Installation view of “Albion Waves,” London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, 2023. Photo: © Marcus Leith

Sound Has Form: A Conversation with Oliver Beer

Acoustic resonance—the production of sound through vibrations—is a key material in Oliver Beer’s eclectic practice. His sculptures, installations, and immersive performances release the resonant voices natural to every space, every hollow object. Those physical notes, in turn, generate metaphorical resonances, drawing out the personal and cultural meanings of the spaces we inhabit and the things we possess. From The Resonance Project (2007–ongoing), vocal performances that stimulate the harmonics of built structures, to Vessel Orchestra (2019), a musical instrument composed of 32 objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vast collection, Beer’s work aims to facilitate a richer, more open experience of the world.

Albion Waves, his new commission for the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, takes these ideas in new directions. Twenty-eight British vessels are suspended from the ceiling. Each one contains a microphone to amplify its voice, activated by the movement of visitors around the space. The vessels themselves represent 2,000 years of British material history, from Roman artifacts to a piece donated by Edmund de Waal. In addition, a new suite of Beer’s Resonance Paintings, created by using the vessels’ sound waves to move finely ground pigment on canvas, visualizes the geometric shapes of the surrounding sounds. Bathed in soft blue light, the entire space of the installation becomes a resonant vessel, creating a magical experience that echoes through the body and the mind.

Beth Williamson: Could you describe your training in musical composition and fine art? How did
you relate the two things, and how do they inform what you do now?

Oliver Beer: I was always very sensitive to the relationship between sound, space, and form. As a child, I remember hearing each note a glass played as you poured water into it. I could hear the musical notes of different rooms according to their geometry and volume—a room is like an enormous vessel or seashell, it’s constantly resonating its own note . . .

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