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The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel/GRAVITY extended

The weight of public spaces

Gail Priest

The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel
The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel

A commuter concourse. Functional space, neither here nor there but on the way. New concrete, acrid sweet. Jackhammer chatter, rhythmic rumble. Slap of thong sandals on tile. Cough, shuffle, fit of girlish giggles, exclamations in multiple languages. Floating above, synthesised piping tones, a descending melodic phrase with creeping overtones sweeping and glancing off highly polished surfaces. The phrase repeats with intricate variation of harmonics, encroaching from above and below, rubbing up against the fundamental. Notes are suspended, break apart and shimmer through the fluorescence.

The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel pipes audio works from Singapore, Japan, Myanmar, Phillipines, Korea and Australia through a 10-speaker system in the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay transit tunnel. The pace at midday on a Monday is relaxed and the commuters seem ambivalent, though the sound gently permeates consciousness, at least enough for people to realise they are not listening to Doris Day or some ubiquitous generic electro-beat. The curious linger over the posters explaining the soundworks adorning the pristine white walls.

The selection for Monday October 25 is from the Philippines, Myanmar and Singapore. From the creations experienced over 30 minutes, the tonal piece described above seems to do best, the harmonic manipulations bending and bouncing around the tunnel, the work differentiating itself from the sonic artefacts of the space itself. Though the various compilations are indicated by a wall poster it's not possible to tell which work you are experiencing–which artist from the Philippines, Myanmar or Singapore? This is a common dilemma in sound exhibitions that run sequentially and over which the listener can exert no choice or control. While it works on a particular experiential level for the general public, it is a frustratingly passive experience for the more engaged listener.

Just around the corner in the vestibule between carpark and escalators to the Esplanade, Annie Wilson's video Fight or Flight plays as part of GRAVITY extended. Bodies tumble (a little too) dimly down a black screen. The choreography of flailing limbs is slower than reality, but faster than acceptable slow motion so you never feel like you have grasped the whole image. Falling is a familiar image in video works (UK video artist Steve McQueen's Carib's Leap/Western Deep a stunning example), though Wilson's work differentiates itself in the perceived casualness of the "fallen." Some look as though they have willingly leapt, some allow forces to tumble them through the air, but no-one seems alarmed. The work is engaging in the improvisatory/involuntary responses of the body. Arms fly up whether willed or not, feet kick at the invisible, legs bend at angles only achieved when loosed from the constraints of earth, centres of gravity tip and torsos topple over delicate heads. They can be casual as the inevitable consequences of the descent are not acknowledged—these bodies exist quite contentedly in a transitional zone, like that of the Audio Tunnel concourse—in a state of process.

Both spaces occupied by the exhibitions offer significant opportunities and challenges. The Audio Tunnel functions well within the constraints of the environment—the works sometimes sympathetic, sometimes antagonistic to the site. The installation is well designed with the sound clear, loud and consistent through the 80-metre tunnel (though louder would be better). The site for Fight or Flight is less functional and thus more banal—begging for something to augment it. The installation is quite prominent although the overhead lighting diminishes its effect somewhat. But perhaps the washed out nature of the video, along with workmen's jackhammer improvisations near the Audio Tunnel on the day we visited, are the price of placing art in external contexts where it must do battle with the urban elements. Though both involve a compromise, the effect is still enlivening. More on the sound works later as they're exhibited.

The Gravities of Sound Audio Tunnel, The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay (transit tunnel); curator Lawrence English (Room 40); artists include Kim Kichul (Korea), Candy Factory, Toshiya Tsunoda (Japan), Melatonin (international compilation), Bruce Mowson (Australia), Khin Zaw Latt (Myanmar); MAAP in Singapore–Gravity; Oct 11-Dec 2

GRAVITY extended, The Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay (lower exhibition area); artists Anne Wilson, Bruce Mowson; MAAP in Singapore–Gravity; Oct 11-Nov 30

RealTime issue #0 pg.

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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