Doug Aitken’s Sonic Happening

Doug Aitken "Sonic Happening"
Doug Aitken’s “Sonic Happening” with White Rainbow, Lichens, Arp
@ 303 Gallery, Manhattan, NY 10-22-2008

Doug Aitken showcased his triple screen film installation Migration before an audience of the art hip, with guest improvisors to create the ambient soundtrack live.

Here are my unedited impressions jotted at the event—

Beautiful triple screen wide format HD video, with footage that takes full advantage of the vibrant color and crisp detail. Scenes consisted of stills and abstracts alternating with live animals exploring surreal and unlikely places. The screen was so large and the quality so fine you could see the tiny mesh of a window screen flush with the pink light of sunset, the grain pattern on a desk in an abandoned hotel room, the hairs on a beaver’s back as they caught golden light, and the textured gleam of closeup faucets, door handles, chain locks, and other sleek inanimate characters. The pace of the camera was slow and hypnotic, as movement passed gently from moving frame to now moving subject to now shifting depth of field. It was really art photography in motion—like Koyaanisqatsi performed live.

The film invited such close attention that several scenes are unforgettable.

And the backing music was so beautiful and fitting for the captivating visual presentation. I felt the little gasp that occurs inside, when the first note falls and you realize the show is going to be good—that it is exactly what you came to hear.

It was one hour of landscape sound emanating from beneath the landscape scenery. The music was an electroacoustic landscape for the lush scenery pictured above. It had the same minimalist clarity of subject, with a thin texture and close focus on one or two elements at a time. It captured the same pointilistic stillness as the slow moving austere frames on screen. And both were absent human subject, with the nonverbal vocalizations obscured beyond recognition and the players themselves cloaked in dim light.

White Rainbow played out the end of the set alone. It was the 5th time I’d seen him perform in so many cities over the past couple years. I am in love with his sound and I want to live in it, always.

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