Kingston workshop offers audiences interactive, immersive sound art experiences

A 2001 installation of ‘Rainforest IV’ at the California Institute of the Arts. Photo via Matt Rogalsky, photographer unknown.

This July, a new installation at the Baby Grand will give Kingstonians a chance to interact with one of the most iconic sound sculptures of all time, as a group of sound artists present a 50th-anniversary celebration of David Tudor’s ‘Rainforest IV.’ The installation, which officially opens on Thursday, Jul. 13, 2023, will provide an interactive and immersive sound experience, recreating a piece Tudor called “an electronic ecology.”

“[David Tudor] was a composer who started out as a pianist and organist, and then he sort of turned into a unique electronic music maker, and one of his contributions to the history of sound art is this piece ‘Rainforest,’” said Matt Rogalsky, one of the artists behind the project.

“The piece that we’re realizing is called ‘Rainforest IV,’ [which] was kind of a spontaneous creation coming out of a workshop Tudor led in July 1973. So, here we are, 50 years later,” he added. 

The installation features a variety of live sounds played through reclaimed physical objects, which are suspended in the space. In total, audiences will get to interact with more than 30 objects, many of which were left as waste in local nature sites. “There’s a lot of poetry in this piece in terms of how it’s about reclaiming these kinds of cast-off objects and turning them into beautiful loudspeakers that we can show you know [and] put a spotlight on,” noted Rogalsky. 

“The heart of the piece is a sculptural forest of loudspeakers, [which] is how David Tudor described it. It’s not meant to literally sound like a rainforest, but when you get that many different sound sources, with 30 different objects hanging in the Baby Grand Theatre… and you hear them combined, it’s a very immersive sound field.”  

In terms of where the artists found the objects, which include a discarded shopping cart, recycling bins, planter pots, kitchen utensils, and more, Rogalsky said the artists sourced items from local spaces, such as the former Davis Tannery Lands. “There’s lots of debris in the woods there… Unhoused people have taken stuff into the woods for their needs, whatever those needs are. So, we did a bit of creative cleaning. We removed a bunch of debris from those types of areas.” 

While Tudor may not have initially intended the piece to serve as a commentary about environmental conservation, Rogalsky said the current workshop has allowed the artists to think about these objects and their connection to nature about them in a new way. “[We’ve been] reclaiming cast-off materials and things that society would rather put in the dump. [We try to] recognize the value in the [objects] in whatever way we can,” he explained.

Aside from the discarded items sourced from local woods and forests, the team behind ‘Rainforest IV’ were also able to borrow objects from Kingston-based organizations such as the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, as well as the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University. Rogalsky’s workshop, which is located at the H’Art Centre on Wellington Street, even borrowed an object from the Goodlife Fitnesses gym located in the same building. “It’s not all about reclaiming garbage,” Rogalsky remarked. 

With sound installations providing interactive and immersive experiences for audiences, Rogalsky said he hopes the piece will attract a variety of onlookers. “It’s great for people of all ages and abilities, because some of the objects are hung quite low to the floor, even children can approach them readily. Or, people in wheelchairs [or with other] mobility issues can get around and check out some of the objects, as well.” 

The piece even offers more hands-on tactile experiences for those who may be hearing impaired. “It’s a sound installation, but it’s also a vibrational installation because everything is vibrating. You can put your fingers on these objects and you can feel them vibrating, [which] can actually be quite a revelation for some people,” noted Rogalsky. 

In total, 15 different artists have contributed to the installation. The team consists of electronic musicians from Toronto and Kingston, as well as current and former students of the Dan School at Queen’s. Featured artists include Anne Bourne, Jim Bailey, Robert Appleton, Dimitri Georgaras, and Laura Jean Cameron. Rogalsky has also been able to include two of his current grad students in the project, with Amanda Tschanz and Chris Hemer joining as research assistants for the workshop. “I’m really grateful to have both of them on the project. We’ve been working on this two months prior collecting stuff, they’ve been going with me in the department van scavenging,” Rogalsky said of the opportunity to include current students in the project.  

‘Rainforest IV’ officially opens on July 13, 2023, at the Baby Grand Theatre (218 Princess Street) with a special live performance taking place from 4 to 9 p.m. Then, from July 14 to 2, 2023, the exhibit will be open as a “self-running installation,” with members of the public able to tour the space and interact with the objects. The installation will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free. 

During the project’s run, Rogalsky’s team has also lined up some special events, including an online panel discussion titled “David Tudor’s Rainforest IV at 50: A Conversation.” The discussion, which will take place on Saturday, July 15, 2023, at 1 p.m., will provide an opportunity for artists and academics to come together and discuss the significance of Tudor’s work more than 50 years after its debut. 

On Sunday, July 16, 2023, at 6:30 p.m., ‘Rainforest IV’ collaborator Dimitri Georgaras will present a free evening of live electronic music at Harrison-LeCaine Hall (Room 120) at Queen’s University

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!