Haroon Mirza has made his reputation as an artist of the remix. He structures the unglamorous beeps and buzzes of antiquated audio technology into beats and melodies. But he also appreciates those machines for their sculptural qualities, synchronizing their sounds with lights and moving pieces – as if Kraftwerk were building a Rube Goldberg machine. Part music, part sculpture, part architectural intervention, Mirza remixes not just sounds but the spaces they inhabit.
For his Frieze Sounds commission, Mirza will be using the fair’s visitors as his medium. Realtime Binaural Envelope will be made up of a column of microphones that pick up the conversations and movements of passersby, to which Mirza will add beats and distortion. The sounds will be played into headphones which become progressively louder until they are silenced completely. The project is inspired by John Cage’s famous use of the audience to fill silences; as Mirza puts it, “all I'm doing with this work is composing or adding rhythmic structure to ambient noise.” Unlike the energetic, hermetic installations he has become known for in the past few years, the piece is equally at home in quiet or loud environments, and relies on audience activation.
Haroon Mirza, Footsteps, 2005; Courtesy of the artist.
Mirza’s New York solo debut at the New Museum last year darkened the ground floor space at 231 Bowery, illuminated only by pulsating strips of LED lights purchased from the nearby shops on the Bowery; foam sound dampeners lined the walls, and malfunctioning televisions produced fuzzy beats. Gary Carrion-Murayari, the New Museum curator who organized the exhibition, cites Mirza’s “radical sensitivity towards architectural space” – entering the space from the bustling Bowery, one was immersed in a sound and light environment just as jarring but wholly different from the street. Like some post-human dance club, the storefront pulsed to the dictates of the machines, not the visitor’s musical expectations.
The Frieze project shows Mirza’s interests in words and eavesdropping. For his 2005 work Footsteps, Mirza embedded speakers into a room’s floorboards, playing a sequence of footstep sounds moving across the room. His 2002 Installation view was made up of speakers and his signature foam dampeners; the speakers played a recording of two people critiquing the installation, calling it a "shit job" and commenting on the ugliness of the foam pieces.
Haroon Mirza, Installation view, 2002; Courtesy of the artist.
Mirza’s Frieze project, like those earlier works, suggests voyeurism but with a twist. The microphone stand and headphones dislocate and disorient both the listener and the overheard. Because of distortions and added sound, one won’t be able to listen in on conversations, hearing them instead as beats and pulses. Mirza shows us that we take for granted the noises that surround us, and instead finds music there.
Haroon Mirza's new project goes live May 15th: http://www.o-o-o-o.co.uk/
(Image on top: Haroon Mirza, Preoccupied Waveforms, 2012-13; Courtesy of the New Museum / Photo by Jesse Untracht-Oakner.)