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Insight: ‘Ecstatic Material’ by Beatrice Dillon & Keith Harrison

Text by CLOT Magazine

Cymatics, a term coined by Physicist Hans Jenny in the 60s, refers to phenomena where sound’s vibratory effect is visualised. Usually, the surface of a plate, diaphragm or membrane is vibrated, and regions of maximum and minimum displacement are made visible in a thin coating of particles, paste or liquid. Different patterns emerge in the excitatory medium depending on the geometry of the surface and the driving frequency.

Many visual and sound artists have interpreted these phenomena surprisingly, even combining them with brain wave patterns (see White Lives on Speaker by Yuichi Ito and Dr Yoshimasa Kato, awarded by Ars Electronica). With the effect of sound on the matter in mind, Ecstatic Material was commissioned. A project combining sound and substances through the work of two artists renowned in their respective fields: musician and producer Beatrice Dillon and artist Keith Harrison and commissioned by Jennifer Lucy Allan and Al Cameron for Outlands. 

Beatrice shares that she was invited by Jennifer Lucy Allan (a writer and researcher on sound, music and landscape, with a long and extensive journalistic trajectory on experimental and underground music) to collaborate with artist Keith Harrison on Ecstatic Material after she had seen a music commission Beatrice did for artist Jorinde Voigt at Lisson Gallery last year. 

I’m interested in the relationship between our two apparently different interpretations of the title ‘Ecstatic Material’; Keith’s 3D material forms and my own sound-forms. From our initial conversations, Keith and I felt the title evoked ideas of multiplying, phasing, resonating, repetition, elasticity, colliding etc. For the performances, I’m interested in creating a sense of a physical, tactile presence through sound, one that bumps into and spills over into Keith’s sculptures.

Drawing upon Keith Harrison’s renowned art practice of transforming raw materials and Beatrice Dillon’s rhythmic computer music compositions, expect to see a playdoh pumping sound system and sound synthesis investigating elasticity, interference and reaction. The concept involves boisterous speaker stacks with various ingredients of playdoh bubbling, bouncing, creating patterns and changing form to Beatrice’s clean and warm FM synthesis. The output apparently will change form from one live show to the next.

Keith Harrison defines it a live experiment in which our respective systems are set in motion, bending sound and material. We have an overall structure but have factored in a capacity to react to what’s happening each night and change as the tour progresses and material accumulates.

This live experiment with sound and substance will be conducted through a modular system made up of malleable materials, light and multi-channel audio which is constructed, choreographed and diffused by the artists into the performance space. Beatrice remarks, I’m excited by the messy physicality of this project, exploring different scale and spatial opportunities and responding to the different constraints of each site. Working with Keith, the sense of an experiment without fixed outcomes, evolving across each performance feels celebratory and inspiring.

Ecstatic Material takes place from February 7 to 15 with several dates around the UK.

(Media courtesy  of Outlands)
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