Earlier in the Biennial calendar we asked if you’d ever wondered what the perfect number might sound like, unfortunately after visiting Ark at bombed-out church, we’re still wondering.
I am ‘aurally challenged’. Any bish, bash, bosh will distract me from the most scintillating of conversations, so I was attracted to James Brady’s proposal that his sound installation, Ark: ‘the temple is full of water’, could tune me in to the ambient sound-scape of the city. Unfortunately, Ark failed to be heard above the funk-fest that was being blasted out from the bell tower on the day I reviewed: the temple, it seems, is full of soul.
We were given a special playing of the installation as we had missed its scheduled airing, however, I got the impression that the music would have remained playing irrespective of when the installation was on. Apparently they usually play classical music but had opted for something a little more upbeat the day we visited. This may or may not have made a difference as ultimately it was the sheer volume of the music that drowned out Ark.
Ark rises from the cellar of the church through air grills and can be best heard by sitting at the top of the church steps on Berry Street. I say best heard, it was really the only place it could be heard, and not with the careful attention that Brady had hoped, but with the kind of determination reserved for nights out when the only table left is wedged next to a speaker.
When I could engage and immerse myself in the graduating sound of Ark I had a feeling for what it could have been: the sounds of the city were temporarily replaced by the rush of water forming an aural ‘static’ backdrop, the visual became more prominent and Berry Street more ‘scenic’, a city scene being played out in a film. Not a commercial ‘movie’ film with all its crash, bang, wallops, more like a film installation where the everyday is heightened through the perspective as an observer, a visual tourist.
The experience was, however, fleeting, and I couldn’t overcome the booming of the St Luke’s Funk and Soul Set. Ark’s gushing crescendo is magnificent and should drench Berry St urbanites in noise, but was lost in the ‘sound-off’ with the bell tower and barely anyone cocked an ear to it. Brady proposed that the listener could form a dialogue with Carolyn Shepherd’s sculpture, Survival, but as Shepherd’s work was situated in front of the bouncing speakers it was impossible to have a dialogue even with yourself.
I really feel that this is a missed opportunity. We are experiencing an increase in sound pollution as more of our devices ping, ding and ring at us; ‘security’ announcements tell us to mind the gap or our bags; and we’re enveloped by the muffled music choices of our fellow city-dwellers (if they bother to use headphones at all, that is). Therefore the concept of an installation that aims to reconnect with the city through sound is intriguing. Ironically, Ark was drowned out by one of the sound pollutants we are daily assailed with.
As I said, I do get distracted at things that go bump too loudly and maybe on a different day with a classical soundtrack Ark would be a more spiritual than soulful experience.