TOPOGRAPHIC SOUND by AGNIESZKA MATEJKO
GALLERIES WEST MAGAZINE
SUMMER ISSUE, 2013
by AGNIESZKA MATEJKO
View at Galleries West Website HERE
Is it possible to see music? What mysterious patterns does music carve into space? Surprisingly, Gary James Joynes (a.k.a. Clinker), an Edmonton-based visual artist and musician, can answer these esoteric questions with precision and lustrous beauty. He has, quite literally, transformed musical compositions into video and photography installations that allow viewers to see and hear sound.
While the effect is magical, Joynes is no sorcerer. He arrived at this unique form through laborious experimentation in diverse disciplines. Joynes trained in graphic design at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and simultaneously pursued a self-taught career as a musician, singing, composing and playing in rock bands. Through the years, he yearned to merge these disciplines. But it was his introduction to the synthesizer and ambient music that transformed dreams into reality. “As soon as I started playing it, I saw it as this colour instrument,” he says. “I saw it as painting with sound.”
This epiphany led him to work on live cinema video animations that catapulted his career. “I went quite literally from my basement to the world stage in one jump,” he recalls. He was selected to open the 2007 Montreal MUTEK Festival, a leading experimental sound and music event, and has performed in various international venues.
Four years ago, his path was transformed again when he discovered cymatics, the ancient study of visible sound. One brilliant experiment by German physicist Ernst Chladni (1756 – 1827) particularly inspired him. Chladni drew a violin bow over a metal plate sprinkled with sand and watched as resonant vibrations aligned the particles into geometric patterns.
“ It blew me away because it was presenting this idea that you could actually show visualization of sound in a physical way,” says Joynes, who decided to build a contemporary version of the device. He invested $14,000 in a Swedish-made, modular analogue synthesizer system that he built into something resembling a Star Trek control panel. “It gives me surgical precision that you don’t have in the digital world,” he says. He then took apart powerful speakers and mounted metal plates onto a single axis that resonates from the voice coil. Projecting sound at extremely high volumes, he delicately sprinkles sand on these plates and waits.
Most sounds produce chaos, but sometimes magic happens. With some resonant frequencies, the plates begin to stir and develop enough energy to move physical particles into wave shapes. This is what he captures in works such as Ouroboros, a video installation component of his Topographic Sound exhibition at dc3. Viewers stand in a room so dark it seems to float in outer space. The only visible object is a mound of illuminated sand: Pure sound constructs mandala-like patterns in a slow dance that moves order in and out of chaos. In the background, Joynes’ chanting voice resonates in slow, pensive harmony.
Sometimes, as Joynes manipulates the sound, frequencies form hot spots that blast sand into ghostly patterns. Other frequencies allow sand to float across the plate with fluid motions. He captures such moments with a precision that nearly rivals electron microscope photography. In his Alluvium diptych, one of the monumental photographs included in the exhibition, every grain of sand is visible and seemingly projects as a 3D illusion.
This new cymatics-inspired work is again propelling Joynes onto an international stage, this time in the visual arts circuit. He is showing widely in Canada, including Calgary’s Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts in September, as well as in Britain and the United States. Grants and awards are falling into his lap like autumn leaves. It is well-deserved recognition. Joynes is redrawing the limits of visual art. He grasps the mysterious vibration of sound as a paintbrush and, with a stroke of his hand, paints the invisible.