Installation no 1 for high and low frequencies

Air I Breathe,
Gazelli Art House at the Rochelle School Gallery, London, 2011

John Wynne

"The meeting of the low frequencies creates a sort of third volume around head height – a kind of churning volume – very interesting. And the high frequency reverberations really delineate the space – you can feel the architecture from their movement and the way they're bouncing around."
David Toop


Click for a recording of the installation, but bear in mind that you will not hear most of the low frequencies.

The only speakers in this 4-channel installation are 2 massive white subwoofers (one at either end) and 2 high-quality tweeters (placed diagonally across the space). I wanted to work with very high and very low frequencies, partly so that the ambient sounds reaching the space from beyond its walls would be invited to fill the space in between and become part of the piece. As in much of my recent work, I wanted to make the walls acoustically translucent and to draw attention to the way sounds from the outside are affected by the architectural acoustics of the space. I was also working with beat frequencies - the phenomenon that happens when two tones at slightly different frequencies are played simultaneously from different sources - in this case from the massive subwoofers at either end of this space. I discovered that certain low frequencies also made the roof rattle and buzz in interesting ways, so the building itself became a literal participant in the immersive sound environment.

The thread installation is by Kate Terry. We both worked in the space for a week, collaborating without collaborating, so to speak. She wanted to work across the space; I wanted to work longitudinally. We are both interested in architectural interventions that change the way people perceive and move through a space, and we had a subtle influence on each other's work as it developed side-by-side, but for the most part there was no need to force anything - it just worked (so we are told).



"John Wynne's sculptures rely on the insubstantial properties of air. His sound installations disturb it, they swirl around us, penetrate and vibrate us, and confuse us. They make us think about the purity of a single note or the power of language and voice. We live with both direct and ambient sound. Sound is "carried away" or envelops us. When air is sucked out of us so is sound, death is the exhalation of breath not followed by an intake. Wynne distills sounds from diverse sources, "sculpting them into varied spatio-temporal forms", both personal and poignant.

In works such as Hearing Loss, his dead father's hearing aids communicate with each other; in Hearing Voices he recorded 'click- languages' in Botswana, the extraordinary power of voice and sound locked into a coded system. Whether through huge installations with three hundred speakers or a collection of beautiful resonant electronic notes and frequencies, he manipulates and propels sound through the air so we become receiving vessels. For Air I Breathe he worked in situ, listening to the architecture and the ambient sounds, synthesizing his own sounds in response, and experimenting with the relationships between pure tones to explore the space's dead areas and echoing hollows. The very low and very high frequencies that fascinate him and the exterior and interior sounds he draws into his work disorientate usby making the walls seem acoustically transparent. He literally tunes the space, with the result that the sound physically affects the visitor.

Cage-ian, or startlingly atonal, his sonic interventions are sometimes stealthily and silently there and at other times bold and clear, the result of his aural findings, his finely tuned hearing and the power of the large speaker cones pushing the air around as sound spills into it and retreats. There are resonances in his work of the Dadaist Futurists or Cage's silent work 4'33", which compellingly argues that there is "never nothing to hear": As we surrender ourselves, Wynne draws our audio attention in spectacular ways.

Living in a city we are surrounded by sound, some of which we filter out – we are disturbed by distorted public announcements, electronic buzzes and ringtones; we retreat into our own space to listen to ipods on noise-cancelling headphones. We hear different languages and accents spoken at different pitches and frequencies, some carrying more than others. There is always sound being carried in the air and yet we often describe the sensation of "the world falling silent" as something portentous and threatening."

Jean Wainwright, Air I Breathe catalogue essay



This project was generously supported by