Art, sound and science collide in Moody Center’s “Soundwaves”


The pieces This was Nearly Mine and Medicated Shield by Jamal Cyrus are part of the exhibition Soundwaves: Experimental Strategies in Art + Music at the Moody Center for the Arts, Friday, February 4, 2022, Rice University Houston.

Photo: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle/Staff Photographer

Apologies to the wonderful drummers: imagine all the times you’ve been rudely greeted by drums, which so often generate the rhythm of marches and funerals for fairly obvious reasons. Percussion instruments are our musical heart. Drums and beaters are innocent. They just do what they are instructed to do. But sound can be an unforgiving welcome.

Like a trumpet in church or a yelp in an art gallery, the isolated drum can have an invigorating effect. Which should make Anri Sala’s “Last Resort” an intimidating door to walk through for “Soundwaves: Experimental Strategies in Art + Music” at the Moody Center for the Arts and its central gallery.

But the exhibition is not at all intimidating. The artist reversed over three dozen snare drums and hung them in the gallery space to create soft, beautiful shadows and sounds. They exist in the foreground and background, creating a wrapped environment with no vertical partitions along the site. The piece is as engaged with the viewer as the viewer allows.

Mozart plays in the background and mechanisms activate the gently articulated drumsticks at the head of each instrument. They behave with a controlled chaos: vibrations set the sticks to click, offering a soft pulsation under a very structured music. I imagine you could walk into this room 100 times and experience something different. The blend of art, sound and science is so immersive that it blurs the distinctions between these practice and study spaces.

“Sound waves: experimental strategies in art + music”

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, via TKTK

Or: Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, 6100 Main

Details: free; 713-348-2787,

Pass from this room to the Brown Foundation Gallery and you will be greeted by a real humanoid form. Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit” from 2013 is one of his signature designs borrowed from local collector Lester Marks.

Cave began creating his artistic armor – rhythmic, wearable suits – in response to Rodney King’s attack decades ago. By placing it at the entrance to this gallery, general manager Alison Weaver clearly wanted to invite those who are sensitive to some form of empathy. She brilliantly framed the spacious room with two very different works of art – both influenced by water as much as music – on the gallery’s two largest walls. “Reflections in Water (After Debussy)” by Spencer Finch is a fascinating light fixture based on waves on a wall. The artwork is bright and shiny and three-dimensional, with its light elements providing texture through curvature. Opposite are 31 works by Jorinde Voigt, which get their texture through layers rather than lights. The two works – one independent, the other a collection – give off the feeling of being adrift among the sound waves.

As a result, the intermediate spaces are barely marginalized and on the contrary valued. They find their way to the surface in this contained ocean of art and sound. Some pieces are meant to be contemplated. Others are visually appealing, yet fully realized with physical interaction. Along the route of this exhibition, there will be events where artists will come to activate some of the pieces, emphasizing the connection between sound and vision.

The breadth of the book is surprising, both in its international scope and in its materials and presentation. Some of the works are actual instruments, such as Turkish artist Nevin Aladag’s “Body Instruments” – a rainmaker’s hat, drum hat, accordion wings and foot bells – all created in the year last, which will be activated during a performance in April. Naama Tsabar’s “Transition” is a deconstructed amplifier that invites viewers to participate at any time. There are also portals to history, as with two works by Houston artist Jamal Cyrus that create scene, mood and evocation. His works “This Was Nearly Mine” and “Medicated Shield” evoke the town’s musical past, with a painted facade connected to the town’s legendary Ebony Club and the sanctuary of a pew.

Another Houstonian, Jason Moran, contributes a pair of coins. “Repeat the Spin” and “Pas de Deux I” were done last year with pigment on Gampi paper using the piano that made Moran a leader in 21st century jazz and music related to the history of America and Africa.

Among all the art and sound, Christine Sun Kim’s “Pyramid Series” stands out, as the artist combines the loose formality of sheet music with a sharp wit to portray those who cannot hear. The pieces use the structure of the song – repetition and chorus – to try to create a sound for those who can hear. The artist uses both humor and codified familiarity to express the frustration of those who feel outside. In doing so, she invites others to imagine experiences that elude her and others.

Viewers are invited to take unique passes through ‘Soundwaves’. But much of the art brought together in this exhibition proves more rewarding through time, with elements revealing themselves differently with long or later views. And events are scheduled throughout its journey, where part of the art comes to life with the performance.

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  • Andrew Dansby

    Andrew Dansby covers culture and entertainment, both local and national, for the Houston Chronicle. He came to The Chronicle in 2004 from Rolling Stone, where he spent five years writing about music. He had previously spent five years in book publishing, working with publisher George RR Martin on the first two books in the series that would become “Game of Thrones” on television. photos you’ve never seen. He has written for Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Texas Music, Playboy and other publications.

    Andrew dislikes monkeys, dolphins, and the outdoors.


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