Presented by ECUAD’s Basically Good Media Lab, Things Resounding Things was an installation by Vancouver sound artist and percussionist John Brennan, to explore the “agency and memory of musical instruments and other sounding objects.” Occupying ECUAD’s Integrated Motion Studio for three days, the installation consisted of a variety of acoustic instruments placed throughout the space — cymbals hung from the ceiling, an oil drum outfitted with the neck, strings and bridge of an upright bass sat in the corner and the innards of an upright piano occupied the centre of the room. On each of these sounding objects, Brennan installed resonators, pickups or solenoids, from which a maze of wires ran to a central computer that controlled them all. After the “performance,” Brennan explained that he had recorded the sounds of each object beforehand, then played those recordings through the respective instruments. Each object resonated with it’s own sound — almost, in my mind, an equivalent to lip-syncing for the objects.
Over the course of the twenty-five minute experience, sounds emerged from each of the instruments slowly and with intention. Each time a new instrument sounded, it was given ample sonic space to draw in the listeners, resonate with itself and allow the audience to get in, get close and experience the sound thoroughly. Only after what seemed like ten to fifteen minutes did the sounds of each instrument begin to overlap, to play overtop and with each other. The room rattled, buzzed and droned with the symphony of instruments all resonating with themselves and each other.
Everything about the installation invited exploration and interaction: the physical layout of the room, with ample space around each sounding object welcomed movement; the unpredictability of every noises’ entrance and departure kept the audience’s attention constantly in flux; the incongruity between acoustic instruments making sound and the lack of any apparent source of that sound induced people to try to discover how it all worked.
While I was in the room, there was only one person who seemed to be fully engaged in the installation. Their head snapped around to locate the newest hiss and crackle to emerge across the room. They moved to stand directly beneath the shimmering cymbal overhead, showering themselves in a new sonic world. Bringing their face within millimetres of resonators, vibrating strings or rumbling drum skins, they explored each new sound with the curiosity the installation was designed to instil. They strove not only, it seemed, to discover how it worked, but how it felt.
For the rest of us — there were ten or so — our participation was active in only the barest sense of the word. We moved through the space, but tentatively, with slow and restrained steps, cautious and calculated in our movements. I did make an effort to be unfiltered in my response to the installation, to be unrestrained in my exploration of the sound and space, but the mood of the room was a hard thing to shake. In addition to the dark, almost clinical feel of the space, the stillness of the other feet in the room effectively grounded my own.