IRFP Presents: untitled (Nature Diorama with Natural Synthesizer and Electronic Birds)

Photo of part of BCA Installation
a sound installation
by Jessica Rylan

Projects from the Berwick Research Institute's Artist in Research Program

Mills Gallery
Boston Center for the Arts
Feb 4 - Mar 27, 2005
Meg Rotzel
Exhibition Design:
Ben Durrell and Matthew Christensen
Vaughn Bell, John Osorio Buck, Christy Georg, Carolyn Lambert and Fereshteh Toosi, Ken Linehan, Jessica Rylan, Aliza Shapiro, Amy Sharp, Jonah Rapino, and Devil Music

Photo of door of Mills Gallery in Boston 

I was invited to the Mills gallery again, in a Berwick retrospective show. All the former artists in research had pieces in the show. For my piece I decided to do a new sound installation. I didn't get a private room this time, but it was actually better, because I was less secluded from everyone else.

Photo of Jessica Rylan's installation 

I wanted to do a nature diorama. The weather got pretty mild in January, and I was thinking more like spring. But two weeks before the show opened, it rained for a week, then went into deep freeze. I decided it would have to be more of a stark, wintery scene instead.

Photo of Jessica Rylan's electronic birds roosting in the branches 

You can't tell in the photos, but the tree branches I found are covered with fuzz, like the antlers of a young deer. I got them on a back road, somewhere around Ancram NY. We put them up so they come straight out of the wall. Then I put in the birds, like they were roosting on their home turf.

Detail photo of one of Jessica Rylan's electronic birds 

I based the birds on a circuit originally developed by John Simonton, Jr. He's the driving force behind Paia, who have been making synthesizer kits for 30 years now. I added a section to his original design so that the birds would be quiet more of the time, and also their songs would vary more. I did it by modulating the supply voltage, a popular circuit-bending trick. One bird chirps more frequently, sometimes sounding like a seagull. The other bird sings less frequently, but it has a long graceful warble like something that likes to stay hidden deep in the forrest. Every once in a while, one of them makes an odd noise, sometimes a gasp and sometimes a ringing cell phone.

Photo of one of Jessica Rylan's natural synthesizer in the branches 

Underneath the tree branches, the Natural Synthesizer sits on top of a bright blue speaker, surrounded by branches and draped in vines. The synthesizer's noise is more constant. There's a rushing, gurgly part, like a nearby brook that you can't quite see, and a gentle whistle that fades in and out very quietly, like an old radiator. In addition, every once in a while the synthesizer makes a sharp thunk. It was hard to adjust the thunks, because they're so infrequent you get bored of waiting. As I was working on the piece, I'd get worried, I hadn't heard one in 15 minutes. Just as I was about to adjust it to happen more often, it would thunk three times in a minute. So you might have to wait a long time to hear that! And the longer you stay, the more you'll hear in the piece. This one goes a lot deeper than I got to before.

Thanks to Adra and Laura at the BCA, Meg for organizing such a great show, Zachary Piper for taking these photos, and most of all Ben and Matthew for their invaluable help!

Copyright 2005 by Jessica Rylan.
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This page last updated: Monday, July 10, 2006
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