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East Coast
Anna Taylor
William Robinson at Galerie Sans Nom
June 29, 2016

As someone who grew up attending concerts in the Brutalist building of the Dalhousie Arts Center, music for me is strangely synonymous with concrete. Between dance recitals and symphonies I ran my child-sized fingers along the polished concrete surfaces of rounded staircases and wondered at white lines of sediment leaching from solid walls.

William Robinson's Brutalist Songs at Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton is a studied love song to concrete architecture. His three subjects are the Confederation Centre Theatre Building and Confederation Art Gallery in PEI and the Dalhousie Killam Library in Nova Scotia. With the help of composers Thomas Hoy and Ryan Veltmeyer, the 2016 Sobey Art Award East Coast nominee turns these cultural hubs into musical portraits.

William Robinson, Untitled, 2016, faux rock, turnstile, microphone casings, ultrasonic sensors, microcontrollers, effects pedals, mute pedal, audio cords, speaker, mic stands, painted dowel, light reflector (photo: Annie France Noël)

Each composition was created by superimposing building blueprints over a grid of musical bars. When the lines of the building’s plans intersected with the musical bars, the composer placed a note. Robinson told Hoy and Veltmeyer to take aesthetic liberties within their collaborations. They bent the hard descriptions of these immovable buildings in order to create music that in and of itself is pleasing to the ear. This creative process reflects that of architecture where purpose and aesthetics are intertwined and inseparable.

Large rocks that mimic those found in the landscaping around the Killam rotate on two plinths at either end of the gallery. Each is rigged with ultrasonic sensors that read the surface as they turn. A tumble of wires leads from the topographical readings to create an audio output that visitors can switch on and off. Outbursts of fluctuating tones playfully interrupt the continuous soundtrack of the Brutalist Songs.

The installation can be alternately loud and soft, but it undoubtedly fills the space. Like the buildings it describes, Brutalist Songs is imposing and intellectually driven, but the overall effect is beautiful and strangely humble. Robinson’s compositions hug the concrete walls of his subject matter. The notes reverberate along seams of concrete cells and describe every detail of the heft and weight of their static forms. The result is a caring study of the contradiction of such an oppressive structure housing cultural space, and it elicits that old feeling of soft stone running under fingertips.

Galerie Sans Nom:
William Robison: Brutalist Songs continues until July 1.

Anna Taylor is an artist, crafter, and organizer sitting on the board of the Halifax Crafters Society. She is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @TaylorMadeGoods.



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