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Little Gods (Chamber Organ), Parasol Unit, Venice Biennale

Little Gods (Chamber Organ), 2022

24-hour continuous performance and subsequent exhibition

An interactive sound installation in the exhibition 'Uncombed, Unforseen, Unconstrained', Collateral Event of the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

April 23 - November 27, 2022 | Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello


“For the Venice Biennale in 2022, as part of the exhibition 'Uncombed, Unforseen, Unconstrained' by Parasol Unit, I made a 24-hour continuous live performance for which I played my new interactive sound installation 'Little Gods (Chamber Organ)' with a specially conceived composition, non-stop, alongside the musicians from the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia.


When in 2021 Ziba Ardalan the creator of Parasol unit showed me around the palazzo of the Conservatorio di Musica, the venue for her exhibition, I was immediately smitten with the tiny, exquisite chapel that can only fit a handful of people inside. I loved that it feels like a private place for reflection; and not at all the kind of place for demonstrations of faith, and definitely not for performances. I thought it would be a beautiful space in which to play with ideas of transcendence not through religion but through sound, and a bit of animism.


So I installed a playfully sacrilegious sound installation/musical instrument composed of ‘Little Gods’: an unlikely collection of vessels and hollow objects characterised by their animistic qualities. Each object represents or takes the form of an animal or human character.


Like a seashell or a wine glass, every empty vessel has its own musical note at which it resonates. Physical form and musical harmony are inseparable - it’s impossible to make a vessel or a hollow object without creating a musical note; and this has been true throughout the history of object-making. And so every one of these little animals has been resonating at a specific musical note since the day it was made.


For the installation I placed a tiny microphone within each of the vessels. The microphones are individually activated by the keys on a midi keyboard (the keyboard itself makes no sound). When a key is pressed the ambient sound inside the corresponding vessel is amplified and creates acoustic feedback at the exact note of the vessel. In this way we can hear the resonance of the vessels live, in real-time, and they can be played like an organ. It’s very much like my ‘Vessel Orchestra’ that I created at the Met in 2019, but here for the first time visitors can play the instrument themselves as well as hearing it played by professional musicians. In each case, it can be heard by just a handful of people in the intimate space of the tiny chapel.


The note of a vessel is determined by the shape and size of the empty space inside it. I chose the 32 vessels for their specific natural resonant frequencies: they resonate chromatically over two and a half octaves between the notes D2 and A4. 

I also created a cyanotype drawing from my sketches for the installation, and a limited edition print for Parasol unit.

During the course of the exhibition, visitors are able to play and perform on the installation; and for me part of the excitement in this piece is the friction between these ancient and universal sounds and the diverse music that comes out of them as they are activated by the most contemporary musicians.” Oliver Beer

In the exquisite chapel hidden at the heart of the Conservatorio and surrounded by musicians, this installation will have a rich musical life throughout the six months of the Biennale Arte 2022 before traveling to allow these diverse objects to make new music in new contexts. The installation will be presented among amazing artists such as Darren Almond, Rana Begum with Hyetal, Julian Charrière, David Claerbout, Bharti Kher, Arghavan Khosravi, Teresa Margolles, Si On, Martin Puryear, and Rayyane Tabet.

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