All Things Vibrations (2014)

Location: Brewery Tap, Folkestone


A mechanical soundscape vibrates through the air and you're presented with a series of generators, hubs and conduits. White electrical cabling and fine metal wires that sprawl across the walls of the gallery. Twelve grey modules that fit into specific spatial locations. Together, these details combine into a sound-generating machine. 


Working with sound artist Jon LawAll Things Vibrations was a collaborative sound installation that explored audible spatiality. The installation itself isn't site-specific, in the sense that it can be taken and placed in any location, but it actually develops a site-dependency due to the gallery determining the sound that is generated. Modules are designed as objects to house sound-generating equipment: a tuning peg is mounted to a square of MDF from which a piano wire spans the gallery wall and connects to a recipient tuning peg. Under the first module is a motor that vibrates the wire and under the second, a microphone that feeds the sound to a soundboard and amplifier (hidden from sight). The site-dependency is created through the length of the wires, as it is the gallery itself that determines how far they can span; each pair of modules responding to the space itself through their 

There is an ambiguity involved with the installation that requires a certain level of belief from the viewer: somehow, these modules (made from greyboard) are generating a mechanical soundscape. The viewer is required to look past the superficiality of the appearance and accept that greyboard and piano wire can function as a fully-functional machine. 

A Sound Machine and The Emerald City

First published in 1900, The Wizard of Oz tells a fantastical tale of a girl and her dog being whisked away by a tornado to a magical land inhabited by munchkins and witches and talking lions. A land where scarecrows are alive and men can be made from tin and a wizard sits on the throne of a thriving metropolis. It's a story that has become so ingrained into popular culture with its blend of realism and fantasy and unique imagery, immortalised by MGM's 1939 film adaptation.

The Emerald City, what is considered to be the capital of Oz, is a city whose supreme excellence is revered by all throughout the land, and for good reason. Cities are where dreams are realised and desires are born. As Daniel Willis aptly points out in his article The Emerald City: A Study of Substance and Place, people arrive seeking that which they want but do not need and have nonetheless lived perfectly well without; the Scarecrow wanted a brain, the Tinman wanted a heart and the Cowardly Lion wanted courage. 

As a precious gem, emeralds immediately establish a vast wealth for the Emerald City, but what if instead of emeralds, another precious gem were used? How would this city be perceived instead? Red rubies would be representative of flame and shame, blood and war, a city of vice. Diamonds would be too transparent and unable to conceal, offering no protection or refuge and no comfort from such. Gold, although wealthy, would be too weak as a metal to build the towers and spires to make a city large and noteworthy, it is something to be obtained and not used. And what of other, less precious, materials? A steel city would suggest industrialisation and perhaps a lower class as typically associated with factories and machinery, and a wood city would appear to primitive and too vulnerable to flame. And quite simply, a city made of bricks would be far too ordinary. “An Emerald City is most improbable. However, this does not mean it is unrealistic... as an image, the Emerald City is quite realistic, even though the implications of actually constructing it are not. Material images are not opposed to reality, but are imaginative extensions, twists, or distorted mirrors of reality. They are, according to the terminology I have come to adopt, 'good lies' ” (Willis,1999:95).* 

In the original story, Baum writes that the Emerald City is actually a normal city that isn't constructed from emeralds; the magic arises after the Wizard convinces all of the citizens to wear green-tinted glasses so that everything could appear to be made from emeralds. But of course, the effect of this would then be lost on the rest of the land rendering the process unnecessary, so as such, this is not a good lie. In translation to the screen, the decision was made to remove this minor plot detail and have the Emerald City actually be made from emeralds, and not just be a pretend detail – this of course is far more magical than the pretence.

The Modules for All Things Vibrations are made of a greyboard that looks sturdy and are formed in a way that looks mechanical but have no actual mechanical ability. It is a material that was selected to function as a machine despite how improbable it would be. So again, the viewer is required to look past the superficiality of the appearance and accept that greyboard and piano wire can be a fully-functional machine, the required green-tinted glasses being their own belief and imagination. 


* Willis, Daniel (1999). The Emerald City in The Emerald City and Other Essays on the Architectural Imagination. Princeton Architectural Press: New York

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