Frequency Painting - Gary James Joynes Interview

Frequency Painting is a new project by Gary James Joynes (aka Clinker) that explores and documents visible sound and vibration. To mark the occasion of an opening of a related solo show at Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture in Edmonton. Yesterday Gary provided us with the statement for his experimental AV project and this companion interview provides a little more information on the production of the work.

Gary James Joynes – Frequency Painting

[Gary James Joynes / 1.38 kHz, Frequency Painting / 2010]

GJS: How did you first get interested in cymatics? Could you talk about the origin of this research in relation to your art practice?

GJJ: In December of 2008 I was introduced to the film "Cymatics - Bringing Matter To Life With Sound" by Hans Jenny, who is considered to be the Father of Cymatics. I have been exploring the relationships between sound and image in my Live Cinema practice and Jenny's film resonated with me deeply. A major focus of my work has been what the French film theorist Michel Chion has called "synchresis", the brains natural ability to "connect the dots" - to forge relationships between random sound and visual moments hat happen simultaneously. Cymatics took this idea even further for me… it had revealed the visualization of sound to be one and the same thing. This was an artistic epiphany which was expanded even more when I discovered the Chladni "Sound Figures." I began to see a direct relationship between this science and the minimalist aesthetic I have been working on for many years.

I was immediately compelled to design and build my own cymatics system and my first successful prototype was operational in early 2009. My goal was to create a "wave driver" machine that would be powerful (and precise) enough to sculpt with… to be able to "draw" and shape detailed lines in the sand. I felt I needed an instrument that I could actually "play" to finesse this sound wave energy. When I draw or paint I have tools that allow me that control and the "wave driver" became a new tool in creating this work. By the time of my Banff Residency in August that same year I had built this machine (prototype #5) by marrying a custom analog modular synthesizer to a hand-built air-cooled (heat synched) wave driver speaker assembly bridged by a very high-quality and powerful audio amplifier. I then spent 5-months (August - December 2009 at the Banff Centre) experimenting with this instrument pushing wave shapes into many different types of particulate sand. Through the course of this process I developed my techniques and eventually was able to create the visual aesthetic and quality of work I was seeking! I am now showing these as my new body of work which I call Frequency Painting.

The Frequency prints are produced in a complicated, lab-like environment – could you talk about how you've adapted the work to present it in a gallery context?

The Frequency prints stand on their own as visual art but this is only one part of the Frequency Painting: 12 TONES gallery installation which is also a rich and immersive interactive sound experience. When I was creating the images in the studio I felt an intimate relationship with the tones (I was seeing and feeling the sound simultaneously) and I wanted to create an opportunity for viewers to experience this as well. I was meticulous in measuring and cataloging each of my wave images and each is titled by the specific resonant frequency which was used to create it.

The 12 frequencies that have been chosen for 12 TONES had to meet two criteria, what they looked like was a very serious consideration, but even more important was how each tone responded to and interacted with the other 11 tones working in the space. When composing the soundscape for 12 TONES I was searching for and listening to how each tone "played" with the others by binaurally beating and phasing them against each other. I was asking myself the questions… "What interesting sonic moments, polyrhythmic interactions and musical relationships would happen if I rubbed say… 423.62 Hz up against 434.97 Hz, or 3.59 kHz against 3.62 kHz?" Through the process of elimination (months of deep listening to a large library of images I had created) I eventually narrowed down and selected the "frequencies" that make up the composition.

Frequency Painting - Electronics

[Left: Arduino Dev board with breadboarded analog filter + opto isolator. Middle: hand-etched circuit board working prototype #3. Right: Fully completed circuit box 1 of 12]

In the 12 TONES installation each of 12 prints becomes (in itself) a multimedia sculptural piece which consists of its own integrated audio generator and self-powered speaker system. Each "unit" features a custom designed, hand built circuit box (designed and programmed by Scott Smallwood) which very slowly modulates the amplitude of the exact tone (frequency) that created its image. Sonar proximity sensors also respond to the presence of the viewers moving through the space which further augments the variation of the volume of each piece. The cumulative result of all of these random variations in volume (from all 12 pieces) is a dynamic and constantly evolving spatialization of sound as the tones ebb and flow and intersect which each other.

"Even small changes in the listener’s position in any dimension bring an entirely changed sonic world. Participants experience a composition played by the installation in concert with the other viewers moving through the space changing volumes and impeding sound waves. Location, height, head position, and shared experience all matter in a world where no two participants will hear exactly the same composition." – Dr. David Candler, excerpt from Latitude 53 Gallery Essay

It sounds like iterating the various prototypes came quite naturally – how exactly does this project relate back to your broader music and art practice? Do you just go back into the studio after a venture like this, or start building some kind of new device or sound environment? Finally, is there a next step to this work?

The "iteration" of the various wave driver prototypes came out of necessity… quite simply through my process in running these machines and learning how hard I could push them… I just kept blowing them up! There are so many volatile issues when using these, at one point in my Banff studio a visitor watching me work shouted at me "Hey Gary, is that supposed to be smoking like that?" I had times when I would push the machine into thermal shutdown, but I just had to see where I could go in those moments. Even though I am using the very best industrial tour-grade high-fidelity speakers, they were never designed to be abused in this way. My process at times is a violent one and because of the various sizes and weights of metal plates I use, a lot of stress is placed directly on the voice-coils spider. They get really hot! Every time I would push a machine to complete failure, I would try and improve the design to make it stronger and more efficient, my latest version has an air-cooling system :)

I will jump to last part of your question here because 12 TONES is just the introduction of this work for me. After I had figured out how to finesse, measure and catalog my still images I began to push my machine to ridiculous levels using analog cross-modulation in order animate the wave shapes. Let's just say I have never experienced visualization like this before, to me this is the purest essence of what "Visual Music" can be. I feel like I am now able to compose and direct a kind of poetic abstract audio-visual ballet that is alive in the moment. For my entire career I have embraced pure analog technology and married it to digital tools. I have a lot of plans of where I am going to be taking all these ideas over the next few years, the 12 TONES installation is just the beginning of a much broader Frequency Painting gallery series. I have already begun work on a new Live Cinema piece and I just might be crazy enough to use my wave-driver machine in my future live performance work.

Frequency Painting – Production shot

You mention that you had built up a large library from which you chose the 12 tones for the installation – exactly how many frequencies had you catalogued during your research?

I have captured over 40 different resonant frequencies at this time. Each of these was sculpted delicately and photographed in a progression of anywhere from 3 to 7 individual images (per frequency). I have over 140 unique Frequency Painting images in my current catalog and I will be releasing a total of 24 very limited edition Frequency Paintings available as of January 14th in the form of Chromira prints. This release will include all of the 12 TONES frequencies from the installation plus an additional 12 frequencies that I have chosen based on their visual impact and distribution through the range. All images are being offered in two sizes in editions of 10 or less depending on size. I am working with David Candler and a new gallery based in Edmonton DC3 Art Projects in the production of the current installation and the visual works in progress.