We enter a room and are plunged into semi-darkness. The room is dominated by an immense basin of water, ripples radiating across its surface in concentric rings. Intuitively we know that the sounds around us are closely related to the ripples, a fact reinforced by the water’s reflected movements on the surrounding walls through a sophisticated play of light. As we get closer, it becomes clear that the sounds are emanating from speakers concealed under the basin, the source of the ripples on the water’s surface. The water acts as a medium in the sense that it acts as middle ground: stimulated by the sound and swept by the beams of light, it produces richly evocative reflections. A latent photographic metaphor is at play in the installation: the water seems to take on the properties of a sensitive plate,
with the sound imprinted
upon it and revealed
by the movement and stunning reflections projected on the walls.
Presented as a "temporal sculpture," Ondulation
a composition for water, sound and light, was created by Thomas McIntosh in collaboration with composer and friend Emmanuel Madan (the pair go by the pseudonym [The User]) (2)
and Mikko Hynnimen, a sound designer, lighting specialist, scenic artist and composer based in Helsinki, Finland. The installation is an extension of finale
(2001), the final work created in the Silophone (3)
project. During finale
, various solids, liquids and gases were placed into large loudspeakers and set into motion by audio signals produced with a computer. McIntosh and Madan thus established a direct relationship between the surface of the water placed in the speaker and the sounds emitted. Waves of sound were translated into waves of water. Likewise, changes in sound intensity and the addition of other frequencies created corresponding alterations in the water's surface.
McIntosh and his collaborators have continued the exploration launched in finale
by pursuing their interest in synesthesia, where a visual sensation is experienced through its analogy with an auditory perception – which describes precisely the Ondulation
experience. In fact, the simultaneity is such between the sound and light waves – the sound vibration is identical to the image’s rhythm reflected on the walls – that we are left with a sense of seeing the sound and hearing the image. The correlation between the elements leaves spectators musing over the cause and effect of that which is right before their eyes. Paradoxically, while the work is inevitably subject to the element of duration, the notion of time is lost, carried away by the rippling water and the arabesques of light on the walls. With Ondulation
, McIntosh offers an experience that moves beyond aesthetics to establish itself in the real world and not merely in one imagined or symbolic.
Among artistic precedents that share the concepts and forms of Ondulation
are Mud Muse
(1971) by Robert Rauschenberg and Mediations (towards a remake of Soundings)
(1979/86) by Gary Hill. Mud Muse
was the result of a collaborative effort between Rauschenberg and various engineers as part of the Art and Technology
exhibition, which was organized by Maurice Tuchman and presented at the Los Angeles County Museum in May 1971. The work consisted of a large glass and aluminium basin filled with bentonite and water. A pneumatic system activated by sound caused the concoction of mud to surge and bubble. Unlike Ondulation
, the sounds could not be heard, and, basing himself on reflexivity, Rauschenberg produced an audiotape of the recorded sounds made by the eruptions themselves. With Mediations
, Gary Hill created a correlation between visual and acoustic perceptions. The work consisted of a videotape displaying a loudspeaker filling a monitor’s screen. A fist filled with sand entered the frame and slowly released the sand onto the speaker. The sound of a voice describing the action sent the sand flying into the air. With this simple manœuvre, Hill allowed us to "see" the voice.
The research that went into the making of Ondulation
was conducted in three phases: the construction of the instrument; the design of the lighting system; and the composition of an audio-visual performance work. For Ondulation
is presented as both an installation and a performance piece. McIntosh and his collaborators began by working on a smaller version of the instrument during a residency at the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) in Montreal during the summer of 2002. A second residency at Lume Media Centre in Helsinki allowed them to construct the instrument to its full scale and produce the performance version of Ondulation
, which premiered during the Avanto Media Arts Festival
in November 2002 in Helsinki. In July 2003, while still at the Lume Media Centre, they refined their instrument and completed the composition presented during the performances. The Ondulation
performance was presented again in August 2003 during the Helsinki Festival. In February 2004, the installation version had its world premier during Mois Multi in Quebec City, and in the spring of 2004 it was presented at the High-Tech/Low-Tech
exhibition in Pittsburgh’s Wood Street Galleries. In 2005, Montrealers had the opportunity to experience Ondulation
when it was presented in its two versions at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.