Artists in Residence Reimagine Music at The Contemporary Austin

Upstairs at Austin’s The Contemporary museum, a large space is dotted with electronics, acoustic instruments and various objects arranged like chemistry or physics experiments. They wander off as if dropped by a musician after a momentary nocturnal inspiration, a few tinkerings and a half-sated curiosity.

Imagined by the composer of Lebanese origin and based in Paris Tarek Atoui, the “research laboratory” allows artists to explore the making of sound without any constraint, if not the construction of the instruments and the space itself. same.

While the art in the rest of the museum may convey a specific message, these explorations are without an agenda. Like many of Atoui’s projects, the art is in the collaboration between creator and player, and the performance between player and curious viewer.

Three musicians will be in residence at the museum, each for a period of two weeks, to learn about the tools that will inform Atoui’s upcoming exhibition at The Contemporary, “The Whisperers”, from April 9 to August 14.

Each artist-in-residence spends the first week in the unstructured studio, taking notes and inviting other artists of their choice to come and collaborate. During the second week, the artist leads workshops with a community partner (Austin Soundwaves, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Girls Rock Austin).

This project is supported by the Suzanne Deal Booth/FLAG Art Foundation Prize, which includes a $200,000 prize, production costs in Austin and New York, and more public support.

The first artist-in-residence for “Lab – Tarek Atoui: The Whisperers”, Henna Chou, exudes a slowly drifting calm as she surveys the space in which she has worked. At the beginning of the experiment, she does not seem to feel any pressure in her pioneer. In fact, where many artists would seem frantic with ideas, Chou seems introspective yet pleasantly detached.

“I think I’m kind of known for randomly saying yes to things and dealing with it,” Chou says. “I mean, there wasn’t much to deal with. I’m often asked to be part of something where it’s a bit vague.

When asked, Chou can’t quite put her finger on what prompted Atoui, a new contact, to invite her to participate. It’s as if the question had never crossed his mind. Although this nonchalance can be mistaken for distance, Chou’s tone is friendly and interested.

The decisions she makes in the studio reflect a vigilance not only towards the experience of sound production, but also the experience of those who listen. She reserves her louder experience for after hours, as a courtesy to visitors who may be sensitive to sound.

One of the instruments Chou talks about is the DuoFluctus from builder Sergey Filatov. The two-stringed instrument is fretless and vibrates with an electromagnetic field that the player controls with a knob, emitting a changing hum. In addition to creating drones, which Chou considers an obvious approach, she envisions a group performance with beats (perhaps performed with dulcimer sticks or a pick) and written parts.

The DuoFluctus happens to be one of a minority recognizable as studio instruments; others include a boosted intravenous drip in a bucket of water and a steel plate with painted wooden blocks on top tickled by a pile of reed branches.

“[New techniques are] either illegal in classical music, or later they are considered extended techniques,” says Chou, considering his methods of experimentation and the evolution they could bring. “Any normal person – if given an instrument and they didn’t know the rest of the world – would have tried all of these things. They would have tried to hit it or hit the hardtop. … C It’s fun to apply traditional techniques from one field to another.”

The current artist in residence from February 2 to March 2 worked with Atoui years ago during his first solo exhibition in Mexico. Chris Cogburn, a percussionist, explores resonant frequencies using familiar instruments including drums and contact microphones. Branching out, he’s eager to try out the DuoFluctus and the Cochlea, a feedback device that works with struck metal instruments such as cymbals and gongs.

“‘The Whisperers’ is both a singular environment and an open process which I believe asks me to learn through a refined practice of engagement, which is part of Tarek’s genius,” Cogburn writes via email. . “It sets up an environment that allows each artist to assert their personal processes on something that is much bigger than their individual practice or aesthetic interests.”

Parham Daghighi, a Texas-born Iranian multi-instrumentalist, will wrap up the experiments from March 3-17. Daghighi got involved through his friend from The Contemporary, Robin Williams, and is involved in the project not only as a musician, but also as a graduate social work student looking forward to the community collaboration aspect. . It addresses a similar theme for the three artists involved: an openness to the art of improvisation and a willingness to just show up and see what happens.

“I’m terribly interested in creating problems that I can spend time solving, whether in an installation or in an improvised performance with others,” Daghighi writes. “I see the different sonic environments contained in ‘The Whisperers’ as having a lot of potential to create interesting systems that I can then problematize and reflect upon.”

The lab is open now through March 17 in preparation for “The Whisperers,” which will take over Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center from April 9 through August 14.

For more information, visit or stop by the lab itself, watch the artist’s experiments, and chat with gallery attendant Ulysses Cueto. All tickets must be purchased in advance, but Thursdays are free.

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