Assistant Professor, Visual Art Department, Brown University (Providence, RI)
I work in a variety of media and formats including sound installation, video, performance, and sculpture. The pieces developed in all these mediums use sound as a primary material and method of orientation. From this basis, projects are developed that incorporate complex systems of motion and sound which have the aim of being both visually and aurally absorbing over long periods of time. Two recent pieces that contain this approach are discussed here.
Albedo Prospect (2012) is a three-channel video installation that explores the polar imaginary. Source material for the project was gathered in the Svalbard archipelago on the sea and in remote locations around the islands. Part of the inspiration for the work came from accounts of radio broadcasts made in 1931 by the writer Arthur Koestler from a German airship flight into the high arctic. These broadcasts were noted for their entrancing accounts of the voyage in which Koestler found many ways to describe the largely invariant scenes of ice and snow. At the time wireless dispatches from remote locations were still unusual, and it is likely that a good part of the audience enthusiasm for the reports derived from this novelty. In looking at the space of the arctic in this piece, I wanted to retain much of the space for imagination that Koestler’s wireless reports provided. To this end, slow panning shots – some up to forty-five minutes in length – are employed, along with a multi-channel sound score that allows time for very gradual development of the audio scenes. This strategy permits a place for contemplation and wonder to emerge and remain over long periods of viewing and listening.
The title, Albedo Prospect, incorporates several meanings. “Albedo” is the fraction of sunlight that is reflected from any surface it hits. Polar regions have the world’s highest albedo measurements due to their concentrations of snow and ice; most heat and light is reflected away. “Prospect” refers to the act of surveying, searching, and examining, as well as to the mental image of thing which is sought; its usage often conflates one or more of these things together. Here the title blends the concepts of both a view and a search with several variants on the idea of reflection: the qualities of light scatter in the polar regions, the ways that conditions in these geographies are described and conveyed, and the personal experience of being in the place of the ice, of inhabiting the space of those narratives.
Standing Wave (2012) is a kinetic sound installation made up of a set of large objects that hold speakers aloft on a set of tall, motorized poles that arc and sway. The sounds heard from the objects are generated by their movements: contact microphones placed near the base of each object pick up its vibrations and these signals are run through a set of filters in a Max/MSP patch before being sent to the speaker atop the object. As above, the work is intended to be absorbed in an extended manner, with slow changes between modes of movement and gradual evolution of the sonic material.
The piece refers to two sets of ideas. The first is the history and practice found in the kinetic artwork of artists such as Len Lye (New Zealand, 1901-1980), Naum Gabo (Russia, 1890-1977), and Rolf Langebartels (Germany, 1941-). This is work in which physical motion and sculptural form are the core materials that build a vocabulary of meaning. The second group of concepts is based around the physics of the standing wave phenomena: the modes of vibration associated with resonance in extended objects like strings and air columns in which wave movements through gaseous, liquid, or solid material appear to be stationary. In this case, motion and apparent stasis are tightly bound together, making at once a tangible physical phenomenon and a rich area for artistic exploration.
Ed Osborn is a sound and media who has presented his work worldwide. He is on the faculty of the Visual Art Department at Brown University.