“Sound is the opposite of an art which privileges the eye,” writes the critic and designer Edwin Heathcoate. “It is about filling a space with its presence and surrounding our body, entering into our heads physically as well as metaphorically.”
Haroon Mirza, 'Adam, Eve and a UFO', 2013. Active speakers. UFO circuit, cables. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery.
Haroon Mirza’s new exhibition of sound-art installations at London’s Lisson Gallery challenges this preconception, with an examination of how audio’s intrinsic qualities ally with our perceptions of space.
Haroon Mirza, 'Adam, Eve and a UFO' (detail), 2013. Active speakers. UFO circuit, cables. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery. Upstairs the installation Adam, Eve, others and a UFO positions eight different speakers in a circle. A wire attached to each speaker shoots up to the ceiling, before moving across the ceiling towards a central point and coming down to an audio source set on the floor: a small LED-bordered computer board that sits, like a futuristic relic, on the top of a large glass vessel. As the board orchestrates the 808-type thuds and synthesizer-style tones emitted from the speakers, we are made aware of the distance the electric currents flow around the room, as well as the alchemy by which physical objects produce non-physical sonics.
That physicality is emphasised again by an array of turntables downstairs as part of the installation Sitting in a Chamber. Mirza choreographs each turntable to play in turn, but their styluses encounter plastic strips, coins and the like atop the vinyl, a recipe for odd non-musical sounds.
Haroon Mirza, Installation view of 'Sitting in a Chamber', 2013. Turntables, amps, speakers vinyl records, hand made records, theremin, lights bulb, wood, hifi stand, goose neck mic stand, single channel video, Arduino. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery.
And in perhaps the most memorable work in the show, the way sound relates to our sensation of light becomes part of the subject matter. One walks into a bright-white chamber lit by a vertical strip of LEDs. But as the LEDs start to die, and the room darkens to pitch black, a sudden whoosh like the sound of a waterfall is loud in one’s ear. The sound is actually water: it is the broadcast of some machinations outside the chamber, where water is periodically falling into a plastic bin. This audio is augmented by that of the movements of ants inside a small glass container within the chamber.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine