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Engaging the Visual and Auditory Senses

by Bentley Jarvis

I use sound sculpture installation as a medium of expression for two reasons: to better engage the audience and to allow me to perform works that are long in duration.

Any piece of art must engage people in order to be successful. One of the strengths of electroacoustic music–the fact that musicians need not be present when it is performed–can also be its weakness. Traditional music performance engages the visual as well as the auditory senses. Musicians are trained to express visually what they are communicating aurally. Adding a visual component to electroacoustic music can strengthen the communication between composer and audience. Sound sculpture installation can make a connection between what is heard and what is seen.

When music is performed by live musicians in a traditional concert setting, a program has to be chosen so that individual pieces are not too long. The result is that longer works are rarely performed. An installation like Distributed Resonance allows me to compose extremely long pieces without concern for the range of attention spans of the members of the audience. When my work is installed I notice that people feel free to spend as much time as they want with it. Some visitors spend a few minutes, some half an hour or more. Some go to other parts of the gallery and then return later to find that the music has slowly evolved in their absence and is now very different. Working this way frees me to explore large slowly evolving sonic structures that would not be appropriate in a traditional concert setting where some members of the audience might feel trapped.photo by Stefan Rose

My sound sculpture installations are intended to work in most spaces and so are not site specific. Ideal sites are quiet and not too reverberant. In these installations, different components of the music emanate from different physical structures. Gallery visitors can move throughout the space, doing their own personal mix of the piece. The same cannot be said of the audience during a concert. Having members of the audience wander freely among the musicians during a performance by a symphony orchestra or a rock band would probably heighten the experience for the audience, but might possibly distract the musicians.

As I place equal importance on both the visual and aural components of my sound sculpture installations, I hope that these components balance and reinforce each other. Sound and image are integrated by the highly resonant properties of the structures through which the music is played. There is a natural connection between what the structures look like and the sounds that they diffuse.

Bentley Jarvis has been composing and performing electroacoustic music since the mid-seventies and teaching sonic arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design since 1983. His sound installation Distributed Resonance will be part of the Sign Waves Phase II series beginning August 17th, 2002 at the Chemistry Building, Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island.

photo by Stefan Rose : Bentley Jarvis, Time and Place, 2001 Open Ears Festival, Kitchener