Sound exhibition at the Logan Center uses reverberation, glass armonica and ‘the performative voice’

Multimedia artist Camille Norment. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

There isn’t much to see at the new, untitled exhibition at the Logan Center: just a red light and three arranged, functioning megaphones. But there is a lot to hear.

“For a few years now, I’ve been working with the correlation between feedback, which is a sonic phenomenon we’re all somewhat aware of,” said artist Camille Norment, referring to the sound distortion that results from a noise feeding on itself through amplification. “I’ve been incorporating the sound of feedback in my work for many years now.”

She paired it with a bell, human-generated noises and the glass armonica, the witchy-sounding glass instrument Benjamin Franklin invented, which was used in the therapy for “female hysteria” before professionals of the day posited that it, in fact, drove people to insanity. It subsequently slipped out of existence for two centuries.

“My interest in sound is not just the formal qualities but how that sound is situated in society,” Norment explained.

She said the sounds together “are very much related to what’s called a sine wave” — the purest tone possible, one without the overtones that make, for instance, the sound of a note played on a flute different from that played on a guitar.

“It’s really the multiplicity of the tones, the character that makes us understand what it is,” Norment said of her work on display at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St., through Jan. 5. It plays with the line between what is considered beautiful from what is just noise.

“It’s all subjective,” she said, “and it’s certainly a very malleable space.”

Feedback is typically something sound engineers try to avoid, though rock musicians have utilized it in recordings and live performances since the early 1960s. That era’s experimentation in music and art accompanied its celebrated social and political changes.

The work’s parenthetical title, “red flame,” relays the only light in the room housing the exhibition, which Norment said connotes a torch, the Great Chicago Fire — both of which relate to change.

“All of this is part of the social fabric,” Norment said, up to and including the musical and social transformations of the 1960s. “What was constant was this idea of looking at sound as a way of opening up consciousness, in a way. If we start to listen to everyday or unwanted sounds as musical elements, then it’s also opening up our horizons to expand our ideas of what can be perceived and experienced. Not just sound but also in life, in the world and in people.”

In the end, Norment’s piece is meant to evoke a raging fire; volunteers through the Logan Center helped her generate sounds in “the performative voice” — “Using your voice in a way that seeks to make something happen,” she explained.

She directed the volunteers in workshops, asking them to think about the state of the world and “how might they utilize an abstraction of the voice as a performative voice for positive change.” She then changed the voices’ frequencies for the show.

Originally from in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., and educated at the University of Michigan and New York University, Norment married a Norwegian and relocated to Oslo, where she has lived with her family for over a decade.