Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, February 19, 2003

Sound installations feature crickets, chanting Buddhas


Ten bronze Buddhas chant "om mani padme hum" in perfect synchronicity just inside the entrance to the Thomas W. Stanford Art Gallery.

The statues, which sit meditatively on gray pedestals, compose Chant, a sound installation by Nigel Helyer. As for what they're actually chanting, it cannot be translated into a simple phrase or sentence, according to (Although "Behold! The jewel in the lotus!" often is considered a rough equivalent.)

"NoiseFloor," an exhibition of works by Helyer, an Anglo-Australian sculptor, artist and visiting professor in the Department of Art and Art History, is on view -- or better yet, on audition -- through March 2. It is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Helyer, who also goes by the Austin Powers-esque sobriquet "Dr. Sonique," is scheduled to talk about his work -- which ranges from gallery-based sound installations and experimental radio projects to public and environmental art -- at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 in Annenberg Auditorium. The event also is free and open to the public.

In the main gallery space, several dozen plastic cylinders dangle from the ends of metal poles. Inside each of the cylinders are one or two crickets, as well as a slice of apple (cricket refreshment). Meanwhile, a DVD recording of a man lecturing on the sex life of insects is projected onto an adjacent wall. On the opposite wall are projected the electrical "volleys" representing the neural activity of the cricket's aural nerve in response to the speaker's voice, Helyer explains. (The image, which changes constantly, resembles that of a sound wave measured on an oscilloscope.) It is difficult to say whether the crickets, a captive audience, have learned anything new.

Another installation consists of 16 Islamic prayer mats, on each of which sits a replica of a landmine. Just outside the installation are what look like metal detectors. Grab one. Put on the attached headphones. Then, after taking off your shoes, wave the detector over the landmines. Through the headphones you will hear ancient and contemporary Arabic music overlaid with enunciations, in Arabic and English, of the 99 names of God and contextualizing passages from the Koran.

According to Helyer, "Seed is a sonic installation that metaphorically collides our agricultural lexicon of the minefield with the narratives of the Old Testament and the contemporary disasters of military and ideological conflict."

With a computer and web browser, a work titled Magnus-Opus can be viewed from anywhere in the world by punching in the URL (There's also a computer terminal in the gallery that exhibit-goers can use.) The site makes fun of the use -- and abuse -- of copyright laws by "corporate culture," Helyer says. The website's creators, Dr. Sonique and Jon Drummond, claim to be "the world's most prolific composers."

"Our method was to assign each of the 16 tone pairs to an alpha-numeric pattern so that each letter or digit corresponded to a pitch pair," the duo explains. "This sequence when expressed through the operation of a simple algorithmic generator produces some 18,446,744,070,000,000,000 melodies. ... Warning: All of the melodies contained within the Magnus-Opus series are protected by copyright."

For more information about the exhibition, call (650) 723-3404.