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PHONOSYNTHESIZER (article first published : 2003-07-16)

Running from July 8 to 27 at the NSA Gallery is a sound installation by James Webb. It interrogates the relationship between technology and nature, using digital errors and so-called technological "noise". This exhibition is a continuation of his Phonosynthesizer show at US Art Gallery last year.

James Webb is a Cape Town-based sound artist, lecturer and curator. A merit award winner of the 2002 Absa L’Atelier, Webb recently co-curated the phenomenally successful YDESIRE at the Castle of Good Hope. Webb’s work has been exhibited in South Africa and abroad on a number of group shows. His debut solo show, Phonosynthesizer, a three room sound environment, was held in the deconsecrated Lutheran Church of the US Art Gallery in Stellenbosch. In 2001 he exhibited thesexworks, a nationwide telephonic and online public sound installation that was met with critical acclaim.

Webb contributed to Holger Czukay’s Linear City album in 2001 and has attended master classes given by Brian Eno. In September 2002, he exhibited on Radiotopia and took part in Search at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. He is also a multi-media writer, conceptualist and journalist. James Webb’s work is represented in the South African National Gallery and numerous private collections.

The term “noise” is described by Webb as a sound that is traditionally unwanted or unintended, as opposed to sound that is of a high volume. For the first showing of this work the artist sampled a wide range of audio technological "glitches": bleeps, line noise, feedback, pops and hiss and, treating them, stitched together a series of never-ending, self-generating loops. Added within this mix was a collection of the artist’s previous sound artwork that had been sonically destroyed by the artist scarring the CDs so that they would skip and jump in the CD player. All the sounds were further manipulated by computer software and electronic hardware. Individually, these sounds could be dismissed as common sonic mistakes, but when played together, the effect is that of an electronic forest - soothing, technological and audibly organic.

Sonically, the piece has very few focus points, and is devoid of melody and rhythm while concentrating on texture and atmosphere. For the NSA, Webb has taken the CDs that made up the last Phonosynthesizer show and, scarring them, has created a new work out of the glitches of the old.

Visually the installation will be built using the same equipment as the last version of the show: black speakers, underfelt and wire. The site-specific element comes in the display of the materials in relation to the architecture of the space. Individual speakers, suspended from the ceiling by fish gut, will carry separate tracks. Gallery goers will be able to roam freely through the space and experience the accidental meshing of sounds. The CD players will loop on shuffle-function and therefore be asynchronous with each other, creating a random, never-ending series of sonic clusters. The listener will be privy to unique combinations of sounds, combinations that the artist may never have intended or considered.




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