Speak & Spell

June 6 – June 27, 2019

Second Friday Reception:  June 14, 6 – 8pm

Casio SK1.  Bent by Andrew Wayne.  Photo: Denise Chelini.

Casio SK-1. Bent by Andrew Wayne. Photo: Denise Chelini.

As part of the celebration of music this June in Davis, Davis Arts Center presents Speak & Spell: The Art of Repurposing, Circuit Bending and the Fashionably Retro. The exhibition will run from Thursday, June 6, through Thursday, June 27. The Tsao Gallery will feature a collection of circuit-bent instruments as well as a kinetic sound installation. The atrium will feature paintings and multimedia work dealing with sound and audio technology.  Many of the pieces have a “QR” code.  With a QR code reader (most smart phones have this technology), viewers will be linked to an online audio file of the device on display.  The exhibit features work and contributions by Alien Devices, Boris Allenou, David Battino, Edward Bennett, Diabolical Devices, Reed Ghazahla, Buddy Hale, Jack Hertz, Derek Holzer, Matthew Lewis, Elisa Reutinger, Jon Rudolph, David Simpson, Marguerite Schaffron, Mark Vail and Andrew Wayne.

The Second Friday reception will be on Friday, June 14, from 6 to 8 pm. In addition to the displayed work, there will be performances, discussions and demos of many of the displayed instruments. Several performers will also have CDs available. Mark Vail, former Keyboard magazine writer and author of Vintage Synthesizers: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology and The Synthesizer: A Comprehensive Guide To Understanding, Programming, Playing, and Recording The Ultimate Electronic Music Instrument, will be signing and selling his books. Musiclandria, a nonprofit in Sacramento that offers instrument checkout, will have an information table.

Scheduled to perform are:

6:25pm, Jack Hertz
6:45pm, Buddy Hale
7:00pm, Jon Rudolph
7:20pm, Mark Vail
7:40pm, Edward Bennett
7:50pm, Andrew Wayne


Reed Ghazahla.  Unigon Incantor.

Reed Ghazala. Unigon Incantor.

The term “circuit bending” was coined in the 1960s by Reed Ghazala (we are fortunate to have one of his historic instruments as part of the exhibition), but the concept of circuit bending predates the term by several decades. Circuit bending typically involves random short-circuiting of battery powered toys and musical instruments or other common electric devices that usually make some sound (for example, a transistor radio).  The end result is hopefully to make an instrument that produces new, chance sounds and/or visuals. Success is never guaranteed.

In their Master Thesis, S.E. Naficy writes of the implications of the circuit bending culture:

Circuit-bending is trangressive of socio-cultural and economic norms in at least four analytically separate ways: 1) it transgresses manufacturer-designed use, function, and recommendations; 2) challenges popular conceptions of what is an instrument and who is or can be a musician; 3) introduces novel elements producing novel experiences; and 4) expands the horizons of what is considered possible on a personal and social level (S.E. Naficy, 2010:  Agency Through Engagement: Circuit-Benders’ Subcultural Resistance, pg 17.  University of Chicago).

In addition to the circuit-bent instruments, speak & spell: The Art of Repurposing, Circuit Bending and the Fashionably Retro includes a sound installation, paintings and multimedia work that pose similar questions and implications.

In Boris Allenou’s Dynamis, part of the sound installation trilogy Sonify Your Day, Boris activates discarded cassette players, scanner motors, printers, CD and DVD modules that tap, vibrate and create sound in the Tsao Gallery. The installation confronts the viewer, compelling one to listen and be more aware of the importance and role of sound . . . and of time. The installation also questions the impermanence of technology.

Elisa Reutinger.  Turntable.

Elisa Reutinger. Turntable.

The atrium features the paintings and multimedia work of Elisa Reutinger, Jon Rudolph and Marguerite Schaffron. Elisa’s turntable paintings capture the essence of form following function and now also depict the fashionably retro. The paintings, seductively rendered in the highly saturated popular palette during each turntable’s production, not only question the fleeting nature of technology but the importance of consumerism and materialism. Marguerite Schaffron’s multimedia work repurposes the long-play album (LP) and the compact disc (CD). Her LPs are covered with a thick coat of paint, perhaps fittingly entombing the record. Most of the LPs also suffer from severe warping. Marguerite’s work also questions the superseding of technology, but many of the LPs and CDs bear a resemblance to Earth or undiscovered planets, perhaps questioning the impact of pollution. The paintings and multimedia work of Jon Rudolph work explore sound, synthesis and ultimately life. Equally talented as a musician, Jon is able to incorporate his understanding of sound and synthesis into his visual work. Jon’s paintings, similar to Boris’s, asks the viewer to explore the components of sound and time. What is attack or release? How does sound evolve?

On the surface, the viewer can enjoy the whimsy of the exhibit but ultimately, almost all of the work in speak & spell:  The Art of Repurposing, Circuit Bending and the Fashionably Retro question the importance of sound, technology, consumerism and it’s ecological impact.

We encourage you to view the sister exhibition Speak & Spell:  The Art of Repurposing, Circuit Bending and the Fashionably Retro in the concurrent exhibit, Seeing Sound 2 at the Pence Gallery from June 8 through July 2.

Boris Allenou’s work is supported, in part, by a grant from the City of Davis Arts & Cultural Affairs program.