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Here in the cinder-block bowels of the Goethe Institut, where experimental sound group SFS is putting on a show, the scene is straight out of Sprockets. Steve Bradley turns the metal crank of a hand mixer, raising and lowering its rotating blades over a long wooden beam tricked out with microphones and sensors. The sound rushing from the amps is like a heavy object rustling around. Or a big, unhappy animal. To Bradley’s right, Sean Monagan, his face lit by the cool light of a PowerBook monitor, taps away at the computer’s keyboard. Behind them, Baltimore “media artist” Lisa Moren stares intently at her own computer, which controls the black-and-white images projected on a screen across the room.
SFS, joined by special guest Moren, is putting on a 20-minute audio-visual performance for an audience of around 40 on hand for the launch party for “Audiophfile,” a bimonthly exhibition organized by local Web-based art collective NOMADS (www.nomadnet.org). Founded in January 1998 by curator Laura McGough and artist Marion Ware, NOMADS puts out an e-journal on art and culture called Massage and is now offering up “Audiophfile” to broadcast experimental audio art by local and national artists.
Bradley, a professor of visual art at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, bends and shifts over his equipment as a cavalcade of sounds—buzzes, whirs, the low monotone of a barely audible woman—spills from nearby amps. The sonic collage interacts with Moren’s visuals—grainy black-and-white video footage from Berlin.
“I really enjoy the sound of utilitarian objects, like that rotating egg beater,” says Bradley. “Take that sound and amplify it 10 to 20 times, and it’s really quite extraordinary.” But many of the visual artists on hand to support the launch aren’t quite convinced. “When you go to a museum, you know what to do—you stand in front of the painting,” explains Washington photographer Colby Caldwell. “These things are very confusing, because they have a secret language. I haven’t cracked the code yet.”
Painter and Corcoran School of Art instructor Janis Goodman is more impressed. “I really like it—that woman’s voice reminded me of Laurie Anderson.” But Goodman admits that the performance might not please everyone: “This kind of thing is an acquired taste.” —Jessica Dawson