RVW | Soundforge
A multimedia installation merging metal and music puts the creative process front and center.
By Francesco Cupolo, MFA AC+D ’13
This summer, Museum of Contemporary Craft hosts a collaborative multimedia installation by metalsmith Gabriel Craig and composer Michael Remson titled Soundforge. Three large, gate-like steel structures stand in the upper gallery. Accompanying the piece are several speakers playing music from a fifteen-minute video looping on the small screen mounted to a wall adjacent to the sculptures. An array of wooden mallets on the wall invite visitors to interact with the work by striking notes on the steel “keys” strung up between the posts of the sculptural structures—similar to an upright xylophone.
Soundforge continues the Museum’s SoundCraft series, advancing connections between craft and music. Both craftspeople and musicians are often met with the challenge of communicating to an audience their visceral experiences in the studio. How do you authentically portray the conception of a piece, its meticulous realization, or the definitive moments of finalization? Craig and Remson have effectively made the process of creativity and crafting the centerpiece of their multimedia installation.
To interact with Soundforge, one must begin by choosing from the sixteen wooden mallets neatly hung on the wall, much like choosing from a set of tools or a palette of colors. Striking the instruments produces a rich ringing sound that vibrates down to your bones. To Craig and Remson, this sound and action enigmatically represent the metal forging process; a particular resonance of the seemingly belligerent percussive pounding of a hammer on hot steel signals to the craftsperson, the perfected final product. This premise is made unavoidably evident in the discreetly composed video playing alongside the exhibition. The video shows footage of numerous metalsmiths working in a shared studio, shaping steel with forceful blows. The video’s audio has been replaced and synced to an original score by Remson recorded on the instruments themselves.
It is unclear whether or not the resounding audio from the video interferes with the introspective experience one may have interacting with the installation. If the sounds produced by viewers were breaks in complete silence, would the installation be more moving? In a discussion regarding the piece, Craig explains that the notes produced are all in the key of F minor, and therefore any note played would complement Remson’s composition. Is this collaboration between the viewer and the audio a necessary or harmoniously consistent element in the installation?
The scene set by Soundforge is sincere and epic. The structures stand tall as they sit at oblique angles from one another, leaving ample room for visitors to meander between them. When no one is playing, Remson’s score seems to emanate from the sculptures and that experience itself is truly striking. The structures show an extensive appreciation for and knowledge of the craft in metalsmithing with decidedly spare ornamentation and a character of raw, meticulously worked metal. Most visually compelling are the tightly strung together keys, evenly spaced, but randomly arranged. Their fluctuating heights are reminiscent of handwritten sheet music.
Soundforge debuted in 2011 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, curated by Anna Walker, after two years of collaboration between Gabriel Craig and Michael Remson. Craig’s forged steel work has often been concerned with the intersection of craft and other disciplines. As for Remson, this is the first time he has contributed his music to the creation of a large-scale art installation. Museum of Contemporary Craft provides a profoundly complementary venue for the work as it sits alongside provocative, curious, and studiously thoughtful rotating installations and collections. The inclusion of Soundforge makes for an intriguing and uniquely participatory experience. The exhibition is open in Portland for only one more week.
Soundforge by Gabriel Craig and Michael Remson is on view at Museum of Contemporary Craft, in Portland, OR, through September 21, 2013. The exhibition is curated by Anna Walker and organized by Houston Center for Contemporary Craft