This exhibition is the first for over a decade in Spain devoted to the Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay (b. 1955), who currently lives and works in London, and will include a selection focusing on his sonic compositions, from graphic scores to video installations. Marclay has consistently focused on the relationship between sound and vision, exploring the ways that sound can be manifested visually. As the artist himself said, “music runs through almost everything I do”.
This exhibition will examine Marclay’s work through his engagement with composition, understood as the ordering of sounds in time and space. Each piece shown will reveal the ways in which Marclay approaches the creation of a composition, and how this relates to other aspects of his work such as his deployment of the techniques of appropriation and montage, together with his engagement in performance and his tendency towards inviting participation and collaboration.
While Marclay has produced video, sculpture, sound recording and performance, as well as text work, graphic scores, collages and prints, this exhibition includes some of his recent audio-visual installations, alongside a select number of his earlier pieces. Central to the exhibition are major video works, the masterpiece Video Quartet (2002), a four-screen audio-visual composition made from movie clips, and the immersive installation Surround Sounds (2014–15), which is perhaps the climax of his investigation of onomatopoeia, as well as several graphic scores, such as the slide projection Zoom Zoom (2007–19) and Manga Scroll (2010), a 20-metre-long hand scroll vocal score and the interactive installation Chalkboard (2010) that invites the audience to mark an architecturally-scaled chalkboard ruled with musical staff lines, which is then interpreted by musicians in a series of concerts scheduled during the exhibition.
The exhibition addresses Marclay’s concern with composition through his recourse to popular culture and mass media, together with his exploration of both traditional and digital technologies, and their material qualities. The exhibition focuses on the manner in which he composes through his interdisciplinary use of appropriation, montage, remixing and improvisation, practices that themselves traverse the boundaries between the experimental and the popular.
On the one hand, Marclay can be situated in relation to the avant-garde and experimental traditions via the aesthetic legacies of Dada, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, John Cage, Fluxus and Happenings, and, on the other, he engages with popular culture through his involvement with manifestations such as punk rock, comics, fanzines, cinema and aspects of underground subcultures.
Even while Marclay has engaged with some of the major figures of the historical avant-garde, including Edvard Munch and Duchamp, he has also established a dialogue with contemporary peers from the differing fields that his work has sought to traverse, including that of filmmaker Bruce Conner, performance artist Laurie Anderson and musician John Zorn, as well as the band Sonic Youth, among many others.
Early in his career he became involved in experimental performance through his influential role in the development of turntablism (the use of record turntables to make compositions, especially using mixes and manipulations of sound) and his relationship to plunderphonics (the compositional potential of sound collage and/or sampling), becoming a significant practitioner of both.
That the exhibition will be presented at MACBA in Barcelona is also important as the city has a strong connection to the world of experimental music. Marclay himself knows the city through his own experiences of its music scene, and this music landscape will also be signalled in the exhibition though a programme of performances. Approximately once a month, the museum will invite an instrumentalist to interpret the Chalkboard score.
In this interactive installation, Marclay invites visitors to participate in the act of composing by marking the architecturally-scaled chalkboard ruled with musical staff lines. The board is erased afterwards and the process resumed until the next performance. Chalkboard is recognisable as a score through the structure of the staves, yet it undermines traditional scoring by giving the audience the freedom to make any marks they wish, including drawings, scribbles and graffiti, and letting the musicians play according to their own free interpretation.
In collaboration with Sónar+D 2019, Christian Marclay will participate in a talk that will take place on 18 July as part of the programme of the congress of creative technologies, which will be held on 17, 18, 19 and 20 July simultaneously with Sónar by Day at Fira Montjuïc in Barcelona. This conversation will precede a new staging in the Capella MACBA of his most recent work, Investigations (2018), on 19 July.
It reflects Marclay’s interest in photography and the non-traditional use of classical instruments. This score was made from a collection of 100 found and cropped images of hands playing piano. The score is to be interpreted by a large ensemble of pianists, ten in this case, who are asked to decipher the sound made when the photograph was taken and notate the results of their investigation.
The British experimental musician Steve Beresford who was among the performers for the premier of the work in Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has said that “when we are playing but also looking at pictures or printed words or mutated music notation, perhaps we engage bits of our brains usually not involved in playing music… Christian’s scores get us playing things we would never have thought of.”.