Installation for 300 speakers, Pianola and vacuum cleaner

Installation for 300 speakers, Pianola and vacuum cleaner

Research residency and installation

2009 - 2010

John Wynne

John Wynne’s Installation for 300 speakers, player piano and vacuum cleaner is at once monumental, minimal and immersive. It uses sound and sculptural assemblage to explore and define architectural space and to investigate the borders between sound and music. The piece has three interwoven sonic elements: the ambient sound of the space in which it is installed, the notes played by the piano, and a computer-controlled soundtrack consisting of synthetic sounds and gently manipulated notes from the piano itself. Because none of these elements are synchronised with each other, the composition will never repeat. The music punched into the paper roll is Franz Léhar’s 1909 operetta Gypsy Love, but the mechanism has been altered to play at a very slow tempo and the Pianola modified to play only the notes which most excite the resonant frequencies of the gallery space in which it is installed. Sound moves through the space on trajectories programmed using a 32-channel sound controller, creating a kind of epic, abstract 3-D opera in slow motion.

Originally developed during Wynne’s AHRC-funded ‘Soundtrap’ residency at Beaconsfield gallery, a former Victorian ‘ragged school’ in South London, this piece draws on notions of obsolescence and nostalgia, combining early 20th century technology and culture with a vast collection of discarded hi-fi speakers found on the streets of London and Berlin and in recycling depots in both cities. These disparate components are brought together through contemporary digital technology which not only distributes the sound but also controls the (found) vacuum cleaner which in turn drives the Pianola. The piece is site-specific, but it also carries traces of its own history: some of the synthetic sounds were created in response to the light industrial ambience of the work’s original location, some in response to its new site in the Saatchi Gallery. The mountainous formation of speakers, inspired by the recycling plant from which some of the speakers were rescued, functions both visually and as a platform for the projection of sound, creating, in the words of writer Brandon LaBelle, ‘a soft balance between order and chaos, organization and its rupture’.

The installation was exhibited at Beaconsfield Gallery in 2009 and Saatchi Gallery in 2010 at which it was seen by nearly half a million visitors.

“With John Wynne's untitled installation of 300 speakers, amplifiers and other impedimenta I have no doubt that I am in the presence of a work of art. I do not pretend to understand it. I only know that, alone in Gallery 10 where the ceiling is exceptionally high, these grey, brown and black bits and pieces of our technological lives combine in an odd grace as they climb the walls in one corner. They recall, and trounce, Rachel Whiteread's failure with white plastic boxes in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern and Anish Kapoor's red-wax-in-the-corner cannon, but Wynne's profound sense of order makes their disorder and hapazardry seem ridiculous.” - Brian Sewell (Evening Standard)

“A plaintive few piano notes drift through the galleries, interspersed with a bit of ambient twang and electronic moan. These emanate from John Wynne's collection of 300 audio speakers, all reclaimed from a recycling plant, that tower in the corner of a double-height gallery and stand about the floor. Somewhere in all this is an old upright piano playing a piano-roll taken from a 1909 operetta. But only some notes get played. It sounds like John Cage or Erik Satie, and never repeats. There's a clever electronic gubbins hidden away somewhere that determines the sounds we hear. Cage would have enjoyed this. The most disconcerting thing, however, is a long length of vacuum-cleaner hose that snakes from a doorway and between the speakers to the pianola. The hose quivers, writhes and slithers about, as a hidden Hoover powers the pianola. It's like sharing the room with an awakening python.” - Adrian Searle (The Guardian)

“Such a gathering of sonic elements seems to seek out points of not only conjunction, but also dislocation and displacement: the work creates a soft balance between order and chaos, organization and its rupture.” -  Brandon Labelle (John Wynne: An Aesthetics of Pressure)

Read more about Installation for 300 speakers, Pianola and vacuum cleaner on John's website:

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