Sometimes, you cannot tell if you are hearing sounds from inside your own ears, noise from the outer hallway or music from Minard’s tape.

As you sit, the flowers seem to grow and reach out to you to make a connection or develop a relationship.

The black flowers are actually small, low-powered piezoelectric speakers and the stems are electrical wires. The flowers, which grow up the walls in beautiful patterns, emit the low volume sounds that whisper through the room. It took Minard more than two days to put all the flower speakers and their wiring in place.

The work in progress

As he explained, Minard first went into the gallery space and listened to it. He developed a relationship with it. He let it affect him. Then he began to construct a new sound environment for the gallery that masked unwanted noises and created new sounds.

Some of the sounds are of nature, like the wind whirling leaves, the trickle of water over stones or a distant chorus of cicadas. Some are musical, like a cloth mallet striking a metal marimba. Some of the sounds are familiar; others are synthetic and very unfamiliar. The exhibit asks the observer to slow way down and give up the multi-tasking mind so that she/he can listen and carefully contemplate how the sounds affect them.

“The purpose of my exhibit is to sharpen awareness and make participants more conscious of the sounds that are all around us, which often go unnoticed — things like the cars going by on the street or the humming of an air-conditioning unit in a room,” Minard explained. “My exhibit asks: Is it possible to listen deeper, with more consciousness? Can sounds that are usually unconscious become conscious? Can we open up to hearing all the sounds going on around us?”

Katharina Rosenberger, UCSD music composition professor, who has taught classes with Minard at the Bauhaus University in Germany, added, “Every time I go into the Calit2 Gallery and listen, I discover new things! The experience opens my ears, sharpens my perception, and makes me realize and remember that there is always more going on than what I think. Hopefully, my experience will carry over and I will listen more consciously in other settings and thus be able to perceive the world around me better.”

How does sound affect you?

Minard is also concerned with sculpting sound environments that are healthy. He believes both our hearing and our physical health are adversely affected by all the modern noise pollution around us. He said he would like to see sound considered in the architectural design of buildings and outdoor spaces.

He has done a very good job of designing sound at Calit2. After sitting in the room for an hour, one feels refreshed, clear, clean, cool, healthy and peaceful. The gallery attendant, who has sat in the gallery for more than three years, agrees. He says this is the most peaceful exhibition Calit2 has had so far.

Minard’s installation is part of an ongoing series of works he has placed in quiet public areas or exhibition spaces; he’s put up his sound gardens in parks and libraries, old factories, even an abandoned indoor swimming pool.

Minard was born in Montreal in 1953 and educated in Canada and in France. The focus of his work has been on electroacoustic music and sound installation. From 1992 to 1996, he was a lecturer on sound installation at the Electronic Studio of the Berlin Technical University. Since 1997, he’s been a professor for electroacoustical composition and sound design at the Franz Liszt Academy and Bauhaus University in Weimar, where, at the latter, he is director of the Studio for Electroacoustical Music.

Minard is also the author of several articles and books, including “Silent Music: Between Sound Art and Acoustic Design” and “Four Spaces/Four Installations.”

IF YOU GO: The exhibition runs through June 9 at Calit2 Gallery in Atkinson Hall on UCSD campus. Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Free admission. gallery.calit2.net

The work in progress

As he explained, Minard first went into the gallery space and listened to it. He developed a relationship with it. He let it affect him. Then he began to construct a new sound environment for the gallery that masked unwanted noises and created new sounds.

Some of the sounds are of nature, like the wind whirling leaves, the trickle of water over stones or a distant chorus of cicadas. Some are musical, like a cloth mallet striking a metal marimba. Some of the sounds are familiar; others are synthetic and very unfamiliar. The exhibit asks the observer to slow way down and give up the multi-tasking mind so that she/he can listen and carefully contemplate how the sounds affect them.

“The purpose of my exhibit is to sharpen awareness and make participants more conscious of the sounds that are all around us, which often go unnoticed — things like the cars going by on the street or the humming of an air-conditioning unit in a room,” Minard explained. “My exhibit asks: Is it possible to listen deeper, with more consciousness? Can sounds that are usually unconscious become conscious? Can we open up to hearing all the sounds going on around us?”

Katharina Rosenberger, UCSD music composition professor, who has taught classes with Minard at the Bauhaus University in Germany, added, “Every time I go into the Calit2 Gallery and listen, I discover new things! The experience opens my ears, sharpens my perception, and makes me realize and remember that there is always more going on than what I think. Hopefully, my experience will carry over and I will listen more consciously in other settings and thus be able to perceive the world around me better.”

How does sound affect you?

Minard is also concerned with sculpting sound environments that are healthy. He believes both our hearing and our physical health are adversely affected by all the modern noise pollution around us. He said he would like to see sound considered in the architectural design of buildings and outdoor spaces.

He has done a very good job of designing sound at Calit2. After sitting in the room for an hour, one feels refreshed, clear, clean, cool, healthy and peaceful. The gallery attendant, who has sat in the gallery for more than three years, agrees. He says this is the most peaceful exhibition Calit2 has had so far.

Minard’s installation is part of an ongoing series of works he has placed in quiet public areas or exhibition spaces; he’s put up his sound gardens in parks and libraries, old factories, even an abandoned indoor swimming pool.

Minard was born in Montreal in 1953 and educated in Canada and in France. The focus of his work has been on electroacoustic music and sound installation. From 1992 to 1996, he was a lecturer on sound installation at the Electronic Studio of the Berlin Technical University. Since 1997, he’s been a professor for electroacoustical composition and sound design at the Franz Liszt Academy and Bauhaus University in Weimar, where, at the latter, he is director of the Studio for Electroacoustical Music.

Minard is also the author of several articles and books, including “Silent Music: Between Sound Art and Acoustic Design” and “Four Spaces/Four Installations.”

IF YOU GO: The exhibition runs through June 9 at Calit2 Gallery in Atkinson Hall on UCSD campus. Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Free admission. gallery.calit2.net

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