Visiting Artist Review 1 – Bruce Kenyon

Bruce Kenyon

Visiting Artist Lecture April 24, 2012 Lesley Flanigan

Leslie Flanigan is a performance artist, sound artist, and a sculptor who uses speaker feedback and layers of vocals to create abstract music. She started off her presentation with an example of her work. Her piece titled “Sleepy” started with multiple drone noises. Then she tried to match noise with her elongated voice. The result was pulsating vibrations in somewhat of a harmony.

She has a background using found objects and wood sculpture. In addition, she has always been singing, she even sang in church growing up.  As she grew older she felt there was two different art worlds that she carried on simultaneously- her musical career and her sculpture career. She has always had a fascination with electric music and initially played electronic without her own instruments. A little later she went to graduate school in NYU at a technological school. Here, she started building audio circuits and amplifiers.

The first instrument she created was called “speaker synth” and was made up of five different circuits on a wooden block that had on and off switch, could be manipulated by physically pressing on amps or by touching the circuit wires together. As she sees it- noise is the basic material that she is working with and when it gains familiarity it becomes sound. This found sound is then manipulated into pattern and gains repetition- this is when it becomes music. She uses the microphone like a “net,” scooping up the material of noise. Electronic sounds made tangible that come out of this simple circuit; she describes them as “rich” and “dirty” and in a “physical form.”

Lesie points out that when we think of feedback we think of out of control. However, her physical contact with her instruments is what controls the feedback, even if it’s a little bit of a chaotic noise. Gain control (volume) and contact mike (microphone) and max XP (allows for sequence) are only switches on her instruments. Initially these instruments were not for performance but just for sculpture.  The draw of the live element brought her to do more performances that are entirely improvisational. She kept coming back to how she loves the sound, and how that sound can be amplified, for example: inside a church with great acoustics.. Eliminating the lab top became an important goal for her. How she is playing getting closer to the sources of sound (her amps or her voice) with the amps, became a important feature in her live performances.

Has recently worked with other musicians like bassist and violinists to create musical compositions. She samples sound from the musician next to her and loops them live. She does the same thing with multiple singers. She embraces every sound that the speakers and the vocalists make, even if its not a “great” sound. Another technique she has is the use of a cone on the amp that creates an old sound. She also sings through the speakers by putting the microphone her throat and then singing.

The point she was most trying to get across was that at an intuitive level -the physicality of her playing her instruments is the same as creating a clay sculpture. This medium became her unique path and has become a new way of artistic expression that has been guided from within.  I really appreciated her unique style of music. She is a pioneer in this ambient, eerie, experiment with “off” sounds that form beautiful music.

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