Thrash softly from afar – SFMOMA

26.10.2019 – 17.02.2020
Soft Power, SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA

Thrash softly from afar was commissioned for the group exhibition Soft Power curated by Eungie Joo in the SFMOMA San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art from 26.10.2019 – 17.02.2020.

Text on the work Thrash softly from afar published in the catalogue Soft Power:

Thrash softly from afar

A black object made of rectangular forms, Thrash softly from afar hangs on the wall in the space where the exhibition SOFT POWER begins. The rectangular forms are in fact five loudspeakers in two sizes, although to most people these do not look like loudspeakers at first sight. What gives the loudspeakers their unique form is their directionality. In comparison with a more conventional type of loudspeaker, the width of the sound beam is narrower and therefore more focused, though it loses some of its power. Sounds that lay within a certain bandwidth are clearly audible both when one is standing just in front of the loudspeaker and at a greater distance, if one remains on the work’s axis. When one moves slightly to the side, most of the direct sound is lost and what is audible are reactions of sounds— sounds bouncing o the walls, ceilings, and doors of an enclosed environment.

The speakers in Thrash softly from afar are arranged so that they beam separate sound patterns toward the right and left wings of the fourth floor exhibition areas and toward the two staircases and the cylindrical space that architect Mario Botta placed in the museum’s center; furthermore, the sounds coming from the central loudspeaker travel across the interior of the cylinder and reach the opposite window. The symmetricality of the surrounding architecture resonates in the same symmetrical arrangement of the speakers, which together form a single object.

The sound patterns leak into the exhibition spaces, where they gently interact on various levels with the works of artists and catch the ears of visitors in unexpected places and moments before they disappear.
The spaces of the exhibition are a kind of habitat—with areas devoted to works in a variety of media, languages, and attitudes—and sound is able to travel through spaces with borders in a different manner than the visual or the spatial, providing a different experience due to its aural nature. In Thrash softly from afar this specific characteristic of the traveling sound wave is magnified and becomes a fundamental base for the work.

Visitors can move in close to the loudspeakers and listen directly to the separate sounds, but they can never grasp a total impression, a balanced mix, of an overall sonic composition from a specific location. There is no “sweet spot” or “best viewing location” at which to stand and take in more of the work; the experience of the work evolves only by moving through the totality of the exhibition space, by repeating the route or changing direction.

And what sounds are used in this scenario? At the time of this writing, some months before installing the work in the space (before the work really appears for the first time, after a period of foreseeing and daydreaming about it), I don’t know how the sounds will take shape exactly, but I do know what the raw sound material to build them will be.

In the early 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area became one of the epicenters of
thrash (metal), an underground music subgenre that grew into a worldwide musical form and youth culture. The circulation of demo tapes and, later, albums, helped what was called the most aggressive and fastest music genre of the moment reach the far corners of the world, taking advantage of the sounds’ easy ability to leak across any type of obstacle or border.

In my case, it was in Istanbul as a high school student that I first came into contact with these types of sounds: a transfer of high (and mostly masculine) energy onto recordings that gave limited access to the visual information on the original album and work of art. Somehow, it became one of the driving forces for me to start a band with mates at school, learning to play drums and make artwork for albums and concerts. When I visited San Francisco for the first time in 2018, in preparation for SOFT POWER, I was constantly reminded of that earlier period, when I started working on sounds, beats, and expression in general.

After installing the loudspeakers on an adjustable wall- mounted structure along with a multichannel playback system to feed them, I will be composing the sound patterns on-site, using short fragments of sounds like palm muted guitars and double bass strumming that re ect distinctive sonic characters of specific albums made in San Francisco and the Bay Area back then. The fragments will be reorganised and paced out in several patterns and tempos, based on how they react in the space, either in isolation or in connection with one another.

With this new work I am experimenting with beats and patterns transmitted through a space via directional loudspeakers, as I did in earlier series such as Sound Ornamentations and A Room of Rhythms (2015) and in more recent works such as ÇIN at the 2017 Venice Biennale and chiçiçiçichiciçi (2019) at the Art Institute of Chicago. This time, Thrash softly from afar aims to bring the memory of a specific music and moment to SFMOMA by experimenting with how energy is transmitted in the form of sounds in its exhibition spaces and how, after the transformation resulting from a decade-long journey from Istanbul, it is echoed back to San Francisco.

Cevdet Erek (edited with Inez Piso)

Thanks to my long time band mate Cem Ömeroğlu for playing the palm muted guitar patterns.

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