Last Call: "Headphones" at The Front

It’s the last weekend to catch “Headphones: Listen Up!,” curated by Valerie Brodar, at The Front. Wesley Stokes weighs in.

Original Edison tin foil phonograph. Photo courtesy the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site.

The Front's “Headphones: Listen Up!” is a carefully thought-out audio exhibition that brings together some of the greatest voices that have fallen by the wayside in years gone by. Except for several posters on the wall that reference Dadaist performances, it is a show with few visual components, rather focusing on the complex nature of aural experience.

Curated by Valerie Brodar, an Associate Professor of Media Arts at the University of Colorado, the exhibit is comprised mostly of experimental audio artists of the 1970s. Nevertheless, the spotlight oscillates from early pioneers including Thomas Edison and Berlin Dadaist, Kurt Schwitters, to New Orleans-based sound artists like Phlippe Landry. In The Original Jazz Loop, 2011, Landry’s raw session features the intact sounds of tapes changing and clicking switches interspersed with ragtime music that morphs into a delayed mournful voice, a woman's sexual moaning, and is mixed with what sounds like a clown’s horn. The absurdity of this somehow makes sense when placed next to Thomas Edison reading Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Upon entering the gallery, minimal synth music by David Webber mingles with the street noises of St. Claude that find their way into the composition, blending so seamlessly as to synchronize into fluid ambiance. Across the room Lynn Book's works are far less tame and layered with voice-as-music sounds that are reminiscent of the deep bellowing of Diamanda Galás or the eeriness of The Residents. In blink, 2003, Book speaks of war and symbolism in nationality, but should the progression of voices looping into operatic static and grandiose political poetry lose some visitors, they will surely be brought back by Michael Winter's Leptons. A nice bookend to Webber's space synths, Winter's work embodies a more accessible post-rock sound not too distant from the music of early Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, made popular in the early 2000s.

Interestingly, "Headphones: Listen Up!" falls just prior to the sold-out performances for MoMA's Kraftwerk retrospective in April. While New Yorkers will soon gain admittance to an undoubtedly fun event at a large institution, we New Orleanians have our own well-curated, thought-provoking, and intimate exhibition to enjoy right now.

Editor's Note

“Headphones: Listen Up!” on view through March 4, 2012 at The Front, 4100 St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. The exhibition is open Saturday and Sunday, 12–5 pm.