Tag Archives: Phonautograph

Retreival Systems

I have a show opening on the 9th of June at the Wexford Arts Centre in Ireland. I will be showing alongside Gail Cunningham and it will be of work I made and developed whilst on the residency at Cow House Studios last year. The show runs to the 30th of July. It is a great excuse for me to go over to south east Ireland, which is absolutely beautiful, I will make a visit to the farm, catch up with everyone and see my favourite guy!

Here is the press release:

Retrieval Systems

Matthew Denniss & Gail Cunningham

Wexford Arts Centre in association with Cow House Studios

Friday 10th June – Saturday 23rd July 2011

 Official launch: Thursday 9th June at 6pm

Wexford Arts Centre, in collaboration with Cow House Studios are delighted to host a two-person exhibition of recent 2010 artists-in-residence, Matthew Denniss and Gail Cunningham. Situated within the rural tranquility of Rathnure, Co. Wexford, Cow House Studios offers a valuable support structure for emerging visual artists as well as introducing critically engaging contemporary work to the rural community.

Both Matthew Denniss and Gail Cunningham are international artists, responding to Cow House Studio’s philosophy for cross-cultural learning and creative exchange among peers. Denniss, based in Manchester, UK bases his current practice on an informal approach to the investigative systems of science and invention, as opposed to the more restricted methodical approach approved by scientific and mathematical institutions. Investigation into various intangible materials such as wind, electricity, perpetual motion and growth feature principally in his work, with an emphasis on its elusive and poetic elements. Gail Cunnigham, from Philadelphia, U.S.A uses hand-cut paper and various fibre materials in an effort to push her fascination with social organization and our structured environments. Using the format of the house and its structural layout, Cunningham explores how we pose ourselves in social situations.

Developing the work in the studios at Cow House and combining their efforts for this duel exhibition, Denniss and Cunningham together examine the various aspects in which energy resides. With Cunningham’s work, her highly controlled, precision–cut paper images reveal a hidden energy of powerful proportions, bordering on anxiety as spiders crawl and scramble frantically from deep within the confines of the domestic ritual. Denniss, on the other hand, is more concerned with the physical elements of energy and his association with the primitive means of harbouring and utilising it. In doing so, he is attempting to explore and reveal the true motives and philosophies of the original inventors, responsible for such machines like the phonautograph and the wind turbine.

Gail Cunningham studied at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia and graduated with a BA in Fine Arts from the Oregon College of Art & Craft, Portland, Oregon in 2003. Her work has featured in numerous group shows including Side By Side, High Wire Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; Pretty, Pretty, Bambi Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; and OFF DUTY, MGA Partners, Philadelphia, PA.  Gail lives and works in her native Philadelphia.

Matthew Denniss graduated from Goldsmiths College, London with a BA in Fine Art in 2006. Denniss was Artist in Residence at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2009, and has exhibited in Newcastle, Glasgow, London, Norway and the Czech Republic.  He currently lives and works in Manchester.

The exhibition will run in the upper gallery of Wexford Arts Centre from Friday June 10th to Saturday 30th July, 2011 with an opening reception on Thursday 9th June at 6pm. For further information on the exhibition or artists please contact Catherine Bowe, Visual Art Manager of the Wexford Arts Centre on 053 9123764.

By the light of the moon

The phonautograph was the first known sound recording device. It was patented in 1857 by French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville. It consisted of a large copper barrel with a diaphragm on the end to which a stylus with a hogs bristle was attached. Next to the barrel was a roll of oil lamp smoke blackened paper which was fed through the device by turning a handle. The recording was made by speaking into the barrel, which moved the stylus and made an etching into the paper in the form of a squiggly line akin to a seismograph.

An apparent drawback of the phonautograph is its inability to play back the sounds it recorded. It was however, intended only to be used to study sound by producing a visual representation. It inspired a number of other phonautographs to be made and was the inspiration for Thomas Edisons Phonograph –a device that could be played back.

In 2008 Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made high resolution scans of some recordings that had survived. They made a “virtual stylus” and were able to play the sound back. The song they played was “Au Clair de la Lune” (“By the light of the moon”). The variables which effected the initial recording –speed at which the handle was turned to feed the paper etc, meant that the recording sounded like it was being sung by a child or and adolescent, but further research suggests that it might have been Scott himself.

Whilst on a residency at Manchester Metropolitan University, I was building a small wind turbine and happened upon the phonautograph whilst researching alternative methods of generating electricity. After deciding that generating electricity from sound was too difficult, if not impossible -at least for my abilities, I decided to start creating my own phonautograph. My motivation was to connect my work with the landscape and blur the boundaries between the inside and the outside and our relationship within that. I am also interested in the translation of energy from one thing to another.

I have made four identical phonautographs. Mine work automatically, using a dynamic microphone placed outside, they have an automatic paper feed driven by a motor and they use small amplifier modules which send a signal to a small motor with a stylus attached. I have been working on them whilst at Cow House and today I managed to get them all up and running.