contrariwise (for philip johnson)

martin art gallery
muhlennberg college
allentown, pa

“contrariwise, what will all this sound like in ten years?”

this piece takes as its starting point the last sentence of a 1975 essay by architect philip johnson, called “what makes me tick?” (johnson designed the muhlenberg art building and gallery where the exhibition, sound in space, took place). because this text came about when johnson was moving away from a programmatic approach to architectural design, towards a more intuitive practice; i wanted to create a situation that encompassed both types of processes.

like the act of architectural fabrication, i wanted to create a score that would set a process in motion, allowing a group of students to work collaboratively towards the making of a sculpture. (i see in the relationship of an architectural plan towards the building of a structure, as having a similarity with a musical composition and the musicians that will realize the work).

before i arrived, i sent the students a text score, suggesting possible ways of translating johnson’s words into sculptural forms – using number equivalents related to the alphabet (a=1, b=2, etc.).

all of the decisions and fabrication of the sculpture were directed by the students through conversation with scott sherk and my score.

the sound elements were created through a combination of two systems: the first a similar alphabet = musical note equivalent played on a small electronic tone generator by myself; and second, a series of recordings of the gallery space made by scott during the sculpture’s construction, by placing a microphone inside each different length of pvc pipe that made up the form – thus giving us three iterations of johnson’s text – two audio translations, and one sculptural.