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Broken Sound – Gary James Joynes Contemplates Silence and Fragility


Gary James Joynes is an Edmonton-based artist and musician whose interests lie at the intersection of sound and physics. For the last half-decade, Joynes has been investigating cymatics, the process of studying vibration visually, and his ongoing research has yielded works that span performance, photography, and installation; Broken Sound is the latest undertaking in the series. An immersive video installation that recently showed at dc3 Art Projects in Edmonton, it collects several years worth of defunct speaker coils that have been blown during his experimentation with cymatics (which requires loud volumes to create vibrations that generate emergent patterns in particles). Rather than write this expired gear off as collateral damage, Joynes has documented his detritus and created a bespoke shrine to silence.

↑ Charred and frayed: Macro photography of blown speakers coils, Joynes source material

Joynes notes it didn’t take long for him to experience his first ‘speaker death’, one occurred the moment his work with cymatics began. “I swept my oscillator (sine tone) searching for my very first resonant pattern and as an image began to form I immediately forced it with too much amplitude and fried it on the spot.” This is not surprising as speakers are not built to play at the extreme volumes needed to generate the desired vibrations. From that first ‘casualty’ onwards he faced the situation with resolve: “I accepted that violent speaker death was inevitable and simply part of my process.” And now, years later, he’s zoomed in on that inevitability and foregrounded it.

Pushed to their breaking point, the fissured texture and frazzled grain of an inventory of blown coils is showcased in each of Broken Sound’s four projections. Coils were photographed as a long exposure on a custom “ultra slow motion turntable” rig, composites were generated and edited with HDR software to bump up contrast and saturation, and video of portrait-format vertical scans of the coils was rendered. The four screens create an enclosed space and Joynes composed an 8-channel ambient piece that is synchronized with the videos to “emotionally lull and move” visitors that culminates in “a dramatic moment of silence.”

↑ Process: Custom turntable photo rig, 4 channel sound scoring, installation mockup, projection screen metalwork assembly

While the viewer is invited into his space of meditation on sound, silence, and limits, Joynes is reluctant to categorize it as memorialization. “More than a memorial, this cycle of films uses the life of the speaker as a metaphor for a life lived, equating the silenced hardware with our own temporal existence.” That said, while Broken Sound might look like a crypt for a particular ubiquitous consumer electronics component (or at least a survey of its materiality), perhaps a visitor would be wise to encounter the installation with their own mutability and fragility in mind.

Project Page | Gary James Joynes