Creating the Visible from the Audible by Fish Griwkowsky

FEBRUARY 7, 2013



Gary James Joynes – Topographic Sound

Thing is, you really can’t photograph sound.

But seeking a path to fusing sound and visual, Edmonton artist Gary James Joynes encountered the work of Hans Jenny, a Swiss scientist who coined the term cymatics – the study of wave phenomena.

“It blew my mind,” says Joynes, as he describes how he first reacted to a film about Jenny’s work, Bringing Matter to Life, which looks like the opening credits to old Doctor Who episodes. “I’d been trying to connect sound and visual for longer than 10 years. This idea I could have this way of displaying them, that they’re one and the same, literally there in nature, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was obsessed.”

Fast-forward four years to Joynes’ show, Topographic Sound, at conceptual commercial gallery dc3 Art Projects, following performances and exhibitions in New York, London and Madrid.

A shifting, three-toned sonar hum you might hear in an institutional doorway late at night sounds in the gallery’s first room.

On the walls are three square photographs taken from above of Joynes’ sound experiments, where he blasted directed sound at high decibels, from below, at metal plates covered in sand. Through extensive experimentation and the violent death of 12 speakers, Joynes discovered geometric designs that various frequencies of pure noise would form – sand circles, intricate mandalas and mind-blowing flowers. He began to be able to control them, even draw with the grains, in real time. It’s one of the most innovative examples of markmaking the city, which has used everything from beet juice to elephants, has ever seen – never mind heard.

“I really wanted to be able to draw, and be really precise about watching lines and symmetry. It’s definitely playful. There’s this idea of the science you have to control, but once I get all that stuff figured out it’s like, ‘Now what can we do?’ ”

Like everything he does, this is only the beginning. The shifting of the three tones mentioned earlier are another story, first heard by the public in a Latitude 53 show which matched audible wavelengths with the patterns they created in enlargements we see again here. But these sounds, with which Joynes ended his live-edited video performance at the Art Gallery of Alberta’s Biennial, have more work to do.

Moving forward, 46-year-old Joynes turned the trio of ringing sounds in on themselves, “so the tones are actually having this conversation, and all the modulation is all random, depending on what proximity sensors are opening and closing the other ones.”

You can ask Joynes, a.k.a. Clinker, to explain his circuits and modulations at the show Thursday night – it would make Mr. Spock raise an eyebrow. “I sort of see them as singing together, in a sense. I was curious if I turned them in on each other if they’d actually open and close each other, and they did.”

Even this isn’t the end of the story. “The soundwaves migrated from the AGA performance, metaphorically, and will sit and decay over the 100 days of the Biennial,” the artist explains. Oh, and he’s also recording it, the entire 100 days, over a terabyte of information.

And this is just the appetizer. The main gallery is conceptually simpler and more traditionally visual-based, building on Joynes’ directed-sound, sand-on-plate experiments. Shot at low angles with micro lenses, Joynes photographed the striking geographical fallout of his directed tones. Enormous, the resulting enlargements of areas shorter than a finger come across as seascapes of an indeterminate scale, somewhere outside the age of man. Though still, they’re full of movement, the sand grains having etched trails into the metal. That’s the main course. For dessert, in an area black-curtained, projections of his images on an actual dune of sand. And on March 7, Joynes will repeat his live cinema AGA performance, Peregrination, bringing it all home.

“I like the idea of setting a system or machine in motion and then being an observer,” notes the sound artist, nodding. “I’m just the catalyst.”