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The Sound of SonicWorks


By Michael Pennywark

So you survived the holidays and your cousin’s seven-layer, mayonnaise salad. Now you could probably use a distraction from the eggnog withdrawal you are dealing with since finishing that last gallon you had stashed at the back of the fridge. Luckily for you, we live in one of the world’s most cultured cities—after all, where else can you find two Starbucks at a single intersection? Oh, and you can also find some great art shows to take your mind off that nutmeg hangover. Take for instance, SonicWorks at DiverseWorks, opening January 10th.

Curious about whether I might find the answer to those deep philosophical questions about falling trees or some really cool art inspired by everyone’s favorite hedgehog, I caught up with Associate Curator Rachel Cook and found out that it is something much more remarkable. According to Cook, way back in the beginning of Diverseworks’ short history, in those dark ages of the last century known as the 80s, an idea was born to produce a multimodal show featuring sound art. DiverseWorks went on to become the hub for the 1986 New Music America Festival, which featured some of the country’s most avant-garde musicians, composers and artists. Over the years, DiverseWorks has continued to break the sound barrier with its dedication to experimental sound art and returns to its roots in what should prove to be an exciting blend of discrete sonic art, sculptural intervention, multi-media installations and live performances.

Continuing a long association with auditory art at DiverseWorks, the Art Guys are expected to kick things off with a performance at the opening and will be followed by performances by other national and international artists every Wednesday as part of the DiverseWorks on Wednesdays series. Remnants from the 1986 New Music America Festival will be on display, and as Cook puts it, “in some ways it’s like it’s me trying to understand and unpack this history, while simultaneously trying to present some other artists that are working sculpturally or visually, that are using sound and thinking about it as conceptual material.” The show aims to question the differences between visual, performing and literary arts, challenging us to rethink their boundaries.

According to Cook, the exhibit will include sculptural art that can be experienced visually and aurally. She also notes that the space is divided so that the exhibit offers two different experiences, “in terms of a shift in movement and time, so that you have something that you can come back to, and look at and experience over and over again, and then you have this other component that changes over every week.” This will be in the form of the kind of “pop-up” shows on Wednesdays when performers will be encouraged to leave some ephemera to be viewed through the rest of the week.

One of the highlights, in addition to Mike and Jack’s performance, will include a partnership with David Dove from Nameless Sound for a Saturday (February 15th), day-long show of Pauline Olivaros scores performed by about twenty musicians inside and outside of the space at DiverseWorks. Each performer selected by Dove will have a specific composition to interpret however they like. Another not-to-be-missed highlight will be the restaging of Under Houston Humming—a Bonnie Barnett project originally performed at the 1986 New Music America Festival—which will involve a collective hum in the tunnels under downtown and at Rice’s Turell Skyspace. The show is expected to be at the end February.

As Cook conceptualized the exhibit, it’s about looking back and forward simultaneously while still being present in the moment. You may not find the sound of one hand clapping, but SonicWorks is bound to satisfy that aural fixation in all of us.


SonicWorks Opening Reception:

January 10, 2024 @ 7:00 pm


4102 Fannin, Suite 200



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