see hear

Yesterday evening we strolled along to the opening of Change of Signature, billed as a multimedia installation, at Testbed 1, a local exhibition space that I hadn’t come across before. And it proved to be a fascinating show. The venue is a large, stripped out industrial space: uneven concrete floors, distressed iron girders, ceramic tiled walls. Perfect, in other words. The installation is a collaboration between French artist Eléonore Pironneau and ten musicians/sound artists. Pironneau invited her co-creators to chose one of her paintings and compose a short piece of music in response to it. The project explores the links between music and visuals, extending Pironneau’s interest in the idea of form as a language. In the main double-height gallery space, ten metal music stands have been positioned, all facing towards the back wall, each one far enough apart from the others to be its own self-contained audio-visual bubble. Two metal seats per music stand, two sets of headphones, and one of Pironneau’s small abstract paintings mounted on the music stand. We wandered, hovered, pounced as two seats became vacant. Painting: Life’s Little Dramas n°14, slate grey with curving lines (piano strings?), dusky rose organic forms (squashed petals? is that a nose poking in from the right?). Music: Jerry Granelli, sparse piano, lilting, almost lulling, until the jolt of a discordant note: music to my ears. Over the course of the evening I managed to experience all ten collaborations; or dialogues, tangos, riffs, interpretations – there’s such variety in the responses, both musically, and also in how the musician responded to the project. A couple of the pieces corresponded closely to the painting, it seemed to me, as if the loops, marks, trumpet like forms on the canvas were being read as a musical score. Tony Remy’s contribution, for example, with its funky, driving rhythm and noodly guitar, matched the busy seedpod forms of Emergence n°3. With other pieces, the links between the painting and the final musical product were harder for me to discern, the painting perhaps the springboard into a new work, and just as valid of course. Lola Perrin’s mix of romantic piano and whispered soap opera snippets had both humour and drama, quite fitting for Little Life Dramas 24, its swirled black and white stripes reminding me of a tea towel or apron, and those floating blotches and red spots speaking of life’s random absurdity. Aurally, my favourite was the recording by Sarah Jane Morris, low hums and layering of voices over a repeated in breath, and the break into giggles towards the end; so intimate listening to this through headphones. These were all quite intimate encounters, and I really enjoyed the experience of the installation. But interestingly, though I find Pironneau’s concept exciting, and as a creator myself I’m fascinated by the possibilities of collaboration across art forms, my dominant impressions are of the music. Several times I wanted to close my eyes to concentrate more fully on the music. This isn’t the fault of the paintings, which I am drawn to, but somehow the audio experience overwhelmed the visual. On the whole, I prefer to look at paintings in a quiet space. I love the hush of an art gallery. And perhaps, with all that language and putting-into-words stuff going on in my head, my brain can only deal with one major creative stimulus at a time. Strangely, as we left and started our walk back home, I realised I had Ravel’s brilliantly haywire La Valse wobbling and whirling around my brain. That is a change of signature.

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