Existing on the boundary between performance art and sculpture, VOLUMES attempts to immerse the viewer in a world where sound, light and space are inseparable elements. Inspired by the audiovisual effects of synesthesia—a neurological condition in which individuals’ sensory perception is confused, allowing them to “see sounds” or “hear color”—New York-based multimedia artist Ezra Masch’s interactive, audiovisual installation is designed to simulate synesthesia in its viewers, allowing them to see the sounds created on a drum set in the form of flashing lights.
Part of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s New Stages: Contemporary Performances series, VOLUMES will open in the museum’s Linda L. Monda Gallery of Contemporary Art on Aug. 12 and will run until Sep. 12. The work relies on sound produced by live performers to activate LED lights installed in a three-dimensional grid designed for the Monda Gallery. Each light was handcrafted by the Ringling’s preparation team and has its own unique set of coordinates, with pitch represented on the grid’s vertical axis and volume on the grid’s horizontal axis.
“When you hit the bass drum, which is the lowest drum, the floor lights up,” Masch explains. “Then as you work your way up to the higher register, the light goes to the ceiling. For the volume, everything starts in the very center of the space and then as you play louder the light spreads from the center of the room out to the edges.”
Masch has experimented with four previous iterations of this specific audiovisual installation, but the Ringling’s iteration, VOLUMES, is the first time the work will be played by such a large number of performers for such an extended period of time. VOLUMES involves 66 drummers, 62 of whom will play the twice daily morning and afternoon shows, while the remaining four drummers will play eight special evening performances.
All of the hour-long shows will be entirely improvised. “Every drummer is going to bring a completely different take on it,” says Sonja Shea, the assistant curator in performance art at the Ringling and the person responsible for bringing Masch’s work to Sarasota. “It’s going to be a different experience 68 times.”
Handpicked by Masch, the drummers playing the weekly evening performances include Taylor Gordon, a musician and producer from Los Angeles who performed with Beyoncé during her infamous half-time show; Brian Blade, a virtuosic jazz musician; Antonio Sánchez, a film and television composer responsible for scoring Birdman; and Greg Fox, an experimental musician previously associated with the black metal band Liturgy.
Masch explains that he wanted to invite drummers who were both unique stylistically and known for their penchant for musical experimentation. “All of the drummers I chose straddle a lot of different genres in their approach to playing, but what I was looking for the most was people who would be receptive and responsive to experimenting with this audiovisual interaction,” Masch says.
When asked about the audience response he envisions, Masch says he doesn’t want to be too prescriptive about how viewers experience VOLUMES. “I want them to come in and have their own experience,” he says. “That’s one of the things that I think is so special about this, that it is brought to life by the people who play it. I like to think of it as ongoing collaborative experiment that has endless different possible outcomes.”
The daily shows will take place at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and are free with the purchase of museum admission. The evening performances will take place every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. during the installation’s one-month run. All shows take place in the Monda Gallery. Tickets for the evening shows are $15 or $5 for students with valid school I.D. You can purchase tickets online or by calling (941) 360-7399.