For the past two decades, prolific sound sculptor Liz Phillips has cultivated a vast array of interactive pieces that merge a sense of touch, sight, and sound. 2004’s Waterfall is one such sculpture that does just that. Originally exhibited at the Frederieke Gallery in NYC and currently residing in Frederieke Taylor’s personal collection, Waterfall is a slab of pure copper supported by two gray, slate tiles. The work is much more than a simple construction of inert rock. A viewer of the piece can make this rock sing a very lusciously aquatic song.
“Through capacitance fields and infrared sensors that track movement, the copper responds to the presence of its audience” Rabinowitz, Paula (2004), The Sounds of Sculpture
As a viewer moves alongside the human-scale hunk of copper, infrared sensors track movements and injects the room with sampled sounds correspondent to said tracked movements. The sounds Phillips gathered were all recorded alongside the banks of various rivers in New York. Liz Phillips managed to glean a spectrum of noise to sample... the songs of both land and water fowl as well as splashes, gurgles, and drips of the currents all flow harmoniously into an interactive soundtrack. This soundtrack is projected to the listeners from the clean cut and symmetrical slate tiles. These handcrafted stone speakers, originally designed to keep rain out of homes, ironically fills the space with sounds of overflowing water. Unlike the man-made and even tiles, the copper is roughly warped and organically forged. Phillips managed to snag some of the last copper from the most recent Ice Age, found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Both time and water are the sculptors of the copper’s roughly abstracted form. The surface of the metal wears its age proudly. The contours and spirals of the copper’s shape are formed by the element whose sounds it projects.
Liz Phillips has spent years creating large-scale interactive sound installations and environments. Knowing that her work was going to be presented at the famously intimate Frederieke Taylor Gallery, Phillips created Waterfall in hopes to facilitate the same level of interactivity of sonic art with a more domestic vibe. Her piece as well as the other work presented simultaneously at the gallery , In The Path of Least Resistance, are riffs on domestic living and furnishings. Waterfall is a deeper and different look at wallpaper.
“Human-scale, the piece suggests how permeable walls are as they let in or block sounds from within and without” Rabinowitz, Paula (2004), The Sounds of Sculpture.
The piece explores the domestic setting, the privacy that is truly the essence of the comforts of home. The privacy comes with another point of interest, being the sense of entrapment within domestic life. This notion is partially inspired by the writings of feminist novelist and economist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A century ago Gilman penned the tale of a middle-class housewife’s collapse into insanity, her hallucinations included watching figures crawl out of the yellow wallpaper of her depleted Victorian home to slink outside into the surrounding nature. Waterfall is an extension of the entrapment-rooted hallucinations, as the copper gives the wall an interactive reach towards the body and the sounds emitted from the tile brings nature to the domesticated wallscape of the modernist gallery. In giving these average aspects of the household a twisted perspective, it begs the viewer to look at the objects we surround ourselves with as a mirror within. That what makes up our domestic lives is indicative of deeper aspects of ourselves as well as magnifies said aspects of identity.
“They also demand that we really see objects for what they are—vibrating amplifiers of ourselves” Rabinowitz, Paula (2004), The Sounds of Sculpture.
Phillip’s work with interactive soundscapes is extensive but one piece in particular, Echo Evolution, bears striking similarities to that of Waterfall. Phillip’s 1999 piece utilizes custom designed neon tubes as well as ultrasonic rangefinders. Said rangefinders pick up audience position and movements, igniting the neon tubes with flowing colors in tune with the motion of the audience. The same tracking mechanisms morph and locate sound samples based on the movements of the viewers. These samples are created by spinning objects and signal processings. Click here to view Echo Evolution! While both the spaces and sounds of each installation are incredibly different, the utilization of a viewer’s place in the space is particularly indicative of Phillip’s particular aesthetic. Liz Phillips is triumphant in the immersive qualities of creating sonic environments. Both Echo Evolution and Waterfall invite audiences to share in the production of these environments, the interactivity they share is vital in the understanding of Phillips’s sonic artworks as they are the common link throughout her portfolio.
Another work that draws comparison to Waterfall was an installation at this year’s Moogfest, a festival that conglomerates technology, art, and music. This installation allowed viewers to remix one of the musical acts at the festival. The track that was available for remixing was Grimes’s “Realiti”, a hit off of her most recent album Art Angels. The exhibit was divided into four zones, each corresponding to different aspects of instrumentation for the song. By pushing on the mesh walls of the exhibit, the 20 viewers allowed in at a time could warp the song to their liking… changing it as they sift through the room. Only the vocals and the driving bass were left untouched. This piece was a collaboration between Microsoft, Grimes, and Kinect. Kinect cameras tracked participants hand motions against the wall to react with different sounds in the song.
While Waterfall isn’t a bridge between musician and audience, the two share many driving characteristics. They both invite lovers of the arts to play with sound using the walls they are surrounded by as the medium to do so. Both works put the sonic art in the hands of the viewers (listeners), giving them control of the experience. For a quick video on the Grimes exhibit at Moogfest, click here!
Click here for a video of Waterfall live in action!