For the past few months I have been working in collaboration with Louise Woodcock on performances using sound objects. Hollow plaster balls are played using nails, skin, feed back, bones, beads, pencils and other instruments. The plaster balls are amplified using contact mics, no other sound manipulation is used.
Here is a backlog of some of the performances so far. The first was at Counting Backwards.
The link below is a recording of the sound;
Counting Backwards Performance
A review by The Other Room;
The evening began with Jennifer McDonald and Louise Woodcock. Aside from their performance, which I will talk about in a moment, they were visually brilliant, wearing identically cut dresses, Louise’s blue, Jennifer’s green. Side by side, they looked like panels from a Mondrian painting or a technicolour version of the twins from The Shining. Their performance was centred on two large, white semi-ovoid structures, one held by each woman. These were beautiful objects, like the hatched eggs of the roc, the giant bird from the tales of Marco Polo and Sinbad. These structures were brushed with fingers, scraped with what looked like a bone, drawn on with pencil in a way which suggested automatic or spirit writing and otherwise manipulated until, in a Gustav Metzger style peak of frenzy, they were shattered. The sounds were remarkable, suggesting themselves, shifting, mutating and layering and drifting away before they could be fully identified. I heard the creaking of haunted timbers, the wailing of a Poltergeist, primal simian howls. The fragments were then allowed to fall and this too was beautiful: the tinkle of glass, the slip of skree. The structures were then partially re-assembled with masking tape, held to microphones to create feedback and destroyed again. At the end of the performance, as the two women stood amongst the fragments, the loft-like upstairs space of Fuel became a Francesca Woodman photograph. Then they swept up.
The second performance was for When Artists Take Over, currated by Magnus Quaife at Bury Art Gallery.
Video filmed by Magnus Quaife, our performance is about 6 minutes in.
A review by Matt Dalby;
Jen and Lou’s performance was in many ways similar to the one they did at Counting Backwards in August. However there were several important differences this time which for me helped make this a better performance.
I should describe the performance briefly first. Jen and Lou sat opposite each other on chairs, each with a pair of white eggs next to their chair and a selection of tools for making sounds from the eggs.
The eggs, although most in the space would have had no way of knowing this, were made by inflating large, strong balloons and pouring in an amount of plaster. The balloon is then tied and revolved so the inside is coated until the plaster has begun to solidify. The balloons are then hung until the plaster is completely dry and the balloon can be cut away. I was told that the eggs were not wholly dry, but I think this may have helped give them a less harsh tone. This could of course be bullshit.
Each performer then took up one of their eggs to which a contact mic was attached and began generating what were at first gentle sounds by rubbing the surface. They used their hands but later also the tools, including bones, pencils, a small rubber ball and tiny plastic beads. Additionally there were two vocal mics in fixed positions which were used to generate feedback from the cavities of the eggs when holes were made in them.
Most obviously Jen and Lou seemed more comfortable in what they were doing and more willing to take their time over the performance. As a result they were able to take closer to forty minutes than twenty. This meant there was room for a more varied ebb and flow of dynamics. From near silence to high volume. From slow tempos to faster.
And there seemed to be a greater variety of textures. Or at least the textures seemed to be more differentiated from each other. From gentle to harsher scrapings, through squeaks and groans, to percussive noises, cracks of plaster being broken, and crunching of fragments. There was also feedback, plaster fragments dropped to the floor, whole eggs dropped to the floor, and rumblings from the rubber ball.
The acoustics of the space in which Jen and Lou performed also added a lot of depth to the sounds they were producing, which varied from the musical through the almost animal to completely artificial and/or abrasive.
I found the performance compelling and convincing and I’d love to hear the recording that was made of it. For a second performance as a duo (although Lou has extensive performance experience with Blood Moon, Infinite Birth and elsewhere) it was incredibly assured and confident. If you weren’t there I can only say that I told you so.
Everything about the performance, from the fact that the instruments and the contact mics were handmade, that implements designed for other purposes were used to create sounds, to the unhurried pace of the performance gave a sense that there was a meaning, a purpose (whether visible to the performers or not) in the piece. And that it was simultaneously art and something instantly accessible. Like much of the art I prefer it was utterly transparent. The kind of thing you might well attempt for yourself only to find it harder than you actually thought.
But along with that transparency there is the inscrutability that is found at the same time in a lot of art. While you can see how the effects are being achieved and understand that there is an underlying meaning and structure it is unclear exactly how you should respond or perhaps what it is that you’re experiencing.