About the Installation

This installation provides a minimal presence in deference to the aural and spatial complexity of John Cage's late work "How to Get Started," while simultaneously taking into account Slought's existing parameters and physical context. How can we spatially and aurally "frame" this new situation, examine the historical avant-garde and extend the life of Cage's evocative improvisational performance into the present?

As part of our inquiry, a simple and reductive question was posed: what is necessary for the production of sound in space? Three basic elements were identified and became the diagrammatic structure for the design process as well as the spatial, visual and textual representations for the physical environment and display.

A Source — Amplified voices — In our situation, the historical record of John Cage's voice, an invited contemporary performer, or an informed random guest, aurally activates and produces the spatial source. A tangible graphic stripe, containing media hardware and imprinted with a typographic identity, loops the interior walls, ceiling and tabletop producing a hybrid proscenium theater for either a performance or listening experience while simultaneously framing our audio source. The "hidden" sources of the collaborative recording engineer, software, interface and archive are also graphically visible on media screens within the installation.

A Medium — A physical space for sound reflection — The compressed scale of the steel lined vault, and its inherent acoustics and unknown fundamentals, has been stripped bare to spatially enhance the multi-layered interiority and exteriority of the Cage soundscape. An exhibition text begins at Slought's storefront, moves onto the facade of the installation, and continues on to the back wall of the vault and implies engagement through a variety of ambient spatial conditions. A textual set of instructions and numerical markers are graphically inscribed onto the vault walls notating the performative nature of the space.

A Receiver — A solo listener, an intimate group, or casual visitors passing by — Within our social and interactive installation the audience is seated at the recording station or on a stray stool and asked to closely listen and actively engage. Scale, bodies, listening and rapport within the space are best experienced while relaxed and sitting down. Reception of the work is complex, as it not only occurs live within the vault but also, to accommodate larger publics, is available online via a web-based archive that can be spatially accessed anywhere.

Finally as a narrative environment, whose multi-function as exhibition, recording and performance space provide a quirky ambience for intimacy, comfort and shared public thought, many subjective observations, mannerisms and homage come into play. The monochrome grey, black and white material palate, the utilitarian sound kitchen, industrial fixtures and furnishings allude to the vintage downtown loft filled with artwork that Cage shared with Cunningham, where we held conversations, and where I wished that John Cage, a source, medium and receiver would walk into the room and share with us how to get started.

- Ken Saylor, 2010

Exhibition design: Ken Saylor
Exhibition graphics: Project Projects
Photography: Whitney Cox