Camille Norment explores new sonic terrains with Dia Chelsea

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The ringing produced by this hieratic brass sculpture has both a sculptural and a sonic component—a point Norment underscores by listing the media used in this installation as “tin, sine waves, autonomous feedback system, and archived radiostatic.” In other words, she uses periodic sound (i.e., sine waves) both as a sculptural material that she can shape, like a sculptor shapes metal or stone, and as a spontaneously generated phenomenon of the sheet metal and microphones, similar to the tones of a trumpet or saxophone .

The space is both sculptural installation and active musical instrument, and after a few minutes its resonant wailing takes on an Apollonian dignity. As for the last element, the recorded radio noise, I could only faintly hear it as I approached the brass bell. It offers a bit of a beat, but it seems like an inconsequential addition, especially after reading an explanatory text on Dia’s website that reveals the source of the noise from the ’60s and ’70s “community reporting and documentation of social and environmental struggles.” I’m not sure if explicit political source material was needed. Because Norment’s ringing and vibrating sound system alone lets us experience a fragile interdependence of bodies and environments. In here we are simultaneously creators, listeners and corrupters of an ecology of sound.

The second gallery is much busier. Norment has filled it with dozens of wooden planks – made from “responsibly sourced wood,” Dia informs us, with a touch of Whole Foods care. They stretch from floor to ceiling and their chocolate brown tones almost match the gallery’s ribbed vaulting. Loudspeakers are embedded in the planks and play Recordings of a booming choir, its deep bass contrasting with the higher frequency tones of the Bell Hall. You can sit or lie down on the planks and feel the vocals travel through your thighs and buttocks as the chorus crescendos. But the use of recordings, the singers’ somewhat milky ah-ah-ah-ahs and the nautical overtones of the boards make this installation more of an illustration of a musical ecology. What makes the brass work more exciting is that they forms one, of sound and space.

Norment was born near Washington, DC in 1970 but has lived in Oslo since 2005 – the Norwegian capital that has developed into one of Europe’s most prolific arts centers over the past decade. (Much of the new ferment comes from her distinguished art school, the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, where Norment is a senior faculty member.) Her sound installations often utilize the natural frequencies of materials, objects, and even entire buildings. including at the 2015 Venice Biennale, where she used microphones and other transducers to transform the Nordic Pavilion into a constant emitter of sound.

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