Two black sofas vibrating in the lobby of an art gallery. Though subtle at first, the low- frequency thrum is almost like listening to a lullaby. That is, until an escalating quiver suddenly surprises the people sitting on it. What is that sound? Is it emanating from some machine close by? For Kristen Roos, such reactions are music to his ears. The Canadian artist is obsessed with the resonance of these deep sound waves.
“I love catching people off guard,” he admits, “and making them think“, laughs Roos as he sits in fornt on his creation at the Surrey Art Gallery just outside Vancouver. “I love the drones. They make me feel good. It’s very meditative.”
Sound from the underground
His curator feels the same. Roos’ use of infrasound has a decidedly otherworldly effect. The sofas make it tactile, explains Ross Birdwise, but it isn’t the same feel as, say, holding an electric toothbrush. “You feel the sound. It’s ghostly. As if spirits had been released from their graves and have possessed the couch.” It all taps into Roos’ artistic calling: to make the inaudible audible. For his show, Underground, Roos was able to achieve his vision using tactile contact combined with Sennheiser MKH 8020 microphones. Ross used the ultra-sensitive microphones, which can record frequencies beginning at 10 Hz, to record the machine and electrical rooms hidden in the gallery’s basement. The sound – rife among archaic-looking gauges and copper coils – was first sculpted and sequenced before being hardwired to the sofas via tactile transducers and speakers. Even though the sofas muffle the noise somewhat, with the help of microphones, the underlying sound is transformed into something more intense than they would have been in situ. The result of the 15-minute-long loops? Think: musical compositions. “There’s no doubt that I’m turning it into something more pleasing than it actually is,” he continues. “I think of it as manipulating the drone into a sound that pleases me.” For Roos, it’s the idea of the underground writ large. Reminiscent of the futuristic film Brazil, these industrial behemoths may look bizarre, but – in his mind – these machines are “real beauties”.
An expanded world
In his best known exhibition Ghost Station, Roos recorded the moaning and vibrating of subway cars and sequenced them into rhythms using subwoofers and shaking nuts, bolts and springs on rods hanging from the ceiling to create something akin to an eight-piece drum kit. “Bringing sounds that people are usually not even aware of to the surface,” he insists, “amplifies sound and creates a whole new world.”