The following video is composed from materials recorded and presented at His Master’s Vox on April 19, 2018. To mark the publication of Alexander Provan’s Measuring Device with Organs, Maria Chavez, a sound artist and DJ, performed with four turntables and many copies of the LP; Josh Tonsfeldt, a visual artist, projected home movies, animations, and found footage. Jessica Y Lee filmed the event and, for this video, combined the documentation with excerpts of Tonsfeldt’s work; Provan utilized the audio recording in the creation of the soundtrack.
An “expert listener”—a middle-aged, white audiophile with a passion for classic rock—undergoes a test meant to determine what sound should sound like, reliant on the ability of humans to act like hearing machines. He struggles to train his ears on the frequency response of audio files and vanquish the memories evoked by saxophone arpeggios, symphonies, snippets of Led Zeppelin and ABBA. Fragments of harp melodies form an unnerving drone; pristine cymbals combine with tanpura drones and deformed vocals; a canned score, loaded with violin glissandos, manipulates the emotions, but to what end (except to exhibit the technical qualities of such sounds)? Are these passages part of the test, the listener’s mental projections, or both?
Alexander Provan’s Measuring Device with Organs, a sound work published by Triple Canopy as an LP, narrates a listening test and reveals how we are subjected to the edicts of anonymous experts: each time we open an MP3 or MOV, play a record or CD, we effectively universalize their tastes—and suppress the sensory experiences of millions of others. To mark the publication of the LP, responses will be presented by Maria Chavez, a sound artist and DJ, and Josh Tonsfeldt, a visual artist. Chavez will employ four turntables and many copies of the LP, which she’ll invite the audience to configure and play; she’ll then manipulate the records, amplify and isolate particular sounds, fixate on their objective qualities and alter their meaning. Tonsfeldt’s projections will coincide with Chavez’s performance. His videos, animations, and found footage will vacillate between basic geometries and intimate imagery, between distinct vessels for meaning (as conjured by the viewer, author, and medium).
Before and after the performance, which will go on for approximately forty-five minutes, a drink invented for the occasion, the Expert Listener, will be available for cheap. Whomever correctly guesses the ingredients will win free drinks for the rest of the night and two copies of the LP.
His Master’s Vox is part of Standard Evaluation Materials, an issue devoted to harmonizing bodies, regulating speech, and fixing time. The event is co-presented by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, where Provan developed Measuring Device with Organs as part of a fellowship.
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- Maria Chavez is a sound artist who was born in Lima, Peru, and lives in New York. Her performances with turntables, sound sculptures, and installations are unified by her concern for accidents, coincidences, and failures. Her work combines the sounds etched in records with those produced by the interactions of needles and vinyl in various states of deterioration. Chavez has been a fellow at the Sound Practice Research Department at Goldsmiths, University of London and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, and an artist in residence at CEC Artslink in St. Petersburg. She has presented and performed her work at numerous museums, universities, festivals, galleries, and clubs.
- Josh Tonsfeldt is an artist who lives in Red Hook, New York. His work has recently been shown at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (Massachusetts), Simon Preston (New York City), Raucci/Santamaria (Milan), the Parrish Art Museum (New York), and Mendes Wood DM (Sao Paulo), and featured in Flash Art. His work will be on view at the MCA Chicago in the summer of 2018 as part of “I Was Raised on the Internet.”
- Alexander Provan is the editor of Triple Canopy and a contributing editor of Bidoun. He is the recipient of a 2015 Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant and was a 2013–15 fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.