Christian Marclay at LACMA

Sound Stories
Installation photograph featuring The Organ (2018), as seen in Christian Marclay: Sound Stories, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 25–October 14, 2019, art © Christian Marclay, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Christian Marclay: Sound Stories at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
through October 14

Written by David S. Rubin
Over the past four decades, Christian Marclay has proven himself to be a master composer of visual and audio compositions made from the raw materials of popular consumer media. Beginning with early works such as Recycled Records (1980-84), vinyl record collages made from cut-up and reassembled record parts that Marclay played in performance on vintage record players, he has continued to repurpose found media images or sounds to create highly innovative experiences in seeing and/or listening. His most ambitious project to date is The Clock (2010, Collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art), a video projection constructed by weaving together 24 hours of film and television images of time-telling devices that are screened in sync with real time, such that the time seen in each projected image corresponds to the actual time it is shown.

After winning the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion Award for The Clock, Marclay was approached by Snap, Inc. (the makers of Snapchat) about collaborating to produce new work using the firm’s smartphone technology. The result of the partnership is Sound Stories, a grouping of five immersive audiovisual installations made using “snaps,” 10-second videos of everyday life that were recorded by Snapchat users and uploaded to the app’s public domain (billions are produced daily). Presented sequentially, the five installations provide viewers with diverse audiovisual experiences that range from being carefully constructed and reverential to playfully disjointed and open-ended.

Although Snapchat is primarily a visual medium, Marclay was more interested in the sounds of each snap than in the imagery. Nevertheless, the visuals associated with the sounds of the first installation, All Together, can be mesmerizing to watch while we listen. Presented across ten smartphones arranged in a semicircle, over four-hundred snaps flash by us in the form of swiftly morphing mundane images such as a flying airplane, a cup of coffee, and a piano keyboard, accompanied by a soundtrack that sounds like chiming bells. It is as if we have entered a new kind of church for the social media age, where disparate sounds originating from all over the planet are united through harmonious audio.

For the other projects, Snap, Inc. engineers assisted Marclay by algorithmically matching the sound of a snap to a musical pitch. Tinsel Loop, presented on two facing large tablets, turns Snapchat into an instrument that plays Marclay’s 2002 composition Tinsel, with each matched snap functioning as a musical note. In The Organ and Talk to Me/Sing to Me, visitors become participants. In the former, we can play a keyboard that triggers matched notes and images that stream before us in vertical bands on a large screen; in the latter, we can talk or sing into a forest of smartphones, suspended from the ceiling, that collectively echo our voices to create an interactive, continually changing sound narrative.

The final installation, Sound Tracks, is the most cerebral and contemplative, with visual experience forsaken in favor of a fully audio one. With the snaps playing on tablets that are hidden in ceiling-mounted speakers that amplify their sounds, visitors encounter a darkened space to hear a haunting composition created by using Snapchat’s “Turtle Mode” feature to slow down the movements of the snaps. It is an apt finale to an overall composition that moves us through states of exhilaration, playfulness, and ethereality.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90036


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