The Sound Art of Ean White
Mobius Media Arts Theater [sic], Boston

It’s quite a challenge to describe “sound art.” Consequently, sound and music are often depicted through visual and tactile imagery. Doubly challenging is describing a complex sound artist such as Ean White. To understand White’s relationship to sound art, it is necessary to accept his fixation upon turning his body into an amplified instrument, his passionate politic, and the risk, danger and violence implicit in his work.

First on the program entitled “Two Sound Performances and a Couple of Raccoons” was “Airspace,” inspired by White’s attention to the invisible land of radioscape. Beginning with one hand stroking two antennae evoking a “radio Theremin” playing style (the Theremin is an early electronic music instrument controlled by waving a hand), White used his other hand to begin a delicate mix of radio broadcasts which were prerecorded at the edge of their so-called territory. Among the mix: a land-locked Baltic radio station playing the Beach Boys, Bush’s illegal Radio Marti beamed at Cuba, and Somerville’s WTAMPAX singing obscenities over campsong [sic] records. Sometimes soothing and/or pulsating with the ever-present static characteristic of broadcasting borders, White created a twilight zone of radio waves in which frequencies existed almost as apparitions in between the cracks of the radio world—there but not there. The piece ended with an exquisitely slow fade of radio schmaltz, straining the listener’s ability to distinguish between what was actually audible and what was still alive as sonic memory.

“Flowers and Wreathes” used the poems of Surrealist poet Jacques Prévert as the setting for an anti-war piece examining the roles people assume in times of war. Beginning with the sonic entrance of Mari Novotny-Jones (Mobius member) wearing a “sound dress” with train covered in slate and stones, the piece contained concepts which relied upon sound imagery and amplification to accentuate the poems’ content. Among these were dental floss amplified by transducers clenched between teeth, the electric pickle, and bowed hair. Prerecorded material included insects, a marching band, and fireworks.

While Novotny-Jones raised the tension through dramatic recitation/performance of the poems, White skillfully blended the sonic components, adding a profound element of focus with the introduction of the monochord (a single string stretched from wall to wall, with a stool as bridge, floor as sound board, and the room as sound box). As its volume increased, the monochord became a visceral experience and “player of the space,” both trademarks of White’s work. It also served as a monument of vibration and the ground, defining the space between a “monument sheet” upon which slides of gravestones were projected, and the grave itself containing a body wrapped in a shroud as the space darkened, the sheet and shroud were illuminated in blue while the marching band played “God Bless America.” The tension was finally and literally released when White eased the tension on the monochord, essentially liberating the audience from its grip.

–Ellen Band, Boston Rock, February 1993