13th June 2007 — 22nd July 2007
is housed in an attractive 19th century building that was once a Ragged
School, so it is no surprise that this exhibition is also part of
Architecture Week. The space Leafcutter John uses for his solo show was
once the schoolroom and the key element in his composition/installation
is the floor. The only things noticeable when entering the room at the
top of the stairs are two large speakers on tripods. This brings
emphasis to the dark stained wooden floorboards and the high white
walls. There was no one in the space when I arrived, and this is
important, as there was no sound. No sound from the sound piece I'd
come for, but as soon as I trod on the boards it began. It is these
floorboards that slope upwards away from you that have been microphoned
and rigged to transmute your footfall into sound. It's a great
revelation that comes from the first cautious steps to real enjoyment
as each step brings a new noise. It is impossible to not run,
exaggeratedly walk and jump a bit. I tried to detect sounds and thought
I could hear gamelan, Tibetan bowls, bells, harpsichords, whistles and
some non-specific synthetic guitar-like sound.
According to the press release there are three 'layers' at work in the piece. Leafcutter has recorded over a couple of months an archive of sound from the floor, its natural sounds and also human interaction with it. In addition, there are 'field recordings' of things, appropriately, for example, like school bells. This archive is then fed into a software programme of Leafcutter's devising. Layer 1 maps the floor in terms of its possible sound ranges. Layer 2 is the sound we hear when we tread on the boards; it is a 'musical response' by the programme utilising the archive. Layer 3 is the ongoing recording of the floor; the archive keeps growing and evolving and will be used in his live performance on 7 July.
I could have remained in the space gently evoking these sounds for some considerable time, however this is a public gallery after all, and they probably want more than one visitor a day. Firstly, two men (art students maybe) came in and I felt aggrieved as they had interrupted me tip toeing across the room diagonally and backwards. One of them sneezed and triggered a tinkle of sound. Then, up the stairs, came about 20 schoolchildren of about 5 years old with five or so teachers. They paraded to the stage at the top of the slope, sat in a circle, and began talking about the room. I stopped and with the other two visitors, watched. I was hoping this wasn't some planned 'performance' as the teacher tried to build up the atmosphere by bouncing some light plastic balls down the slope towards us (it wasn't). Then chaos - lots of running around, shouting, screaming followed by a discussion of the sounds that they could decipher - things quite predictable for children, I thought, (they aren't actually original and cute) like big dinosaurs, princesses, fairies, animals and magic.
What is so successful about this exhibition is the way that the space has been transformed through very little physical addition. Standing on the floorboards and anticipating moving and the sound that will accompany you is sublime. If it is possible, though, I would recommend going when it is unlikely anyone else will be there.
(Oh, technology. It is only two days since my visit and already on Leafcutter John's blog, a film clip, made by the two art students, has been posted. You can't see me, I am standing to the left, scowling at the children: www.leafcutterjohn.com)
22 Newport Street
London SE11 6A