Mungo Thomson/Michael Webster
Zurich, Switzerland: JRP|Ringier, 2013
88 pp., 12 x 9", softcover
Edition size unknown
I didn't have any artists' books on my Xmas list this year (I didn't write one) so I wasn't expecting any under the tree, but my sister-in-law heard something on CBC that she thought I would be interested in, and ordered a copy to arrive in time. It was a very pleasant surprise, as I knew of the work (it's featured in a recent monograph on Thomson's work published by The Contemporary Art Gallery of Vancouver) but not that the score was available as a publication. Unbeknownst to her, I am working with the artist on two projects later this year.
Thomson, whose work is often about silence and blank space, nods to John Cage in both the premise and the design of the publication. The simple yellow cover borrows the layout from Edition Peters, Cage's publisher, and - in particular - the blank (or tacet) score for 4'33". The work itself is a transcription of field recordings of crickets. In radio, cinema, and television complete silence is known as 'dead air' and is strictly verboten. The sound of crickets are often used instead of actual silence, to denote an absence of sound. Similarly, stand up comedians refer to crickets as the sound of an audience neither laughing nor applauding, but still in their seats, when a joke bombs.
Working with composer Michael Webster, Thomson had the sound of cricket songs orchestrated for a 17-person classical ensemble of flutes, violins, clarinet and percussion. The percussionists play cowbell, floor tom, maraca, bells, woodblock and a variety of other instruments to mimic the insects 'chirps', which are used as mating calls (typically performed by the male), or as post-copulation celebratory songs.
The score contains 25 chapters, or "movements," such as "10. Senegal, near Oukout, August 1992, during twilight in a palm grove" or "Reunion Island, near Pavillion at 400m altitude, February at dusk in trash and bushes".
For more information, visit the artist's website, here.