Sound Art: An Interesting & Creative Take On Musical Performances



Larnie and Bodil Fox in front of Birdhouse

Michael Zelner

 

Some artists are intrigued by colors, textures and shapes. Larnie and Bodil Fox also appreciate similar qualities of sound.

Lines from their roof are connected to a mixing board inside Larnie’s backyard studio—Bodil has her own, next to his. But Larnie’s has a sofa where people can sit and listen to the sounds the wind makes as it blows past the rooftop strings. “It’s a wind harp,” Larnie explains.

The Foxes once led the Crank Ensemble, a band of players who played improvised concerts on unusual instruments that produced sounds by turning cranks, as the band’s name implied. But some members got busy, having children and moving on. The Foxes had no problem with the pare-down. They formed Flex, with Chris Miller and Lena Strayhorn, a new and smaller ensemble with more structure. They play composed pieces with actual beginnings, middles and ends.

Concerts are “sonic performance on sculptural things,” and the sounds come from “low-tech handmade instruments” and bamboo constructs. Sometimes special lighting is incorporated, since band members also are visual artists.

The Foxes have been busy, too. Even though Larnie no longer directs Arts Benicia, he still is associated with the gallery. He and Bodil were artists-in-residence at the Montalvo Arts Center, something that gave the couple a new experience—sharing a studio. At times, said Bodil, they had to establish “here is the line.”

Micahel Zelner

Birdhouse, by Larnie Fox

 

“We spent a lot of time figuring out how to collaborate,” Larnie said. But the co-residency worked out, as the two artists helped each other with their individual projects. One piece was part of Drop by Drop: A Brief History of Benicia Water Through the Eyes of its Artists, at the Benicia Historical Museum. Amid photographs and paintings stood Clepsydra, a bamboo and copper installation piece based on an ancient water clock.

Using a water pump, the device broadcast sounds of water. Bodil made the sculpted copper vessels, each making a distinctive sound. For a year and a half, Clepsydra was on display, adding sound as well as three-dimensional beauty to the exhibit.

A celestial event inspired a performance event with other artists at Canessa Gallery in San Francisco. Larnie made the instruments. Their sounds were enhanced through a mixing board and amplifiers. “It was based on our trip to Oregon to see the total eclipse,” Fox said. He had seen partial eclipses before. The experience of a total eclipse, seeing a shadow approaching from distant hills, was unprecedented and intense. “The darkness is rushing at you,” Bodil said. “That was one thing I was not prepared for. Or the cold.” “It felt profoundly wrong,” Larnie said. Some of their companions began screaming or sobbing.

Michael Zelner

Concrete Bocce Ball, by Bodil Fox

 

The couple tapped into that experience for the presentation. Wheels with tiny projections strike strings. Some sounds are soft and rhythmic, like heart beats. Some are harsh and unsettling. Still others hint at conventional stringed instruments or bells. “We carefully scored it,” Larnie said. A documentary is available online HERE.

They also have performed Circumambulation at the RE:Sound event on Mare Island. Their auditory artistry has made the couple more aware of soundscapes around them. On a trip to Belize, they planted a recorder in a remote area, returning later to find the recorder had captured aural treasures.

Good sounds are everywhere and from everything—industrial noise to the laughter of children when they leave a classroom to play, to the sonic windmill made at Montalvo and now is incorporated in FLEX performances, they said.

The latest show is Bocce Ball and Other Human Propelled Spheres, curated by Bodil, whose contributions to the show came about almost by accident.  Larnie had acquired a ceramic concrete, but decided it didn’t work for him. He handed the stuff off to Bodil, who has used it to create her open-sided spheres. Bocce Ball and Other Human Propelled Spheres is on exhibit Sept. 18-Oct. 28 at Benicia Public Library, 150 E. L St. Its reception starts at 3:30pm on Sept. 22.

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