REVIEW: Singing Saw and Glass Harp Performance at White Cube Gallery

The audience at White Cube before the Singing Saw and Glass Harp performance.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Singing Saw and Glass Harp
(White Cube Gallery, 7th February 2015. Part of Christian Marclay's exhibition programme; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Christian Marclay's multi-media exhibition at White Cube overturns conventional ideas of the contemporary art gallery. In one large gallery there is a vinyl pressing plant and a screen-printing workshop.  Another of the spaces has been turned into a concert hall on weekend afternoons and is hosting Fluxus performances at other times.

Judging by the crowd there for this Saturday afternoon improvisation concert, it has also become a family destination, with a sprinkling of prams and bairns, and kids who can connect with the comic book vernacular that is bound up with Marclay's art works - and experience imaginative musical and sonic creativity at an early age.

The audience occupied an arc-shaped seating area, focused on the musicians by the mid-point the long gallery wall, with the direct-to-disc cutting equipment for the live recording, masterminded by Sound Intermedia, in a corner of the room.

Singing Saw and Glass Harp performance; an impression.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved


The glasses arranged on a shelf running round the concert space supplied both the thematic starting point for the improvised work, Singing Saw and Glass Harp, and the actual glass harp, played by eight LCC students. They stood in pairs behind Marclay's desk supporting two of his vintage turntables, from where he lightly orchestrated proceedings. Either side were Hannah Marshall and Kevin Hopper, playing musical saws alongside Thurston Moore on guitar.

Marshall is known for her cello work on the contemporary music/improv circuits and Hopper is associated as bassist with various bands - Stump in the 80s and currently, Prescott, and has made musical saw recordings. Stump made an appearance on the same bill as Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore's best-known venture, and Moore, like Marclay, is currently active on the London improv scene, so the linkages were loose but strong.

The thirty minute performance had a spacious, ethereal quality, subtly interposing the quivering sounds of the saws, bent, wobbled and played with bows, with eerie echoings and chimes drawn out from the beer glasses. The different tunings of the glasses were activated by fingers run round their rims, and light taps added rhythmic incident.

Marclay and Moore wove in electric interventions, with the engagement of a drumstick with the fretboard and lo-fi feedback from the guitarist, and samples and beats subtly dropped in by the turntablist.


Christian Marclay’s turntables set up for Singing Saw and Glass Harp.
Photo by Geoff Winston. All rights reserved.

There was a suggestion of remote, spacious landscape - a brightly glacial tundra - as sounds melted together, and a sense of affinity with the pioneers of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Hints of bells, a brief ramping up of the guitar hum, minimal, grizzled distortion and gentle wafts of metallic tones from the saws, to gently ease down in a prolonged, distantly chiming fade.

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