San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): Art Installations

In addition to the main concerts, this year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival featured a concurrent gallery exhibition. It took place at Million Fishes in the Mission District of San Francisco, and featured a variety of works that combined sound and visuals. I had the opportunity to visit the gallery on the Saturday of the festival, just before that night’s concert.

I have experienced Matthew Goodheart’s work with transducer-excited cymbals a few times now, most notably in his solo performance at the Outsound Music Summit. Here, he arranged them around the front room over the gallery to create an immersive installation called …silence through things secret….


The installation dominated the main room both visually and aurally, with the late-afternoon sun reflecting off the cymbals, and a variety of sounds echoing around the room. Computer-generated sounds were created from analysis of the resonances of each cymbal and recordings of each instrument played in a variety of manners. The sounds were then used to excite the cymbals via small transducers.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Because the sound from the cymbals is acoustic, the only notion one has of electronics at work is the fact that they are standing on their own without anyone there to play them. But there is nonetheless something otherwordly about the visuals and sounds of the unattended cymbals. Goodheart’s piece was part of a larger project he has developed in conjunction withe Center foew New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at UC Berkeley.

Giant Leap, the result of collaboration by Floor van de Velde and Elaine Buckholtz, paid tribute to the late Neil Armstrong and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. The audio-and-visual work combined an anaglyph image of the moon with a sound score realized using modified rotary telephones.

The moon landing and the sounds associated with that achievement are still quite fresh, but the use of rotary telephones reminds us just how long ago this achievement took place. I consider rotary phones a particularly endangered technology in that it bears so little resemblance to contemporary phones in both form and function.

Dan Good presented two small kinetic sound sculptures. Artificial Lung combined standard speaker drivers in a novel way. They were pressed against one another a driven with a 1Hz sine wave. While the signal is far below the range of human hearing, the pressure on the speakers was visible and created the illusion of a breathing organism.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

In, Good’s sculpture Petri Dish, small glass spheres are pulled up and down in a glass bowl and tubes. The sound of the glass is subtle, but the visual is quite striking, especially when it is moving (the photograph does not really capture this aspect.)

Both of Good’s sculptures draw upon simple shapes, lines and processes to create something conceptually compact and understandable. As such, they play to the strengths of modernism – something refreshing to see in a contemporary setting,

SFEMF has featured installations before, usually as fixtures in the lobby during concerts. I thought separating it out into a gallery presentation worked well and allowed the pieces the chance to be seen outside the shadow of the live performances and milling crowds. I hope they do this again next year.

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2 Responses to “San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): Art Installations”

  1. Tillie and Georgia Says:

    That sounds like a really fun event to attend!!
    It is an art form I am not familiar with.
    I enjoy reading about all the neat things you see and write about :)

  2. Kitty Says:

    Interesting instruments. I’d like to bang on those cymbals a couple of times. :)