Camille Norment’s installation space at Aspinwall House engages viewers in an unspoken conversation with art.
Sounds emerging from a time before language haunt Camille Norment’s installation space at Aspinwall House, engaging visitors in an unspoken conversation with their slow murmuring, chanting, humming and moaning. 'Prime' sends shivers up their spines.
“The space is well suited to the installation with the low bass tones produced in resonance to the sound of the boats and ships that drift past. The sound will follow you, noticeably changing the way you perceive a trip on the ferry,” Norment said.
But the American artist is not interested in evocation alone. She calls ‘Prime’ a neutral experience, looking instead to connect between disembodied sound and physical objects. In turning audiences into participants, her installation at Kochi-Muziris Biennale gives sound the assertive presence of other art media, fills space and claims time and attention.
The vocalisations are a cross-cultural mixture of sounds, ranging from the moaning practised in African American church worship, to the chants of Tibetan monks, to incantations of the Om sound. The installation connects these cultural references to the body's experience.
“No sound can be detached from a culture. The moment a sound excites an ear, it belongs to a body that is cultured. I want people to feel sound, to feel the physicality of it,” said Norment, who added glass harmonica, electric guitar and Carnatic vocals to the soundscape during her music group The Camille Norment Trio’s live performances during the Biennale opening week.
Norment traces her inclination for sound tonality and experimentation to her days as a piano student at age six. “I was interested in the ‘seconds’, which are the semi-tones and combination sounds that were not prescribed in the music notes,” she said.
The genre-defining 1952 composition of silence, 4’33”, by American experimental composer John Cage —where he opened the piano and played nothing — captured Norment’s imagination, encouraging her to set aside the convention in favour of invention.
“Cage’s concept to compose silence, by which he actually intended to find the sound of silence inspired me to experiment,” Norment said. Norment first experienced the joy of modulating sound waves when she got her first synthesiser in the early 1980s.
“From then on, I was excited about experimentation with sounds. The advent of new-age music like electronic dance and trance further influenced my concept about sound. Every sound has music. It all depends on how you place it, and the context in which it is placed,” Norment said.