Commissioned text
Published 15/04/13

Bryony Gillard: In the boom of the tingling strings

Simon Bayliss

Permitting an audience to observe you rehearsing is an act of generosity, because this self-conscious pursuit is usually done in private.

The musicians at Bryony Gillard’s opening played the baby-grand piano beautifully for the most part, but were occasionally repeating passages, there were stops and starts, and even a metronome was introduced. A few days later this author witnessed a musical trio practising in the space, working on a piece they had never played before, where extravagant passages of music were abruptly interjected with chatter and professional bickering.

The musicians are not staged during the exhibition as performers per se, instead in the tradition of relational aesthetics, the gallery acts as a kind of social laboratory; in this case in the form of a micro-Conservatoire. But relational artworks – by definition comprising of participatory events or happenings – often attempt to rekindle dwindling forms of social interaction. Placing Gillard’s live-piece Practice in this tradition may be misguided, precisely because a rehearsal has never been a social event, at least with an audience. The grand piano is also an inherently bourgeois symbol, and enables the piece to bypass this ethos of much relational art; the leisure activities of the middle-classes do not deserve the focus of regeneration… do they? Alternatively the piece reflects on the nature of practice as a method of learning through mistakes, with all the awkwardness and mortality this reveals.

In a separate sound piece, audible through headphones behind acoustic screening, is the recording of a stiff male voice reciting a surreal monologue of assorted piano references. Read in the style of a teach yourself audiobook, he describes teaching techniques, followed by a child’s personal anecdotes, mentions of the physicality of the instrument as a potentially sculptural object, as well as a particular mention John Cage’s, A Valentine out of Season. This eclectic verse is echoed on the opposite wall by a large visual poem using words composed of the musical letters A – G; another Cagean reference. These works suggest that the live component of the exhibition should not be grasped too literally, and can instead be thought of in the spirit of the artist who famously composed a score of silence. Cage’s most notorious work 4’33”, is not about the absence of sound however, and instead it was designed to highlight peripheral noises, presenting everyday reverberations as musically valid. Thus besides generating the buzz of a lively and experimental social atmosphere, Gillard’s live-work is perhaps best heard.

Bryony Gillard - install
In the Boom of the Tingling Strings, Bryony Gillard (2013) Photo credit: Dom Moore
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In the Boom of the Tingling Strings, Bryony Gillard (2013) Photo credit: Dom Moore

Over four weeks, rehearsals are scheduled within the gallery. You cannot just walk in and jam. And this suggests that Gillard is after a pedagogical atmosphere and a certain refinement in the sound, as opposed to a hippy jamboree. The mistakes, repetitions, gaps, tinkering, sighs, and banter are all part of a soundscape in which the audience participates with their own resonating rustles and scuffs. And in the spirit of generosity, extra ears can experience an otherwise private activity; thus the work alludes to the philosophical question ‘if a tree falls in a forest…’. But in this case perhaps the question is not whether a sound is made, but whether it is persuasive.