The art of noise

It’s a fascinating quirk of public sentiment that the term “fine art” is rarely applied to those disciplines that use sound as their primary means of communication. We gladly give up that term for anyone sloshing paint or punching clay or welding I-beams into twisted landscapes. The product blasting out of subwoofers and oozing out of headphones is hard to nail to a wall or affix to a pedestal. Yet it still elicits the same deeply personal or intellectually challenging notes that painters and sculptors achieve.

Partly to blame for this grossly unfair oversight must be the way we receive the “art” that music delivers. We’re in our cars, lounging about the crib, tapping our toes to the Muzak in the elevator. If we experienced the sounds and the noises, prepared to really listen to them, upon the exalted altar that an art gallery provides, perhaps for a brief moment we could capture an “artistic” experience as opposed to a more pedestrian one. Instead of “jams,” we’d have “works.” Instead of a compilation CD, we’d have an “exhibition catalogue.” Yes, it may be twisting the lexicon a bit to achieve a certain grudging respect for artists who work on the invisible canvas, the imaginary palette, but it works.

Liz Copeland and Clark Warner would like nothing more than to shake the concept that an artist is only an artist if his shoes are paint-speckled and his hands encrusted with plaster and glue. As curators of the Sacred and Profane: Sound Exhibition at the Detroit Artists Market, they have assembled eight artists from all over the world as part of a grand experiment in redefining how and what we perceive as art, as well as an opportunity to sample those who work less for commercial concerns and more for creative ones. In the words of Warn Defever, legendary helmsman of His Name Is Alive and one of those eight being featured in the show: “It’s a fancypants thing.”

It’s hard to think of any people more qualified to put this show together — or with a thicker Rolodex of musical contacts — than Liz Copeland and Clark Warner. You’d have to have been in a coma for the past nine years to not know that the whole music-as-art approach has been given wide coverage on Liz Copeland’s late-night/early morning show on WDET (101.9 FM). She could be talking just as much about her radio gig when she states her intentions behind her work with the exhibit: “Our idea was to see an interplay between the artists.” Those in attendance will walk from one “station” to the next, be invited to don the headphones that will be attached to an Ipod. There will be nothing but a white wall in front of you. You’ll listen to the works, ranging in length from a few minutes to longer than a half-hour. In addition, a 5.1 Surround Sound room will be in use for one of the works. “Some of this is not even considered music” Liz explains. No, the term “music” is too inexact a term to describe what you’ll hear. All of the original, previously unreleased material from such varied artists as Detroit’s electronic music pioneer Richie Hawtin to the avant-garde bleating of the self-taught Roedelius, currently residing in Austria, will be presented as works of art, framed by nothing more than the bare walls and the other patrons milling about. The work will reveal itself inside your head, not on the walls or the floors.

Clark Warner, co-curator of this show and longtime DJ and record producer in Detroit’s electronic/tech universe, put out the call to those people whose work he knew deserved the kind of attention that this type of gallery presentation allows. “We gave them free rein to do what they wanted to do. We had an extensive list of people we wanted. We tightened up that list until we got to these eight.” Warner’s been in the club scene since the ’80s, mixing up electronica and ambient and techno for those here and abroad, playing everything from festivals in Barcelona to working the insanely popular Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2000 and more. Clark and Copeland collaborate once a month on Liz’s show in a special segment known as “focus:electronic.” Both do stints at the monthly “Stylus” series at the Buddha Lounge. Combined, their contacts in this genre are numerous, so it can be assumed that what we’ll be hearing will be an eclectic batch of the best.

In addition to Hawtin and Defever, Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto fame, as well as Thurston Moore, founder of Sonic Youth, are given the “fine art” treatment. Tadd Mullinix, DJ Olive and Mark Van Hoen also have work in the show.

Defever captures the spirit of the exhibition when asked to describe what he has in the offing: “It’s a field recording. Natural sounds. Unicorns and clouds. Mermaids tails slapping around in a saltwater lake. It’s got a hundred different parts, including some stuff from my recent recording session with The Stooges. It’s called ‘Air Trees Animals Water.’ It’s inspired by a punk rocker’s tattoo.”

Yeah. Sounds like art to me.


See Sacred and Profane at the Detroit Artists Market (4719 Woodward, Detroit). Call 313-832-8540 for further information. DAM will host a members reception Friday, May 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and will open the show to the public from 7:30-11 p.m. This event is free and ends May 31.

E-mail Dan DeMaggio at [email protected]
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