Life's a gas, so says Marc Bolan as well as Joey Ramone. And jumpin' jack flash it may be true: Londonist itself is a gas, albeit an unstable, inert one. Recently we explored the sublime in previewing Lou Smith and Lorraine Liyanage's Gas Organ showing at the Sassoon Gallery in Peckham. With its unique exploration of sound through physics and fire, we couldn't resist paying it another visit, especially when it meant seeing gas-masked gas-organists controlling its guttural tones.
When we arrived the organ was on auto-pilot, but this didn't mean it was producing uninteresting background noise. If you believe in the electric dreams of android sheep, you'll know that random signal generators qualify as performers in their own right. They can't help that they are made of metal and wire, now can they? Walking around the organ as it played, each of the four pipes drifting in and out of the mix, you could hear the sounds change with your position in the room.
Although the didgeridoo is probably the closest sonic relative to the Gas Organ, higher pitched wails sometimes pour forth from it resembling electronic feedback drones. Low-end vibrato, produced as a result of increased gas flow in one of the organ's pipes, resonates like the fluttertonguing technique of a giant bassoonist. As all four pipes of this organ play together, a magical quartet emerges whose overlapping timbres find a fifth instrument: an ambient undertone which slowly envelops the entire space.
Soon the androids were given a rest and two humans (we think) in gas masks took the helm. Operating the organ from what looked like two model airplane remote controllers, the black-clad musicians delicately manipulated the sputters and sighs of the enormous instrument. The performance only lasted about ten or fifteen minutes, but this was long enough to contrast their purposeful human touch against the random patterns of circuitry. Both were fantastic in their own right, but watching people play the beast made it feel like we, too, could harness its power.
With their Sassoon Gallery run behind them, Experiment 1 can turn its focus to the next showing of their wonderful creation. Speaking with artist Lou Smith, we learned that the Gas Organ is a highly-customisable instrument, capable of being extended past the four tubes we saw in Peckham on Monday. Smith dreams of having a larger incarnation of the organ present to start the Olympics in 2012. Imagining its drone encompassing a wide open area of London would be a science fiction that we can only hope becomes reality.
A stunning 58-minute recording of a performance of The Gas Organ was available at the Sassoon Gallery nights. Should you wish to hear it for yourself, you should contact the artists via their website here. Images taken from Londonista MykReeve's Flickr photostream.