Selected works by John Wynne

John Wynne
Installation for 300 speakers, Pianola and vacuum cleaner


300 speakers, Pianola, vacuum cleaner, audio amplifiers, hard disc recorder, speaker wire, suction hose, piano roll

Dimensions variable

John Wynne’s untitled installation for 300 speakers, player piano and vacuum cleaner is at once monumental, minimal and immersive. It uses sound and sculptural assemblage to explore and define architectural space and to investigate the borders between sound and music. The piece has three interwoven sonic elements: the ambient sound of the space in which it is installed, the notes played by the piano, and a computer-controlled soundtrack consisting of synthetic sounds and gently manipulated notes from the piano itself. Because none of these elements are synchronised with each other, the composition will never repeat. The music punched into the paper roll is Franz Léhar’s 1909 operetta Gypsy Love, but the mechanism has been altered to play at a very slow tempo and the Pianola modified to play only the notes which most excite the resonant frequencies of the gallery space in which it is installed. Sound moves through the space on trajectories programmed using a 32-channel sound controller, creating a kind of epic, abstract 3-D opera in slow motion. Originally developed at Beaconsfield Gallery, a former Victorian ‘ragged school’ in South London, this piece draws on notions of obsolescence and nostalgia, combining early 20th -century technology and culture with a vast collection of recently discarded hi-fi speakers. These disparate components are brought together through contemporary digital technology which not only distributes the sound but also controls the (found) vacuum cleaner which in turn drives the Pianola. The piece is site-specific, but it also carries traces of its own history: some of the synthetic sounds were created in response to the light industrial ambience of the work’s original location, some in response to its new site in the Saatchi Gallery. The mountainous formation of speakers, inspired by the recycling plant from which they were rescued, functions both visually and as a platform for the projection of sound, creating, in the words of writer Brandon LaBelle, ‘a soft balance between order and chaos, organization and its rupture’.



On entering the large space taken up by John Wynne’s new installation, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer physical impact of low frequencies as they make the windows rattle and the floor tremble, and by the elusiveness of high frequencies that flutter around the ears and intermittently create an odd sense of aural déjà vu. Swarming filaments of sounds turn my hearing inside out; changing patterns of sharp tones nail me to the room until I don’t know how long I’ve been listening. As I move around, I begin to single out a barely there but lucid shuffling, a slightly familiar yet hard-to-categorize rhythm. Are these sounds seeping into the room from the outside, or are they generated by these very frequencies? Are they vaguely echoing something I’ve just heard, or am I aware of this intricate sonic tapestry for the first time?