Wall of Sound

Wall of Sound was a 1996 collaboration with Jem Finer for a one-person exhibition of my work at Trans Hudson Gallery, Jersey City. Besides Wall of Sound, there were a number of cut paper structures.

The sixty minute soundtrack overlaid sampled music, recordings of city noise from around London, synthesized music, and instruments played by Jem Finer such as the piano, saxophone, theramin and percussion. The texture of the sound piece was extremely varied. With the music laid down onto eight tracks (using an ADAT digital tape recorder) there was the possibility of having a particular quality of sound designated to each track. Jem and I spoke of keeping the sound components separate, human voice on one track, sampled music on another, although these elements sometimes moved across the spread of channels. Since there was a speaker behind each painted panel the sound was built to move around the deep space formed by the arrangement of these ‘walls’ in the gallery. The visual experience of colours oscillating in space found an equivalent in the depth of the layered sound.

Recordings of aviation commentary from the Science Museum were heard over a track of bell ringing and another of fluctuating strings. Draining water was heard against a synthesized percussive scraping with a trace of cocktail lounge organ music in the background. The music sustained an unpredictable development of transitions by having no thematic or melodic continuity and instead starting in motion small programmes of sound activity that settled into unlikely counterpoint before slowly displacing one another.

The painted panels included as wide a variety of high-keyed colour as possible. The historical association of colour with temperament underlay this project with its proposal that particular blocks of sound-texture, and by extension ‘mood’, might be linked to a particular combination of colours. The placing of one speaker, broadcasting one track, behind each of the eight panels made this obvious enough. However, this proposition was interesting only in so far as it became thwarted by the use of a great range of sound and a full spectrum of colour. This emphasized the abstract qualities of both the music and the painting, in spite of the melody and sampling of one and the figurative implications of the other. Although some sounds were drawn from easily recognisable sources, for example birdsong or mechanical equipment, and the panels mimicked the design of speakers it was our intention to divert these specific references towards a somatic response to the installation. The panels were made to resemble the fronts of rock concert equipment, where large banks of black boxes pound the audience with sound.

The panels were made from thin sheets of painted paper secured to 8′ x 4′ sheets of plasterboard which were propped up on lengths of 2″ x 4″ pine. Cones of the same painted paper were pinned to the surface. Using everyday building materials, the structure was deliberately makeshift and self-evident in its manufacture. This way the sound was heard through the colour without the presence of either component dominating the installation. The panels were arranged so that it was possible to walk between them and hear the music moving around the space. The amplifiers and mixing desk were right at the back of the group but not hidden from view.

The title also referred to the Phil Spector’s 1960’s studio production sound.