Llorenç Barber (Aielo de Malferit, 1948), one of the major reference points in sound experimentation, is the focus of the Museo Reina Sofía’s reacquaintance with live music in an open-air concert for “flying bells” that make the Doppler effect audible as they swing.
In 1842, Austrian Christian Andreas Doppler put forward the hypothesis that the frequency of waves perceived by an observer vary when the emitting source or the same observer move. In other words, a sound is perceived lower or sharper, depending on the movement of the object emitting it and the person hearing it. This hypothesis was tested by Christoph Hendrik Diederik Buys Ballot in 1845 as he arranged different brass musicians playing the same note in a flatcar pulled by a steam train. Ballot stayed still listening from a determined point, perceiving that the note changed with the musicians’ movement.
The comparison between a nineteenth-century scientific experiment and a concert could have a hand in summing up the guiding principle of experimental art. For instance, Naumaquia a los cuatro vientos (2001), a piece executed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, assembled various groups of musicians in different vessels containing sirens with different timbres. The boats sailed away from the shore, from which the low horn of a frigate was the predominant sound; meanwhile, in the city there were the sounds of cathedral bells, different musical ensembles, fire engines and police and ambulance vehicles.
The constant search in the vibratory nature of things and an analysis of the way in which this is perceived has led the artist to refer to an “auscultation of materials”. In his works, this experimentation moves in a vast spectrum of scales, from ones that are more subtle, more pared down, such as the work presented in the Museo on this occasion, to his sound cities for different bell towers.
Barber has been a key component of the dissemination, study, and reinterpretation of avant-garde tradition for over forty years. In addition to his admiration for French Dadaist Erik Satie and American composer John Cage, noteworthy are his ties to Fluxus and the Zaj Group, on which Barber wrote his doctoral thesis in 1978, exploring in greater depth the art-life dichotomy.
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