Simon Whetham: From The Mouths Of Clay
The Helen Scarsdale Agency

In early 2013, Bristol, UK-based sound artist Simon Whetham took advantage of the explorative opportunities afforded by the inaugural residency of a lab project in Medellín, Colombia to produce From The Mouths Of Clay, an hour-long soundwork that's presented as two thirty-minute cassette sides (a digital download is also available). Building on the practices of figures such as Alvin Lucier and Nicholas Collins, Whetham explored the sound potential properties of the gallery space as well as equipment originating from a nearby market. Specifically, what Whetham did was capture the internal resonances of three prehispanic burial urns and three unidentified “examples of more recent variations on this theme,” which were then played back within the urns using small speakers or through them with transducers.

The immersive work was formally presented as an eight-channel installation that featured sounds produced by the six vessels along with a two-speaker setup playing lower tones. In essence, Whetham's mutating drones assume the woozy form of creeping, organ-like pitches that piercingly whistle and crackle as they advance and recede in volume and intensity. Hollowed-out and cavernous, the insectoid, static-laden flow is occasionally punctured by rippling noise textures, which play like the amplified sound of diseased scabs being torn from a body, and aggressive percussive flourishes. Sonically, the effect is rather ghostly, even at times nightmarish, and prolonged exposure to the material induces a marked degree of unease and disorientation, especially when the listener is cognizant of the presence of burial urns in the sound-generating process.

November 2014