two evenings (nothing but what is therein contained)

a year before my installation in thomas u. walter’s founder’s hall for girard college, i was invited to create a performance work, to not only begin to engage with the space – which had not been open to the public for 100 years – but to present a small scale work to kind of preview my exploration of the space and its history. a few days after the performance/interventions, i wrote on my blog:

“thomas walter’s original design for founder’s hall at girard college was based on stephen girard’s incredibly detailed requirements for the building as stated in girard’s will. walter’s first first drawings are extremely minimal, and titled “nothing but what is therein contained”. the phrase refers to the fact that these initial designs basically followed the stipulations of girard’s will, and nothing was added that wasn’t mentioned in the will. i wonder how the structure would’ve looked had it been built following these original plans. the outside of the final design shows more of walter’s grand greek influences than girard might have wished, but much of girard’s original ideas were followed on the inside.

the four dome shaped rooms on the top floor are acoustic wonders, and during my performances the past few nights i was able to use acoustic objects without amplification and to blend them with the electronic sounds at a relatively close volume. the ways sound travels around the space is pretty extraordinary.

while the installation in the archive worked in relation to the contents of that space (which also had a very different response to sound because of all the paper and cardboard); the two installations in the other dome rooms worked to exploit many of the acoustic characteristics of the architecture – and were approached through walter’s use of the phrase “nothing but what is therein contained” in that i used only sounds and objects found in the space.

the field recordings, all made within the space, contained the natural sound of the space, which when played back in the space, essentially sounded in response to the architecture twice. in some instances you could hear things better from across the room than standing over the speaker, and in others, if your eyes were closed you had absolutely no idea where the sound was coming from. the amazing thing is that this didn’t always mean muddy sound, in fact a number of sounds had an incredibly tactile presence to them.

the installations were opened to the public around 7:15 pm until the performance which started at 8. during this time, because there is no electrical lighting in the space, the room went from evening’s soft light to near darkness, and after the performance, around 8:45 only the small camping lanterns to light the space. the performance and the installations felt very much as soundtracks to the moving of light to darkness…”

the film is a combination of the original design of the building going through various permutations and ornaments. it was hand drawn. the performance utilized found objects and field recordings from within the space. i also brought several acoustic sound making things with me to see how the sound of the space would change them, as well as videotaping myself doing certain sound actions within the space – such as opening a vent that screeched while opening, or walking on top of dried paint that had cracked and fallen to the floor. the installation inside the archive referenced a group of letters i found written by former students circa 1890. the pieces in two of the dome rooms used field recordings of actions as well as the space without action and replayed the sound pack into the space as if a kind of an echo.