Visiting Artist Lecture: Lesley Flanigan

Morgan Rice

Visiting Artist Lecture: Lesley Flanigan

I found this lecture especially interesting because this artist works with sound and voice, but reasons it in her head in an visual way. She described sound, to her, as being something that she could feel and manipulate, much like a sculpture. Her background was in singing, which she has done since she was very young. However, she ended up getting her degree in sculpture, which she said was because she had a tremendous amount of love for working with her hands, and the physicality of the materials that she used.

She said that she wanted at first to keep sculpture and music as two separate entities, but that they eventually combined into one once she made a discovery about speakers and electricity. She told us that, partly by accident, she discovered a different way to manipulate a speaker to create sound, and that the sound that came out was a ‘rich, dirty electronic noise’ that much of her work as an electronic musician had been trying to emulate. The sounds created by these speakers feel at first like noise, because they are raw and unrefined. However, by layering them in a meaningful way, as well as harmonizing her own voice with the speakers, she is able to manipulate the sound into something with musical qualities.

Her instruments, which are also the pieces that end up being shown whenever she does a traditional art exhibit, are simply boxes with a few switches and a volume control and a speaker mounted in the middle. She described them as ‘other singers’ whenever she performed with them, and watching her performances shows how she works with sound in her head. There are definitely dancer qualities in the way that she interacts with the instruments on stage, and by moving a microphone closer and farther away from them, she is able to manipulate the sound. Sometimes, she will softly sing over the reverberations of the sounds, and other times she sings directly into the instruments to produce a strange electronic voice sound. One such project was a vocal project where a group of women sat in a circle, and placed a small microphone on the side of their neck. The sound that came through the speaker was a different, more hollow sound than a regular singing sound, and in this way, she was able to unify voice and electronic sound.

A very interesting, yet unfortunately short, part of her presentation was a visualizer that someone created for her. The visualizer took the sound of her singing, and created that sound in a way that could be seen. It looked as if the sound was comprised of thousands of dust particles, and the way the particles moved represented the way that the sound existed. I found this exremely interesting, because very few people have been able to link one sense to another in this way. Sight and sound are fundamentally linked, in the ways that art and music are linked, but it is difficult to represent music as art, and vice versa. I would be interested to see ways that other artists have tried to tackle this concept.

As a singer, she definitely has quite a lot of skill, and her ability to pair her incredibly lovely vocal melodies with a dark, grungy electronic sound has created a very interesting type of music. There is something very raw about the sound, and she said that she creates her music live, trying to play around in the moment instead of recording things before the show.

I believe that Lesley Flanigan is a great example of how one can still succeed in the present-day art world. As an art major, there is a constant stream of doubt about whether or not I will be able to create anything interesting or unique enough to bring me into the art world, and give me a name. It is inspiring to see someone who created something very beautiful and unique simply by being able to think about things differently. From a musical standpoint, her music is beautiful and haunting. I have purchased her song called “Sleepy” from iTunes, and have already listened to it several times. From an artistic standpoint, the concept of ‘sound sculpture’ is very unique and wonderful. By combining the unique way that she perceived sound with her technical abilities in sculpture and electronics, she was able to create something unique to the art world, as well as the music world. She told us that she performed both on stage and in a gallery, and that art and music have not quite been able to classify her as an artist or a musician. These days, it seems that finding a specific niche is the key to artistic success, and she is a great example someone who has done that in a very splendid way.

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