Aural pleasures

Sound art shows coincide at Eyedrum, GSU

Scholars, concerned parents, porn junkies and art critics have for so long defined our modern world in terms of visuals that it's easy to forget there are other senses out there. So it's nice to have a reminder of sensations beyond the ocular in Georgia State University Gallery's Pulse Field and Eyedrum's L'Objet Sonore, which are dedicated to various permutations of the Beat.

Sputtering, clanking, flowing sounds emerge from all corners of the Eyedrum space, transforming it into a Flubber-esque laboratory of mad inventions where the separate rat-a-tat of individual works grows into a cacophonous group rattle and hum. Xan Deeb's amusing "Hydration Calculator" is one of the madder sonic experiments, a surreal fountain sculpture in which an array of baby doll parts, toy soldiers and a constant sensual trickle and drip create a hydrophonic one-man band.

One of the most appealing works is visible at the entrance to Sonore — John Mallia's clever, nostalgic recording of the pings and shuffles of vintage typewriters. Mallia preserves the unique, emotional trigger of a typewriter's tapping, a sound that — like a record needle on vinyl or a rotary phone dialing — will soon be lost to time. Mallia has captured a weight and lustiness in these primitive devices more emotionally resonant in some ways than the more ethereal and constructed strains of a modern electronic-based sound landscape.

There are a number of other exceptional pieces in Sonore that challenge our sight-specific gallery sensibilities, like French artist Xavier Charles' delightfully witty row of upturned speakers holding a variety of objects in their individual vibrating bowls. The seashells, balls and leaves all bounce from the vibrations with varying degrees of intensity and produce divergent sounds in a delightfully subtle and whimsical ballet like the disorienting bounce of tricked-out subwoofer car stereos.

Equally smart is Atlanta's Will Eccleston, who performs a more elaborate spin on his typically oddball neo-Edison inventions. In the artist's multimedia sculpture, an electric guitar hung at "play me" level is offered like King Arthur's Excaliber. But the brave aspiring musician who dares to strum is faced with an array of TV monitors that record his/her every stilted jam in a queasy evocation of dreams of greatness rendered nightmare.

If there is any sour note in curator Adam Overton's impressive Sonore it is the tendency of some artists to compartmentalize their work into the sound-ghetto of technology, and trip over their computer programs and electrical cables. (Exceptions include Charlie Smith's primordial and mythic musical sculpture.)

While Sonore is, for the most part, approachable and user-friendly, its sister exhibition at GSU is a little more theoretical and studious, a crash course attempt to cover the history and chart the future of sound art. Though Pulse Field is certainly the more ambitious of the two sound installations, its ambitions are of the Napoleonic sort: grand and all consuming.

Curators Craig Dongoski and Robert Thompson have managed to effectively use the often aggravatingly divided two-room space at GSU by breaking their show into two components. One is a "Soundscape," where viewers sit at tables in a kind of sound cafe and listen to a programmed loop, which changes weekly, of music, sound and voices assembled by Thompson, an internationally recognized electroacoustic composer.

In the larger gallery space is "The Archive," a living library and history of sound art curated by Dongoski that changes on an hourly and daily basis. It encompasses sound work and artists as divergent as Throbbing Gristle, William Burroughs, John Cage, Antonin Artaud and Derek Jarman. As the name indicates, this overwhelming tidal wave of auditory information is more archived than curated. The show can make viewers feel powerless and bowled over as the video and audio works unspool in time without any possibility for the viewer to select or sample. Collaborators in this intensive, impressively far-ranging project, Dongoski and Thompson are clearly enthusiastic scholars. But enthusiasm without weeding or some shaping of the content can make it hard to convey that thrill to an audience.


Related events: Performance by French sound art collective Ouie Dire Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at GSU School of Art & Design Galleries, and Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at Eyedrum. Lecture by Douglas Kahn on "Drugs and Sound" Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at GSU's Speaker's Auditorium, Student Center.