James O’Callaghan and Objects-Interiors: (Re)presenting Space

Ellen Ringler, Sound Symposium Blog, 14 juillet 2015

On Tuesday July 12, 2016 at the LPSU theatre James O’Callaghan shared his [concert] entitled “Objects-Interiors: the piano as an acoustic Space” as a part of St John’s Sound Symposium. O’Callaghan’s work haunts the theatre and defers the traditional repertoire of (re)presentation. As described by the artist in the programme, “Objects-Interiors is the first in the series of extended-acousmatic pieces investigating the acoustic interior properties of musical instruments. This first piece for piano will scrutinize the piano as an acoustic space, and its possible metaphoric associations with ‘real spaces’. It will move from the ‘rational’ world of the piano-as-space to a surreal juxtaposition of outside and unexpected spaces integrated into the acoustic space of the piano.” O’Callaghan placed speakers inside the piano and weighted its pedals in order to allow the strings to resonate freely, and he employed the GRAIL (surround sound speaker array) in order to play his electroacoustic piece. While the audience listened carefully in the darkness, the artist executed his work from behind a laptop. It seems to me as though O’Callaghan employs his music as a series of deferrals, in order to emphasize the social implications of representation.

All representation is misrepresentation in the world of the stage, in that as an audience we recognize and subsequently misrecognize what is presented to us. Because sound is representational the audience will consistently and constantly misrecognize what they are hearing and ultimately what it ‘means’. We will always experience misrepresentation because it is mediated by performance and we will always misrecognize representation because it is mediated by the composer. O’Callaghan’s work seems to invite us to think about (mis)representation and the space that it inhabits. By diffusing an electroacoustic piece of music through speakers inside the piano as well as through the sound system of the theatre (itself a kind of performance of his composition), he invites the audience, sitting in darkness, to defer representations of sounds.

These representations are deferred through the visual of the piano, the sound emanating from the piano, and the sound surrounding the entirety of the theatre space itself. The speakers within the piano help to ‘colour’ the sound, but also invite the audience to ask who/what is represented as well as who/what is absent. When we hear the sound of a piano we may expect to see a musician physically playing the piano on stage – but we do not. Instead the sound emanating from the speakers ‘plays’ the piano by vibrating its strings. When we hear the sound of this piano and wonder about the potential pianist we may ask ourselves who this (absent) pianist could be. What do they look like? What is their skill level? What is their gender, race, cultural background, ability etc? The representation of or lack of representation of a pianist on stage allows us to question ad infinitum who we may expect to see at the St John’s eighteenth Sound Symposium. This deferral of representation invites the audience to develop avoid (mis)recognition and challenge expectations through sound metaphor.

O’Callaghan’s Objects-Interiors is sonically haunting. Perhaps a part of this haunt is its evocation of the mystery of representation. I was left uneasy most likely because my expectations regarding who is represented in any given space were challenged. The deferral of meaning, the sonic bounce from space to space and place to place disavowed any common assumptions I may have about who and what is (re)presented and who or what is misrecognized at the St John’s Sound Symposium.

… is sonically haunting.

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