Digital enthusiasts and iPod devotees may scoff at the old-school sympathies of vinyl record aficionados, but there is still a strong argument to be made for the warm, even unpredictable, ritual qualities of analog sound. Considering that, you might call artist Christian Marclay, whose touring survey exhibition “REPLAY” opens this week at DHC/ART in Montreal, one of the leading proponents of this retro audio devotion. For years, the New York– and London-based artist has neatly combined a conceptual art practice with avant-garde musical strategies in wide-ranging media works that push the limits of aural and visual experimentation. Using vintage turntables, musical instruments and an eclectic field of vinyl LP and pop culture inspirations, Marclay’s large-scale video installations and compositional performances create a supersensory experience built on collage-like accumulated gestures and sonic layering.
“REPLAY,” which was curated by Emma Lavigne for Cité de la musique in Paris, brings together nine of Marclay’s signature installations. Ghost (I Don’t Live Today) and Record Players, both from the early 1980s, pay semi-ironic homage to the improvisational mystique of Jimi Hendrix and John Cage. For another early 1980s video work, Fast Music, Marclay literally takes a bite out of performance and punk rock bad-itude as he devours a vinyl record in 21 seconds flat.
Marclay’s 1995 video montage Telephone turns cinematic clips of phone calls being answered into a rhythmic “mini-opera of interrupted, unfinished and misdirected communication.” In the 1999 video Gestures, Marclay proves himself a master turntablist as he deftly manipulates a quartet of turntables playing acoustically modified records. Guitar Drag, which was a main draw at the 2000 Biennale de Montréal, offers a poignantly dissonant take on racial histories and rock star mythologies with video footage of an amplified Fender Stratocaster being towed and smashed from the back of a pickup truck speeding along the dirt roads of rural Texas. In perfect sonic contrast, his Mixed Reviews, American Sign Language, from 2001, features silent interpretations of music reviews by deaf translators.
By sheer scale, the 2002 installation Video Quartet makes the exhibition’s centrepiece. In it, a 40-foot-long wall projection displays a cacophony of images drawn from Hollywood films featuring musicians, singers, dancers and other musically inclined motion picture sequences. Broken into four parts, the images and sounds travel across the screens in a feat of spontaneous synchronization that brings wildly disparate sources together in a surprisingly successful compositional framework.
The exhibition wraps up with one of Marclay’s recent works, Crossfire, which, like Video Quartet, mines familiar Hollywood material: this time in clips of characters handling and firing an arsenal of guns. The violent staccato of image and sound becomes, for Marclay, an opportunity to create new percussive possibilities. (451 rue St-Jean, Montreal QC)