Sounds Like Art

Noise is a big component in some compelling local exhibits

SFCA (South Florida Composers Alliance) is one of the most underrated marvels of Miami. For more than a decade, this organization has presented its annual Subtropics Festival -- at number fifteen this year. Artists like Sonny Rollins, John Cage, Don Pullen, Robert Ashley, Pauline Oliveiros, and other nonconformists, electronica mavericks, and cyber-poets have come -- from all over the country -- to Miami to perform for the love of sound experimentation.

"Sound is and means everything here," says Gustavo Matamoros, the festival's director. "It is a record of human activity and it means history. As long as there are ears, there is sound, but many people don't understand it." A well-known local composer and performer, Matamoros speaks with the knowledge of having dedicated half his life to the study of sound.

Why is all this relevant to art? Because since the Futurist experiments of Luigi Russolo's "Intonorumori," but particularly since Fluxus, sound as such has been considered art. Not "music" but "sound," as in anything audible, including silence. Many artists are not as keen on sound and miss its challenging implications for art. "If you think of sound as an object without mass, then the mechanics for working with sound are equivalent to those working for art," concludes Matamoros.

Art houses fill up the new house of art, #831, courtesy of David Prusko
Art houses fill up the new house of art, #831, courtesy of David Prusko


By Rene Barge and Franklin Einspruch through March 8 305-576-1278.

Helicopter Works by Tall Rickards, Bob Needle, Odalis Valdivieso, and Heather Cantrell through March 16; 305-895-1030. Where: Leonard Tachmes Gallery, 817 NE 125th St, North Miami

Suspended Houses By David Prusko through February 28; 305-892-6331 Where: #831 art, 831 NE 123rd St, North Miami

Dorsch Gallery, 151 NW 24th St;

So we checked out William Tells of Rights, Matamoros's installation, next to the main entrance of the organization's new home, the Sound Arts Workshop (SAW). A spoken text comes out of a speaker while a snare rolls an rrrrrrr sound at two-second intervals. Nothing touches the drum's skin. Instead a second speaker is placed underneath the drums shouting the word "rights" -- as if pronounced by a German native -- sending vibrations that make the snare roll. Next is a little speaker emitting whispered discourse. It's Matamoros's voice reading from his own poetry, like a Buddhist mantra: "Defending their right to protest, demanded the right treatment ... didn't get the right coverage ... do it right ... downright simple, either right or wrong ... embrace the right idea... far from right, far right ..." It goes on and on, with voice and roll in perfect unison.

The piece is about the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, with Matamoros's own puns: "Bill" is short for "William." William Tell is also a fourteenth-century Swiss hero standing against power. Whether we refer to the patriot, a verb, Schiller's play, or Rossini's opera, Matamoros gets his point across: Sound can make us think.

At Dorsch Gallery, Rene Barge's "Tinte y Textura" further combines sound and painting. Within a huge room, Barge smartly mixes a merely audible high frequency -- coming out of two speakers -- with a fluorescent bluish light refracting upon a series of minimalist pattern-paintings. Barge's environment is conducive to a kind of serene aesthetic absorption.

Also at Dorsch Franklin Einspruch opened "Presence," a show of big- and small-format paintings. The small paintings are oils, the big ones are acrylics; while the little ones are delicate and realized with deliberate touches of spatula, the big ones are laden with thick impasto, in a kind of frantic execution. In a sense "Presence" is a contradiction in projects. The double duty forces me to think and judge different things, intentions, and outcomes in the same space.

I prefer Einspruch's small works because they alter the conventional -- the female nude, domesticity, and the portrait -- in a personal way. Borderline Expressionistic in the sinuous treatment of form, but also somewhat Impressionistic in the choice of subject matter, Einspruch's apt spatula turns the surface into a busy window of lattices through which to see these subjects' private lives. In the portraits and some interiors, he makes a careful selection of color shades and strokes. They are elegant, simple, and cogent.

The big acrylics lack these essentials. They look like failed augmentations of the small work, demanding a different physical interaction altogether, perhaps using Einspruch's own hands and arms. Without favoring a particular medium -- spatula, hands, or brush -- I don't see a gain in spontaneity or mystery in these huge pieces, even in spite of their obvious thickness.

On the other side of town as part of NoMI Gallery Walk, Tall Rickards unveiled "Helicopter," an energizing show of artists from Miami and Los Angeles, at Leonard Tachmes Gallery. A thematic dealing with film and its reception, the parts contributed to a whole: disparate, cool, and loud.

First the teasing noise of Bob Needle, coming from behind the back wall. Needle is to Miami electronica what Pierre Schaffer was to musique concrete. He plays an uninterrupted range from delicate, filtered stream noise (sounding like a water hose sprayed on a mike) to denser metallic textures with beats in them. Needle's grooves go well with Odalis Valdivieso's Intersection, a black-and-white piece showing a "go" arrow sign next to a furnished interior. As usual Valdivieso's manufacture is clean and sleek, but in a soft, understated manner. See how intersecting lines meet in a curlicue, oval way, as in a child doodling. Her overlapping of silhouettes is definitely eye-catching.

I dug Heather Cantrell's bluish snapshots that communicate a sense of odd detachment. Her eye cracks into Pop derision at the sight of a proper Udo Kier (infamous for gory roles in Paul Morrissey's films) dressed in black with pomaded hair, in the company of a black dog.

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