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Essay for BE#22 Magazine

Leena Crasemann

Modulated Everyday Sounds

On the sound sculptures of Justin Boyd (USA)

February 2015

Sounds of extremely different kinds surround us daily, and the ear is probably the sensory organ that reacts most sensitively to external influences: what is heard penetrates the body at diverse frequencies and is filtered, probed, and stored. At the moment of hearing, whether we want it or not, the noises of the outside world impact on the inside of the body. These dimensions of acoustic experience are made concrete in works by Justin Boyd, in which auditive compositions are combined with sculptural objects, film projections and collaged found objects to create installations perceived by several senses at once. Boyd has been interested in the changeability of recorded sound since the mid 1990s, and his path to Sound Art led via work as a DJ. He captures the ephemeral sounds of his environment with various technical devices and then filters, edits, modulates and distorts them: the sound of bells from clock-towers, the twittering of sparrows, the rattle of trains; here, the American landscape often acts as a thematic focal point of his works. Days and Days (2012), for example, is conceived as subtle homage to the Texan San Antonio River: in eleven small-format, illuminated boxes with peepholes, he arranged found items from the river ‒ such as scraps of plastic or lumps of clay ‒ into assemblages, and combines these with video projections. Recorded sound frequencies form a dissonant backdrop of sound. The acoustically underlaid mini-dioramas, in which time and space are concentrated while the actual river flows on continually, conjure the complicated significances of this waterway – as a natural biotope, life-supporting cultural asset, and economic transport system. Vibrational 1 (2013) is also an ingenious interplay of found object and sound collage. A rusting canister hangs on a string equipped with a small bell; from the battered objet trouvé we hear the slow, deep peal of bells – recorded from French 17th century bells –, which is amplified simply by the hollow tin container and gradually overridden by the high-pitched twitter of sparrows. The noises sound familiar, but their counter-factual distortion in combination with the installative display shifts the relations of what we hear and what we see. Adorno already wrote of New Music that it demanded effort to listen to it adequately, to knock off the varnish of our established patterns of response. In a similar way, sound sculptures by Justin Boyd challenge our perception at the moment of aesthetic experience and demand sensitive observation and listening.