Friday, July 7, 2017

(rust) Echoes

It has been far too long since I have chronicled work here, so I am going to try to catch up a little.  For this post I am writing about a recent installation titled (rust)Echoes in 914Works, a multi-use space here in Syracuse.  Apologies in advance for the length of this post, there is a lot to cover.

This was my third spatial installation, and in many ways it was an opposite to the Rust O Phone in that it was in an interior space as opposed to a park.  The considerations are different, and the instruments inhabit the space in a very different way.  It is much more possible to have a direct influence on the viewer's experience of the instruments and the space, and to focus their attention.As a part of this I collaborated with a theatrical director, Katherine McGerr, who devised a piece with five Syracuse University Drama students that was also presented in the space.

This installation was comprised of five separate instruments that were visually and conceptually linked.  I'll address each of them individually below, but overall they addressed sounds that evoke to me the trains that once rolled through this part of Central New York.  The train system in this country was massive and powerful at one time, and the web of timber and steel wove this country together in a way that was very different from the Interstate Highway system we now have.  It was a real loss when that system was dismantled, and i wanted to both celebrate its time and mourn its passing.

Instrument 1:  The Spikelophone
The Spikelophone

This instrument is a xylophone made of railroad spikes.  It is related to the next instrument in that it celebrates the sound of a prosaic object that is an accidental percussion instrument.  Spikes are made to be struck, and the noise of a rail gang sinking these spikes is actually quite musical, if you have a group that can really do it.  In the course of using the installation, we also discovered that the wooden panels to the right of the Spikelophone have their own sounds and are a secondary instrument.

Instrument 2:  Nailing Stump

The Nailing Stump
This is the sister instrument to the Spikelophone.  Here instead of celebrating the spike we celebrate the maul, or hammer that is used to drive it.  This instrument is made up of a wooden "stump" built out of old beams, a bucket of twenty-penny nails, and a "spike maul" which is a specialized sledge hammer shaped so that the user can drive the spike very close to the rail.  One of the things that has always struck me (see what I did there?) about driving nails of any size is that the pitch rises as the nail is driven.  Each nails sings its own little song as it is driven, but unless you drive nails with a hammer you never hear that voicing.  And who uses a hammer to drive nails anymore?  This once-ubiquitous action is itself a thing of the past, and there are many people now who have driven very few if any nails in their lives.  It was interesting to see someone approach this piece who had driven a lot of nails, several people came up to me and said something along the lines of "I am so glad that you can really hear the nail go in!"

Instrument 3:  Intonatruss

The Intonatruss
This instrument came about after the Intonarumori project I was a part of a few years ago.  It is such an interesting sound machine, but all the good stuff is hidden inside the box, and I wanted to display and celebrate the workings.  This particular instrument seemed to me to be a perfect centerpiece for this installation, as it can make a sound like the moan of a train far off in the distance, or the screeching of the wheels on a piece of track that needs to be lined, or the sound of the engine itself barreling across the landscape.  This photo shows me with the Intonatruss just for scale.

Instrument 4:  Gong Rack

Gong Rack
Bells of various types have long been associated with trains and tracks, from the polished brass bell on the locomotives to the bells that warn of an approaching train.  These fire extinguishers all have distinct voices, though I did manage to tune them all so that they resonate sympathetically with each other.

Instrument 5:  Piano

Fireman's Post / Piano
The work that I have been doing with pianos  has left me with some still-strung harps from dismantled pianos.  I love these objects (I will post soon with a video of me playing one at Haystack Mountain School of Craft and wanted to put one in this installation.  This is a very simple presentation of what I think is a lovely found sculpture.  The original intention was to play it by using a coal shovel, so that the musician would mimic the movements of the Fireman on a steam train.  As it turns out there are so many ways to play this instrument that we used a variety of methods and got a huge number of sounds out of it.

Here is a video shot by Daylight Blue Media of a piece that was composed by one of may favorite collaborators:  Leo Crandall.

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