Thursday, March 09, 2006

Robin Minard

Robin Minard is a well known artist who, since the late 80's, has contributed significantly to the field of sound installation/design ( However, while he made a name for himself working with sound and space, he began his career as a classically trained composer.

This transition from composer to sound artist is most interesting when one considers Minard’s latest work, Silent Music 2006, which is currently on display until the 19th as part Project 3's contribution to the Adelaide Festival 2006.

Starting out in the 70s, Minard studied music composition in Montreal, Canada. During these formative years Minard recalls the city's underground labyrinth of tunnels which allow people to commute without having to weather Montreal's freezing cold surface temperatures. One feature of these tunnels, amongst the mass of humanity purposely shuffling shoulder to shoulder from one place to another, was the piped muzak. Notorious for its bland, unassuming and inoffensive blah, muzak was - and perhaps still is - most popular with administrators and HR departments for its ability to increase worker productivity and influence shopping habits (

Reminiscing, Minard estimates that he spent way too much time listening to muzak in Montreal's underground network (Minard 05/03/06). This problem was compounded for Minard when he gave thought to the amount of time spent listening to Muzak and the amount of time he spent listening to things he liked, for example concerts, performances and recordings. It is this feeling of frustration with public space and sound which informs his career as a sound installation artist.

In the 1980s Minard began serious work on his new ideas against the backdrop of Berlin, itself an arts capital at the time. He set off specifically to make music “designed for space – not for listening but for perception” (ibid). In order to do this however, Minard choose not to use conventional scores scales, finding that traditional music forms loose meaning in public space.

In Silent Music, Minard’s work draws attention to the blurred line between synthetic and organic. While this is a theme which has received considerable attention of late, Minard’s work takes somewhat of a different approach to a theme dominated by questions of interface and compatibility. Silent Music explores instead the borderline from the perspective of seamlessness integration; where does the organic end and the synthetic begin?

We are all familiar with the patterns of plant structures, and it is no coincidence that Minard decides to arrange his speakers in floral patterns. These arrangements emit staggered washes of sound reminiscent of crickets, running water, underwater clicks and bird chirps which are at the same time familiar/unfamiliar, identifiable/non-identifiable – synthetically organic or vice versa.

Silent Music reminds us that small sounds are important too and that sounds play an important role in constructing space. While visiting the installation I struck up a conversation with an elderly lady. She had come to get away from the noise and hustle of Writers Week to experience “a place of beauty, reflection and contemplation”, as it stated on the Project 3 flyer. When I said had come to the right place she said, “Yes, but the seats aren’t very comfortable!” And what she said was the truth concrete blocks with wooden slats.


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