Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Douglas Henderson Stop

A brand-new electric guitar is half buried in a massive block of concrete. It is plugged in, its cable leads to a massive 1970s amplifier stack that is switched on, turned up, humming and crackling with latent energy: a frozen solo attached to the engine of rock history. It is as if an effort to preserve the instrument has condemned it to a kind of half-life.

Like an homage to the guitar-destroying rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townsend, the work evokes a lost past in the style of Pompeii. Outside the museum, this instrument has no future.
Douglas Henderson’s works are governed by visual criteria. Trained as a composer, Henderson sees himself first and foremost as a visual artist: “I don’t think that I make music, I’m trying to make sound visible.”

Douglas Henderson, “Stop”, 2007. Photo Florian Walter

There is another electric guitar at the ZKM, which was silenced when the artist Douglas Henderson buried it in a block of concrete. The work “Stop”, dating from 2007 could be thought of as another homage to the 4’33’’ of silence that John Cage composed in 1952. No sound will ever be heard again from this guitar in the Media Museum, frozen in time like everything was in Pompei in the year 79. The Marshall amplifier to which the guitar is connected reveals only its potential. This art work in the exhibition participates in pushing the limits of sonic art as far as sculpture where sound figures only by its absence, its lack. The block of concrete preserves the work by depriving the instrument of its primary function. But is not the primary function of a museum to preserve? Beyond its obvious plasticity, “Stop” is a work that is open to many interpretations as it might just as well symbolise those we reduce to silence, or those who find themselves confined within four concrete walls when their ideas offend. The question of musicality is decidedly absent.

Sound sculpture
concrete, wood, electronics, amplifier, 140 × 60 × 60 cm (guitar block) and 130 × 75 × 30 cm (amplifier)

Sound artist and composer Douglas Henderson was born in 1960 in Baltimore, Maryland. He studied music composition and theory with Milton Babbitt, Paul Lansky, and J.K. Randall, receiving his PhD. in composition from Princeton University in 1991 and his Bachelor's degree in composition from Bard College in 1982. He recently chaired the Sound Arts Department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and conducts master classes in electroacoustic composition, multi-channel audio and recording arts. 

Douglas Henderson is a sound artist whose work spans all aspects of the medium, from electroacoustic sound compositions to sculptural works and installations. He harnesses the energies of sound both as a sensual medium and as a culturally charged fabric of social implication. He is particularly interested in the dialogue between Sound, form, and motion, and the transformative power they can unleash when combined.

In 2012 he has been invited to major museum exhibitions such as "Asche und Gold. Eine Weltenreise" at MARTa in Herford, "Sound Art. Klang als Medium der Kunst" at ZKM in Karlsruhe and "City Sonic Festival" in Belgium. He has been awarded a 2008 Rockefeller Foundation MultiArts Program Award for Music for 100 Carpenters (2009), a 2007 DAAD artist residency in Berlin, and a 2007 Foundation for Contemporary Arts individual artist grant. He was a 2002 and 2006 artist in residence at Harvestworks Digital Media Lab, a 2004 Dance Theater Workshop ARM Fellow, and a 2005 guest artist for Resonance Magazine (London). He received a 2005 Rockefeller Foundation Multi-Arts Program Award for work with choreographer Luis Lara Malvacías, and the New York Dance and Performance Award ("Bessie") for his work on Kriyas (1998)