64 Miller Street
May 21–July 4, 2020
The sound that emanates from Marla Hlady and Christof Migone’s exhibition “Swan Song” is a sustained jangling tone that gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, adjusts itself. The source of the music, audible before it is visible, is an eponymous kinetic sculpture, also titled Swan Song, featuring two curving tubes of worn copper that both widen at the mouth. They were originally functional parts at the Balvenie Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland, where Hlady and Migone were artists-in-residence last year through the neighboring and affiliated Glenfiddich Distillery. The audio was also “found” at the distilleries: It includes layered recordings of machinery, preparing casks, filling bottles, and, notably, a choir of workers who were each asked to alternately sing the highest and lowest notes they could reach.
The soundscapes that emerge from these metal forms—termed “swan necks” by distillers for their distinct shape—are controlled by a series of motorized switches, thin copper rods that wobble tremulously in the air. The rods move on circular axes, occasionally making gentle contact with a fixed metal piece, turning on or off individual tracks with every slow rotation.
In a statement about this work, the artists referenced the act of toasting, that gentle clinking of glasses to celebrate the mundane and the monumental. A toast assigns social significance to things coming together—both the glasses and the individuals that hold them—yet the distance that surrounds the brief point of contact is equally important to its meaning. Similarly, the sustained tone of Swan Song belies the separations and gaps that govern the work: The hollows of the swan necks amplify the sound, the disconnected switches determine the notes’ length, and the spaces between the voices’ lowest and highest pitches vibrate with a dissonant hum. Resonating throughout the gallery, the work is both a record of a particular place and a meditation on our distance from it.