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"In Place: Art Space Mullae"

Seoul, Korea

October 18, 2013
7:00–19:00


The ninth and final intervention of the "In Place" series. An excerpt from the following text was used in the installation "Mullae," exhibited in Art Space Mullae, Korea during October 21–27, 2013. The photo above shows the room where I spent the day.

"I'm sitting in the ground floor studio of Art Space Mullae. Early morning light falls from the windows facing east. To the west an elementary school slowly fills with arriving children, some laughing, some crying, parents raising their voices in admonishment or support. These sounds penetrate from the world outside, boring through the walls, piercing the windows. Sounds from inside the studio also appear as I slowly attune to the room's ambience. Off in the shadows of the studio's southeast corner something buzzes persistently, like a lone insect overstaying its evening welcome. The elevator doors in the lobby open and close with a muted thud. And each time a person walks through the sliding entrance doors to the foyer, a large folding steel door opening from the studio to the street behind me shudders and quakes. By the end of the day I practically won't even notice this any more.

All at once, I don't hear the children. They've all made their way into the classrooms and school has begun. Every few minutes a train passes by behind the studio, separated by a narrow strip of grass and trees. I sense the deep bass frequencies of the trains shaking the concrete floor of the studio before I actually hear them swooshing by. The slower trains don't make any sound other than just a nearly subsonic rumble. I fancy the sound of a train flying low above and then slowly grasp that it's actually a jet plane. Though the planes never convulse the building like the trains do.

Next to the studio, a large metal shop – one of many in this neighborhood – starts its work for the day. High ringing tones suffuse the studio and I can't tell if they're coming from the room itself or from outside. I finally realize that the machines in the metal shop have started to whir away, reforming a large pipe or sheet of steel. Accompanying this, a frenzied rhythmic convulsion erupts in the morning air and sends deep shuddering palpitations through my feet. A gigantic machine pounds down again and again. I think first of a monotonous, clobbering drum beat but the longer this goes on the more I rule out any drummer being able to play like this.

The fragment of some classical music melody I've heard hundreds of times before but now can't put a name on signals a brief recess for the students in the school next door. Before the music has even finished I hear cries of delight and laughter as the children tumble out onto the playground. Their voices completely overpower every other sound in the studio and I find myself transported into the children's midst, as they jump and hop gleefully around me in all their youthful vigor. And before I know what has happened, the music is playing again. The young voices halt and all the other morning sounds slowly manifest themselves once more, coming out from hiding.

In a brief letup of activity the more subtle sounds of the studio take the foreground. I'm swathed in slowly permutating shades of noise, coiling around me like visible trails of sonic vapor. Streaks of bright yellow sunlight bisect the studio's floor and light up little clouds of dust suspended motionless in the cool morning air. A woman's high heel shoes click-clacking across the tiled lobby floor of the Art Space tear me from my ruminations. Two muffled tones and a woman's robotic voice announce the arrival of the elevator. The loud shoes vanish within. I leave my seat and take a slow walk around the studio, absorbing the different perspectives of sound in each part of the room. Coming closer to the folding steel garage doors at each end of the studio I'm able to hear more of the traffic passing by outside. The sounds from the metal shop gain prominence as I pass the eastern windows. And to the west I can hear kids being unruly in their classrooms. The schoolyard's speakers play a different melody now and all the kids come running outside for their midday break.

I move my chair to the far northwest corner of the studio and take a seat. With all this distance now between myself and the passing trains, the metal shop and the school, the sounds permeating the studio from outside take on a more kindly hue, dampened by the expanse of space. The high ceilings give the room a rich resonance and all the sounds creeping in from outside begin to seethe and churn. I'm not sure any longer what my ears are hearing, so much definition has been lost. The passing trains could be a large machine in the metal shop or maybe a truck passing by in the street behind me. Only the sound of a helicopter buzzing somewhere overhead makes a clearly stated entrance. It chops viciously through all the other sounds. A vision of it landing in the schoolyard flashes through my mind, with all the children fleeing, screaming for their teachers. The whir of the helicopter's blades sends all other sounds in the studio ricocheting from wall to wall, ceiling to floor, a tornado of impossible hues and colors and textures and shapes reverberating madly.

I stand up again and move hastily to the center of the studio to regain my bearings. The helicopter purrs obliquely somewhere off in the west, leaving a gaping sea of silence in its wake. It's midday now and the metal shop workers take their lunch break. The school is also quiet and I see the children away in a cafeteria somewhere having a noisy lunch together. My stomach grumbles too. Its gurgling fills the studio's void. I eat a sandwich and enjoy a slowly evolving mix of light whirring sounds, long tones suddenly appearing and then just as suddenly making their exit. Their absence always seems more vivid than their presence. I picture myself sitting in the humongous stomach of the Art Space, with all the strange organic sounds of a digestive system reaching me from the cryptic nether regions of the building. In the cacophony of morning bustle outside I'd missed this wealth of internal sounds. My focus turns back inwards and the world outside shrinks from view. With the sun now straight overhead, beams of harsh white sunlight no longer pierce through the windows. A kinder, softer light now fills the room, matching the totality of droning, thrumming sounds.

But with a walloping boom, the world outside springs back into action once more. A gigantic machine in the metal shop catapults down again. And again. And again. A train races by, the floor bucks and rolls. That snippet of a classical melody bellows again from the schoolyard speakers and a storm of children's voices rises like a tidal wave about to break across the studio's western windows. I brace myself for a gale of sound, which never really comes. With starts and stops the afternoon presses on, swelling with loud machines, screaming children and then dropping down into an intermission of barely perceptible hums from deep within the Art Center. These recurring oscillations between loud and soft, dense and sparse slowly wear me down. The sounds around me take on a weight, a tangible presence, at times filling the room like so many clouds of fantastic gray cotton balls, or colossal slabs of concrete being hurdled through space and smashing against the walls and floor.

By the time the setting sun radiates a warm yellow light through the western windows, I've finally made my peace with the sounds outside. The children are on their way home, tired now from the long day at school. The machines in the metal shop have been switched off. A large object being pulled across the shop's cement floors is the last sound I hear from it today. More trains rumble by but they don't seem to be in any hurry. The Art Center itself is largely quiet now. Only the sporadic robot voice and chimes from the elevator mark any sign of life in the lobby. I take one more slow tour around the studio, in search of every possible aural perspective but everything is so peaceful now, no matter where I stand. Just the occasional kick from some people scaling the walls of the Art Center outside instils the studio with any life. The climbers call to each other now and then, and their dangling ropes whip lifelessly against the windows. As the last rays of sunlight slowly die away, I feel as though I can hear evening tumbling down around me."

 

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