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Camille Norment Explores New Sonic Terrains at Dia Chelsea

The ringing produced by this hieratic brass sculpture has both a plastic and a sonic component — a point Norment underscores by listing the media used in this installation as “brass, sine waves, autonomous feedback system, and archival radio static.” In other words, she’s using periodic sound (that is, sine waves) as both a sculptural material that she can mold, like a sculptor shapes metal or stone, and also a spontaneously produced phenomenon of the brass and the microphones, similar to the tones of a trumpet or saxophone.

The room is a sculptural installation as well as an active musical instrument, and after a few minutes its resonant keening takes on an Apollonian dignity. As for the last element, the recorded radio static, I could only hear it faintly when I got close to the brass bell. It provides a bit of a beat but it seems an extraneous addition, especially after reading an explanatory text on Dia’s website that reveals the source of the static to be from ’60s and ’70s “community reporting and documentation of social and environmental struggles.” I’m not sure that explicit political source material was needed. Because all on its own, Norment’s ringing and vibrating sound system lets us experience a fragile interdependence of bodies and environments. In here, we are at once creators, listeners and corrupters of an ecology of sound.

The second gallery is much busier. Norment has filled it with dozens of planks of wood — of “responsibly sourced wood,” Dia informs us, with a whiff of Whole Foods solicitude. They reach from the floor to the ceiling, and their chocolate brown tones come close to matching the gallery’s rib-vaulted roof. Embedded in the planks are speakers, which play looped recordings of a droning choir, whose low bass notes contrast with the higher-frequency sound of the bell room. You can sit or lie down on the planks, and feel the singing travel through your thighs and buttocks when the chorus crescendos. But the use of recordings, the somewhat milky ah-ah-ah-ahs of the singers, and the maritime overtones of the planks make this installation more like an illustration of a musical ecology. What makes the brass work more exciting is that it constitutes one, out of sound and space.

Norment was born in 1970 near Washington, D.C., but since 2005 she has lived in Oslo — the Norwegian capital that last decade emerged as one of Europe’s most fecund art centers. (A lot of the new ferment comes from its excellent art school, the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, where Norment is a senior faculty member.) Her sonic installations often make use of the natural frequencies of materials, objects and even whole buildings, including at the 2015 Venice Biennale, where she used microphones and other transducers to turn the Nordic pavilion into a constant broadcaster of tones.

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