Is sound an element of design right alongside biggies like line, color, shape and texture? Teachers today are faced with the unseemly job of breaking outside “the” seven elements of design many of us grew up with, and now must educate students about a range of additional elements one really can’t skirt if you’re teaching with contemporary art.
Sound as an element of design was front and center at MASS MoCA this weekend as Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival hit North Adams, MA, and basically took over the town. What was impressive, along with the variety of bands featured, was the way sound created unique experiences as and with art throughout the museum, rather than serve as a backdrop to objects. Nels Cline’s installation on the second floor allowed visitors to sit and manipulate over a dozen electronic effects boxes and create waves of distortion, vibration, pulsation and other ations I won’t even mention here. I found myself creating a whole concert with a child across from me that couldn’t have been more than eight years old. We had a ball! But the placement of this installation next to (underneath) Tobias Putrih’s Re-projection: Hoosac made the dialogue between these works even more beautiful. The changes in volume, rhythm, and overall noise allowed for experiencing Putrih’s wall-to-wall sculpture in different aural settings depending on when you came through the gallery (for the purists at the festival, the installation was only turned on for 30-minute increments on the half hour, rather than having it running full time… and you needed a breather if you were making a lot of that kind of music).
Artists who use sound as a primary element such as Bruce Nauman and Christian Marclay allow us to consider it as an element of design that helps get an idea or experience across. Sometimes it is supported by other elements such as color or texture and sometimes it stands on its own. Becoming familiar with art and artists using sound in a wide range of settings has become part of what art educators need to consider when teaching about art today.
If you weren’t able to attend the festival this past weekend, I really must recommend you check out many of the acts featured that played the smaller venues and courtyards, including: The Books (whom I may have stopping in for an interview soon), On Fillmore, The Baseball Project, Deep Blue Organ Trio, and the Nels Cline Singers.