Mark Gresham | 02 OCT 2019
Ponce City Market was the site for Flux Projects’ FLUX 2019 this past weekend, an event that brought together a total of nine public art projects to explore the character of the 2.1-million square foot multi-use complex over four days, with a primary focus on installations that involved sonic elements, treating PCM’s architectural and human environment as a kind of “playground of acoustic space.”
Entitled fluxprojects.art/productions/flux-ponce-city-market/ FLUX: Ponce City Market, the overall project was curated by Ben Coleman, a British multi-disciplinary artist residing in Denver, Colorado whose practice encompasses performance, sonic art, music, and mixed-media installation projects.
EarRelevant visited Ponce City Market on Thursday, the opening night of FLUX 2019, to see what was up. Here are some observations about a few of the individual projects examined.
Turbulence, by Otherpole (programmer/producer Kai Riedl and composer Eric Marty), proved an excellent example of “spatialized sound,” which creates the perceptive illusion of sounds and their source locations moving around within a given space. It’s a concept which had its basic origins in stereophonic audio and has become familiar in theatrical “surround sound,” but is implemented in installations like Turbulence on a much more sophisticated level.
Turbulence consisted of a large array of Meyer Sound speakers lined up inside the entire length of The Shed, along the Atlanta Beltline. Through these, 17 discrete audio channels were used to spatialize sound along the Shed’s length, projecting out into the Beltline environment it faces. Turbulence is only one specific realization of what Otherpole’s custom-built computerized spatialization system is capable. As described by Marty, it “allows any number of loudspeakers to be placed in arbitrary positions, and any number of virtual sound sources to move anywhere within or outside of the space delimited by the speakers. The interface can spatialize hundreds of sounds independently, [which] can be controlled algorithmically, or performed live using a touch interface.”
Turbulence itself is site-specific, meant only for The Shed and nowhere else. Riedl and Marty layered historical audio, including a realistically spatialized freight train, field recordings from nearby urban and natural environments, audio collected during the run of the installation itself, and simulated “flocks” of natural, human and industrial sounds. In addition, live performances by invited ensembles took place within the installation — Atlanta’s own Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel (Scott Burland and Frank Schultz) participated on Thursday evening at 6pm. That allowed for improvisatory dialog and between their live music and the guided algorithmic environment of Turbulence.
Stairwell H is a service stairwell that ascends 12 floors from Ponce City Market’s lowest level floor to the top of the building. Artist Mark Wentzel and sound designer Andrew Lackey created Escalier Forte (“loud staircase”) specifically for this stairwell, installing the enormous five-stringed acoustic instrument which spans 10 stories of the 175-foot high, uninterrupted vertical space.
The face and back of the large sound box, or resonator, at the bottom of the instrument is made of tip grade Baltic birch plywood, chosen for its natural resonance properties, with sides made of hickory plywood. The five strings are lightweight nylon “paracord” a general purpose utility cord that was originally developed for use as parachute suspension lines. The strings are secured inside the resonator just below a set of wooden bridges upon which the strings rest – in the manner of a bridge on a violin or a guitar, but separate bridges for each string because of the amount of tension involved.
Each of the different colored strings is the same diameter and density, as well as length, so tuning is achieved by amount of tension alone. The pitches produced by the full-length strings were considerably sub-sonic in frequency, well below audible range, but you could physically feel the frequency in the movement of the air in the resonator, even if only slightly, or more convincingly by gently touching the string near the bridge after plucking it – a frequency easily discernible as being in the range of beats per minute, rather than seconds. Traveling waves could also be observed visually in the motion of the strings, looking up the stairwell to their other ends at the ninth floor. A sound within the lower audible range could be achieved by standing on the staircase above the resonator, stopping the string with one hand while plucking below that point with the other.
Tubes (Well) & Tubes (Echo) are a pair of installations with bright red-orange visual elements created of large plastic plumbing tubes and storage barrels, Unexpected Collective (Rebecca M. K. Makus, Elly Jessop Nattinger, and Peter A. Torpey). Tubes (Well) is the larger installation, principally a large tube made of what appeared to be 55-gallon fiber drums ascending from the floor of the Food Court to a crosswalk on the next level. Consider it a kind of hybrid between a wishing well and a 1950s toy known as the Magic 8-Ball. Like a wishing well, the visitor is encouraged to throw wooden nickels from a bucket into the top of the “well,” tripping a motion detector somewhere along the fall. What the visitor gets is a randomized verbal audio response, reminiscent of the Magic 8-Ball’s limited random answers shown when shaken and turned upside down.
Tubes (Echo) was the smaller but more visually interesting of the two, a modest assemblage of pipes poised above the ground which (with an accompanying construction sign emblazoned with the semi-ominous words, “Press. Confess. Release.”) invited direct physical and sonic input from the visitor: Press and hold button at the lower end of the device and speak into the tube while doing so. The result was (as with its sibling Well) a randomized response, but this time with the visitor’s spoken words added at the end, repeatedly echoing in diminishing volume while enhanced by electronic reverb. Both Tubes were rather simplistic in concept but, like many such things, fun in the moment.
There were five other installations shown on a somewhat confusing map printed printed on a card. I had to resort to getting friendly human directions to find some of them.
Unfortunately, curator Ben Coleman’s Public Address Takeover had not yet been installed by the end of Thursday evening, and I was unable to return on a subsequent day to observe it. We did find Jane Foley’s Silent Like a Waterfall, which involved a submersible microphone attached to a flotation balloon, place inside a large glass bowl of moving water, as part of what was overall a landscaping fountain that sprayed water against mirrors as well as into the aforementioned glass bowl. Other installations in the exhibit included Teleportal by Talecia Tucker, Tricia Hershey’s A Resting Place, and another stairwell audio installation, Four Part Canon, by Eli Keszler.