May Gallery & Residency
2839 N. Robertson Street #105
October 11–November 23, 2013
Media artist Thomas Grill recently spent a month in New Orleans at May Gallery, recording the sounds of the surrounding neighborhood. Part of his ongoing series of site-specific sound installations, Grill turned the recordings into a listening experience inside the gallery. The 98 speakers lining the walls don’t all operate in unison. The recordings ebb and flow from different locations, hitting the ear in waves. Bits of human chatter occasionally intrude, but the sounds are mostly mechanical—metal screeches and squeaks, train whistles, and other industrial clamors. While the title, "World Construction, Variation: Empty Vessel," refers to composer Alvin Lucier’s 1997 work Empty Vessels, which used empty bottles to capture sound and amplify resonance, the gallery space itself is the vessel here.
Video projected on three walls creates a horizon line above the speakers. The view from under an overpass, the lush top of a cluster of trees, and graffiti-marked buildings that could easily be found by the neighboring Press Street tracks all serve as a visual backdrop. The entire experience transforms the banal sounds of modernity into something like a symphony. A motorcycle revving its engine, the thump of every car driving on the concrete overpass, these same noises that tend to fade into the background of our daily lives take on a unique harmony in isolation. Leaving the building and walking outside, I was momentarily confused by the cars on the overpass, as if I were still in the gallery. I turned on the radio in my car and the DJ’s voice suddenly sounded foreign to me.