Sound Collaboration on Site Machines

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Tivon Rice on the sonic component of his latest work Site Machines at Suyama Space in Seattle.  The work is a continuation of his many investigations of architecture, light, movement, image, and the human traces that carve a narrative through them.  I have followed his work closely for years, enjoying the generative images and patterns born of the motility of camera systems fusing with the environments in which they are situated.  There is a recurring moment in his work in which viewers find themselves entangled in a churning substrate of video frames before being subsumed by the the work’s relentless momentum outward in every direction.  Despite the work being anchored in plain view, there’s a sense that the scene onscreen must be from somewhere else.

There is a sense that the room you are in is just as you see it, until it’s compressed into the the flatness of a pixel field or alternately scattered into an expanding world of impossible simultaneous vantages. This expansion and compression of leaves you unsure of the truth of the scene on the screen and yet there you are in the middle of it, or just outside the frame looking on.

From the Main Gallery.  Photo: Tivon Rice

From the Main Gallery. Photo: Tivon Rice

The main space of of the gallery had no sonic intervention aside from the whirring of the motors performing the camera’s choreography and the click of arching neon light arrays. Only once you enter a central stairwell enveloping a large LCD monitor, do you see and hear the images from from the cameras (in whose gaze you’ve just lingered in the gallery).  Imagine a sort of miniature amphitheater, on the stage of which are the panning images of detailed paths through the “landscape” beyond.  Visitors cross the frame in front of you and then cross the horizon just beyond the screen–reinforcing the presentness of the surveilling system. 

However, new views appear scanning through the wooden rafters overhead, across skylights framing a bird’s flight above the walls of the gallery.  You wonder if that really just happened, or if it was a premeditated moment. You find views of the space that you were either unable to see or unwilling to notice as you passed through the gallery earlier.  The cyclical path of each roving camera is anything but repetitive: each successive pass captures a new interruption by an unsuspecting character or simply a play of light revealing an previously unseen architectural detail.

The central stairwell.  Photo: Tivon Rice

The central stairwell. Photo: Tivon Rice

One of the goals in Site Machines was to amplify this sense of displacement.  Through a live network of cameras and microphones, and a set of pre-recorded sounds gathered in and around the space, I assembled a sort of auditory “memory loop”.  This loop would cut between live feeds and, following the arc composed for the cameras, slip back and forward through the not-too-distant past.

Photo: Jen Graves

Photo: Jen Graves

 

In the “amphitheater”, listening to the image cut between the hum of one camera-carrying motor to the whirr of another communicates an abrupt shift between vantages. Each camera takes on a “voice” of its own and a unique ear in on the room’s echoes and conversations. Once the cameras slowed to a halt, however, the sound continues to move.  Murmuring voices without any faces on screen, footsteps with no feet passing over the floorboards, even a voice recalling your own, though you haven’t spoken for minutes. The system has not only been watching, but also listening…echoing the screen’s vacillations between a surface holding frozen light and a frame peering through the illusory surface of contiguous space and successive time threading through the gallery.

Site Machine seeing itself.  Photo: Tivon Rice

Site Machine seeing itself. Photo: Tivon Rice

 

A close-up view of the video in the stairwell "amphitheater".  A recurring moment in which the installation is suspended in a moment of shimmering self-oscillation, forming a cathedral-like image of itself.

A close-up view of the video in the stairwell “amphitheater”. A recurring moment in which the installation is suspended in a moment of shimmering self-oscillation, forming a cathedral-like image of itself.