Bruce Conner Loves Sound

Gregory Briggler at the exhibition. Photo credit: ©2016 Gregory Briggler

Bruce Conner loves sound. He understands it in a way that few visual artists do. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is showing and sounding a retrospective of the artist whose life spanned the life of Rock and Roll. The name of the show is Bruce Conner: It’s All True. I can not recommend it enthusiastically enough.

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A frame from A Movie

The main show begins fittingly with “A Movie” (1958) which impressed me with its aesthetic directness. Well known and respected (but new to me), the found-film collage swings back and forth between images of violence, love, beauty and the mundane. All accompanied by the orchestral brass warhorse “The Pines of Rome” (1924) by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. The music begins with a quiet flourish and ends majestically, and the images seem to surf the music, harnessing its power in a brilliant way. It’s hard to imagine how the film would work without the music to lend structure and support. Conner often uses images, music and sound that look back in time, but the effect never strikes me as nostalgic or cheaply ironic.

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He uses sound as a part of collage in Tick Tock Jelly Clock Cosmotron (1961) (above) just as surely he uses nylon hose, wax and pin-up cutouts in other sculptures and assemblages from around the same time. In the original “Tick Tock” a vacuum cone containing the sound playback and recording device is umbilicaled to the rest of the collage. Inside the cone, he had originally recorded the conversations in the gallery, distorted them, and added them back to a pre-recorded track. The MoMA, out of fear of privacy lawsuits or laziness only plays the original ambient recording. You can hear a sample below. By the way, the cosmotron was a particle accelerator used in nuclear physics. He was obsessed with “the bomb” after all.

This is the first post of many about this exhibition. Please go! At MoMA until October 2nd.

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