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Liverpool Biennial Part 2: Silent Sound

An art event with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard with secret messages and music by Jason Pierce... and then the Dada milk float comes by

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by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2006
two people were adamant that they had received the message but they couldn't agree on what it was
by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2006
two people were adamant that they had received the message but they couldn't agree on what it was

Silent Sound was a special one-off event as part of the Liverpool Art Biennial. It promised subliminal messaging, the occult, parapsychology, music and all around table-tapping spookiness. When he got the invite, Lake got the train and reports back for outsideleft. In an attempt to keep to his aim of never writing anything that goes past the footballer on the right of the page he split his report in two. This is the second and final part.

So. Outside St Georges Hall and here are the caged lions that the tourist information lady was so concerned about. The artist Rigo 23 (that's Rigo, not Ringo - it's Liverpool, you never know) has trapped the statues in grey steel cages.

I think Rigo wants us to think about imperialism and colonialism and danger. But I just remember that these are the same big stone lions that I once saw somebody fall off at that Crystal Day and split their head with a crimson splash worthy of a gangster movie. No climbing on them today.

When I watched Christian Marclay's Video Quartet at the revamped Tate Modern I wrote that it was the first time I could recall a gallery audience spontaneously applaud a piece of video art. Standing in the queue for Silent Sound was the first time I can recall a palpable sense of excitement and much general puzzlement in a line up waiting to see an art event. The venue, the invitations, the programme, all created a sense of occasion and a somewhat charged atmosphere.

We all had to sit in predetermined seats. Each person separated from anybody they may have come to the event with. It was the first trick, or manipulation if you like, that the artists had introduced in order to affect the mindset of the audience. There was some polite chatter but for the most part it had the effect of subduing the room.

On the stage was a large silver cabinet and in front of this a strange looking box with wires and dials looking like something you might see in What Hi-Fi if they ran a "steam-punk" special. This was the Silent Sound Machine. There were music stands and tubular bells, a piano.and then microphones and miles of cables and a blinking LED firing mixing desk and assorted control panels. The juxtaposition of old and new, past and present is something that I always love to see. In 2D terms it's like the best collage work, or like sampling in audio - I like to think of it as somehow breaking the time-line. Artistic time travel.

Parapsychologist Dr Ciar?°n O'Keeffe introduced the event and explained that the artists were going to try to stretch our minds and reach out to us on a subliminal level as we all took part in a groundbreaking experiment in "psycho-energetics". He told us about how a Victorian s?©ance event had taken place on this very stage. The musicians took up their places and the artists, Forsyth and Pollard, walked on silently, switched on the Silent Sound machine and entered the soundproof box.

The score was created by Jason Pierce (Spiritualized) and it was a beautiful piece of minimalism with hints of maybe John Adams or Michael Nyman. As the musicians played the artists intoned a secret message into the machine which was then embedded into the music we were hearing. The idea was, on the face of it, for the audience to see if they could decipher or at least subliminally absorb the silent words. To my mind, in effect, what happened was that it made us think about how we listened, becoming acutely aware of the very act of hearing and reacting to music.

It was a strange sensation. We were aware that the atmosphere of the room had been affected by ionisers and that infrasound and ultrasound were being used. But were these things causing a reaction or was just the idea of them enough. As the music played bright lights seemed to pan across the audience. I had been suffering from a sore throat for the previous few days and in the concert hall the air was dry and I was stifling a cough (I didn't want to appear on the recording that was being made). As I sat there keeping from coughing I felt a tear run down my cheek. Was it the lights? The music? The secret message? Or just the non-cough? I certainly didn't' feel sad.

Afterwards I discovered a number of people had cried. Were they all just trying not to cough? I doubt it.

I didn't get any message. At least not yet. I spoke to a number of people afterwards and there was no real agreement on a message or any words at all. Some people had an idea, some people were vague, two people were adamant that they had received the message but they couldn't agree on what it was. In fact the only consensus was that it had been an extraordinary event.

Though I am not a drinker it seemed churlish to refuse the opportunity to imbibe vast quantities of alcohol at the tax-payers expense at the Biennial opening night party. So after the Silent Sound event I ended the day drinking rum at Greenland Street one of the new art venues that were being launched.

Parked outside the venue was a superb kinetic sound sculpture built on the back of an old milk float. Ballet Mechanique by Ben Parry and Jacques Chauchat is an hypnotic clash of old pipes and chains and bits of street furniture that boomed and clanged in the night. If Tom Waits delivered milk this is what he'd drive. A Dada milk float was about the best way I could think of to end the day.

For information on the Silent Sound event and the installation at Greenland Street go here: http://www.silentsound.info/

The Liverpool Biennial Part 1

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Lake
Editor, London

the first journalism Lake ever had published was a history of Johnny Thunders for Record Collector magazine, since then he has written for publications including the Guardian, Dazed and Confused, the Idler and more recently, outsideleft.com as you have just seen.

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