When Special K and I stepped into the AGO in Sep 2022, the dulcet tones of Jónsi, the Icelandic artist and singer/guitarist for the band Sigur Rós, reverberated in the hall. Drawn onward by the music I listened and poked my head into the dark room. The exhibit is called Obsidian in English and Hrafntinna (Hrawftinna) in Icelandic. The piece I was about to see is inspired by a volcanic eruption in 2021. The text panel says that Jónsi ’s, “…work in the visual arts draws on the genre-blurring atmospheric effects of his music.” In this installation, Jónsi “…imagines the sensation of being inside a volcano…” Also on the panel is a description of the installation: “A single circular light stands in for the summit of the volcano. A sixteen-channel audio composition resonates through 195 speakers; a sweet and smoky scent fills the air…” In bold, the panel warns the participant that it features low lighting [which did take a few minutes to adjust to], scents, sound reverberations and occasional flashing lights. Visitors should exercise caution.” It’s described on another panel as a “…sound installation…” with “…chandelier, speakers, subwoofers, carpet, and fossilized amber scent.”
I take issue with the term “visitor”. It is too immersive an experience to not be a participant. I’m hoping my audio keeps to the spirit of what my experience was. Let me explain further. There is a video on the Art Gallery of Ontario website about the exhibit. The audio in that video is very different from what I actually recorded. The promotional video no doubt used many mics and professional mixing to convey the aural message the artist wanted. I love the sound on that video – of course- it’s Jónsi , but I like the sound my Zoom audio recorder captured too. I lay back on a carpeted circular platform that others were laying back on, listening, watching the light show, and smelling the smoky scent. The only mics were on my two ears in a particular position in the room. As a participant, I felt the reverberations directly. I hope the audio I captured achieves something close to that same experience, if you listen to it in a relaxed quiet location with headphones. You might just feel the rumble and explosions of the volcano. You will hear what I heard, from my vantage point, using binaural earbuds, albeit, rendered digital.
If you live in Toronto, or even if you don’t, I recommend this installation. I can only provide an audio interpretation of what I experienced, and sound is only one aspect of it. Missing is the darkness that surrounds the participants, the amber scent that evokes ash and fire, the sensations of a moving earth, and the light above, sometimes dark, sometimes bright, sometimes flashing. We were after all, supposed to be inside the belly of the volcano. It’s not clear when the exhibition leaves the Art Gallery of Ontario. You’ll have to check the AGO website for that.
Here’s the audio (Hotfrm239 – 24m05 44MBs):
Full Album: Jonsi’s Obsidian on Youtube