The joyous cacophony of city streets comes stuttering and shrieking to life in Os Músicos, a sonic sculpture on view as part of the ICA's exhibition of Os Gemeos' work.
The sculpture consists of a collection of speakers -- the cases painted as heads, the speakers themselves forming the mouths -- hung on two facing walls and connected to an organ that is itself painted to resemble a boxy head. Pressing the organ's keys triggers samples of different types of music and a collection of sound bites from the speakers -- chanting, giggling, barking -- and clips of people speaking or singing in several languages. The many English phrases include "give me more," "this is great!" "get out!" "Sao Paolo," "try your best, don't settle for less," and "graffiti vandals."
The piece is 'activated' (played) on the third Satuday of every month (August-November) by local musicians, who are given a very brief introduction to get a feel for which keys trigger which sounds, then are invited to improvise in their performances.
Saturday's performances were a treat—Os Músicos is both funny and fun, and pianist Elaine Rombola was clearly delighted to be playing it. After trying various tactics, including playing chords (which didn't produce anything more cohesive than striking random combinations of keys) and using a long wood block to hold down a dozen or so keys at once, she seemed to settle on alternating between two approaches: finding a sample to repeat as a base rhythm under other discreet clips; and just playing a lot of keys really fast. The results ranged from something sounding like a sampler pack of... well...samples, to an over-the-top soundtrack for a walk down a busy city street in the pre-earbud days of boomboxes. Despite "not enough!" time with the instrument prior to performing, Rombola obviously put some thought into the structure and detail of her 15-20 minute improvisations. After using certain soundbites, like "graffiti vandals," and the barking sample, to humorous effect, she ended her first performance with the sample, "this is an amazing piece!" It's hard to argue with that: hearing Os Músicos played is pretty great.
Remaining performance dates for Os Músicos are Saturdays, October 20 and November 17, at 1:30 and 3:00pm at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The piece is also 'activated' by ICA Visitor Assistants once each day (timing is random). The Os Gemeos exhibit runs through November 25.
Photos: Bonnie B