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Expectation Breeds Disappointment

If you like music boxes, and you like outdoor installations, you’ll probably dig found sound (Public Music Reconnaissance), Patrick Renner‘s new installation at Lawndale Art Center

The concept is cool. Renner recovered three telephone poles from Hurricane Ike and made sure they were nice and decked out with staples, nails and other bits of urban detritus – the kind of stuff that hints at other narratives, like lost dogs and estate sales – and then crafted contraptions that rotate around the wooden rods and make music from the friction. That’s right: He took telephone poles and made music boxes out of them.

Pretty cool, huh? Yep, or at least that’s what I thought last weekend during the gallery talk, when Renner introduced the gigantic doohickeys. But then I went back on Tuesday and actually played with them, and I have to say the concept just might be a bit more exciting than the execution (see Sex, with Other People While Still in a Relationship).

You actually hear the music on speakers that’ve been set up across the room from each pole, since presumably it’d be a real bitch to actually find pretty chimes that could overpower the sound of metal being dragged across wood. Which means there’s probably no way these could work outdoors, and that’s just a shame, since that’s what the whole setup promises initially. Or maybe the inability of a gritty outdoorsy installation to actually work outdoors is part of some high concept I’m missing…

Another small problem: The actual sound made by the contraptions isn’t that pleasant. Sure, this is found sound, but it’s not really, since Renner covered the poles and spaced out the chimes and, well, pretty much manufactured the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. The concept is super cool, and the contraptions are totally playful-looking, in a post-apocalyptic scavenger sort of way. I just think they collapse under the potential of so much awesomeness. For me at least (and who else would I be talking about?) found sound is like some indie band that could’ve been good but got labeled great and, well, we all know what happens then.

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