The sound of one of Zimoun’s installations is the multitude of many identical noises: often, the buzz, beating, or swiveling of hundreds of the same small motors running simultaneously. The sound could be likened to pattering raindrops, clicking typewriters, droning honeybees, or the vibration of a hundred air conditioning units in a condo community. It is a musical sum of an everyday happening. Although Zimoun might refer to his installations as “static sound architectures and spaces” and tell you that “What you hear is what you get”; the acoustic experience of entering “Wall of Sound” at UCI’s Beall Center for Art + Technology might be less like entering a building and more like entering a living bee hive; such is the collective energy generated by so many moving simple machines. Like the cloned sisters in a hive each making an individual buzz, dancing a unique waggle, and adding in her small way to the hum of the larger swarm mind, the 400+ cardboard boxes stacked throughout the gallery space, each with a small dc motor swinging a cotton ball drumming against the surface of it, creates the insistent sensation of entering something organic, albeit mechanized.
Swiss-born artist, Zimoun, is fond of repetition and he has a history of reiterating large grids of simple objects. Like a favorite quilt square, he has made a number of installations that involve cardboard boxes; for instance, in 2010, he created a spacious room with 111 large open boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. The boxes created a grid that was stark and clean; and each box housed a single frenetic jumping wire that was turned by a hidden motor. This immersive installation (all the installations are named simply by the listing of materials used) presented the opportunity to oscillate between experiencing one and all; between non-living and living; and between control and spontaneity. The boxes evoke cells and the wires evoke highly magnified cilia; but strangely, there is no distance in the magnification, because as each wire hits its own cardboard surface with every twist and turn, a unified orchestra of musical pattering results. The making of sound is observable and transparent, but somehow the comprehension of the total is elusive. Each box or cell is made with the assembled with the same components – mass-manufactured by a team of assistants or volunteers – but each wire wriggles according to the minute differences in length, density, and human error. All the wires wriggling at the same time creates the feeling of a mass that somehow approaches an organism. Does that mean that enough mechanized movement can approach the quality of life?
An earlier work such as 25 woodworms, wood microphone, sound system (2009) does explicit homage to the sounds of life or the sound of nature, and is the flat-out amplified noise of live woodworms chewing a hunk of rotting wood. Recent work continues to make extensive use of cardboard and other basic industrial materials and massive repetition, but explores even more deeply aleatoric, or chance-controlled sound. The level of deliberate control and rigor is counter-balanced by the inevitable (de)generation of the overall sound, although Zimoun is clear that he is “not using chance to discover unexpected results, but to elevate the works to a higher level of vitality.” “Wall of Sound” appears to be less structured than past works, as there is no room or substantive wall constructed; instead, uneven stacks of percussive boxes sprawl apparently haphazardly throughout the gallery space like a maze with no perceptible grid. Indeed, the reference to a “wall of sound” is pointedly directed at Phil Spector who is famous for his early 60’s sound production technique of layering multiple guitarists playing the same parts to create a density in the background music. Here, the gallery space itself becomes the instrument, and as the viewer moves through the space, “the wall” of sound will change and shift.
The commissioned “Wall of Sound” is a coup for curator David Familian, as Zimoun has exhibited infrequently in the US, and even more rarely in California. The installation is the crowning finale in the gallery’s year-long dedication to sound art, a notoriously difficult and under-represented art form. As Cage famously said, “music… is not an attempt to bring order out of chaos…but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”