San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): Art Installations

In addition to the main concerts, this year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival featured a concurrent gallery exhibition. It took place at Million Fishes in the Mission District of San Francisco, and featured a variety of works that combined sound and visuals. I had the opportunity to visit the gallery on the Saturday of the festival, just before that night’s concert.

I have experienced Matthew Goodheart’s work with transducer-excited cymbals a few times now, most notably in his solo performance at the Outsound Music Summit. Here, he arranged them around the front room over the gallery to create an immersive installation called …silence through things secret….

The installation dominated the main room both visually and aurally, with the late-afternoon sun reflecting off the cymbals, and a variety of sounds echoing around the room. Computer-generated sounds were created from analysis of the resonances of each cymbal and recordings of each instrument played in a variety of manners. The sounds were then used to excite the cymbals via small transducers.


Because the sound from the cymbals is acoustic, the only notion one has of electronics at work is the fact that they are standing on their own without anyone there to play them. But there is nonetheless something otherwordly about the visuals and sounds of the unattended cymbals. Goodheart’s piece was part of a larger project he has developed in conjunction withe Center foew New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at UC Berkeley.

Giant Leap, the result of collaboration by Floor van de Velde and Elaine Buckholtz, paid tribute to the late Neil Armstrong and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. The audio-and-visual work combined an anaglyph image of the moon with a sound score realized using modified rotary telephones.

The moon landing and the sounds associated with that achievement are still quite fresh, but the use of rotary telephones reminds us just how long ago this achievement took place. I consider rotary phones a particularly endangered technology in that it bears so little resemblance to contemporary phones in both form and function.

Dan Good presented two small kinetic sound sculptures. Artificial Lung combined standard speaker drivers in a novel way. They were pressed against one another a driven with a 1Hz sine wave. While the signal is far below the range of human hearing, the pressure on the speakers was visible and created the illusion of a breathing organism.


In, Good’s sculpture Petri Dish, small glass spheres are pulled up and down in a glass bowl and tubes. The sound of the glass is subtle, but the visual is quite striking, especially when it is moving (the photograph does not really capture this aspect.)

Both of Good’s sculptures draw upon simple shapes, lines and processes to create something conceptually compact and understandable. As such, they play to the strengths of modernism – something refreshing to see in a contemporary setting,

SFEMF has featured installations before, usually as fixtures in the lobby during concerts. I thought separating it out into a gallery presentation worked well and allowed the pieces the chance to be seen outside the shadow of the live performances and milling crowds. I hope they do this again next year.

Elaine Buckholtz, Jars Filmed Inside

During Carnaval a few weeks ago, a friend and I took a break and visited Triple Base in the Mission District, where we saw Elaine Buckholtz’s solo show Jars Films Inside. For this exhibit, Buckholtz has turned the entire gallery into a single immersive work of art that is simultaneously a performance space. Visitors can interact with the objects in the gallery and use them to create their own experience of the work.

[Elaine Buckholtz. Gallery installation view.
Photo courtesy of Triple Base Gallery. (Click to enlarge)

The first thing one notices upon entering the gallery is the large curved mirror in the center, and the lined with small glass jars, beakers, vials of all sorts filled with various objects. They seem like specimens from a “scientific” collection of a previous century, pretty or interesting things trapped and preserved in jars. The mirror was rotating slowly, and the reflection of the bottles on the wall create a black line that undulates across the surface, and occasionally breaks into two lines that then reconnect.

[Elaine Buckholtz. Installation view with mirror. (Click to enlarge)]

On close inspection, the vessels contain photographic film, glasses, pebbles, tiles and other objects. It seemed they were all selected to play with the light that passes through the glass, obscuring or modifying it.

[Elaine Buckholtz, Jars filmed inside.
Photo courtesy of Triple Base Gallery.

Indeed, the installation as a whole seems to be about playing with light, both directly an indirectly. There is the light through the jars, the often translucent objects in the jars, and the large central curved mirror reflecting the jars and the viewers. There are also a number of handmade optical devices that viewers can pick up and use to view the light of the installation in even more ways.

This was an exhibit that invited exploration and play. This can be a bit surprising for regular gallery visitors who are used to the tradition of “look but do not touch” in art, and I probably would not have picked anything up without having been invited to do so by the staff and thus missed out on the full experience.

In the basement of the gallery (which is accessed via a trapdoor and a ladder) was Hunter Longe’s installation entitled Perception Projection Delay. It consisted of a large drawing of spiral, with similar moving image projected onto it, given a sense of constant and somewhat disorienting motion.

[Hunter Longe, Perception Projection Delay.]

The clean curves of the spiral, flatness of the screen were a contrast to the rough surfaces of the basement, but the silence and overall darkness seemed to fit together. Especially coming after the vibrant colors and crowds of Carnaval, the calmness of the environment and the patterned motion of the image seemed very inviting, at once meditative and a canvas for fun and imagination, and it captured our attention for some time.

The exhibition will remain on display at Triple Base through July 3, so do check it out if you are in the area.