John Duncan

The Keening Towers

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The Keening Towers was conceived as a sound installation, presented as part of the "Against All Evens" exhibit curated by Carl-Michael von Hausswolff and Cecilia Bergstrom-Fälth for the second Gothenburg Biennial (2003). Perched at the top of two 24-meter high galvanized steel towers, four speakers played back the treated voices of a 30-piece elementary school choir, the sounds bouncing off the museum's façade and into its arched corridor. In his liner notes, John Duncan doesn't specify if what listeners hear on the CD is a simple stereo mixdown of the material, but the spatialization is certainly different. People walking into the building were hearing ethereal drones, low growls, and disembodied children's screams coming from all around them (ricocheting off the walls). The soundscape is much more immediate when listened to on domestic loudspeakers or over headphones. Those screams will get you off your chair running to the window, basement, bedroom, or wherever your kids are at the moment just to make sure everything is all right. But these few seconds of blinding realism aside, The Keening Towers works on a more subconscious level. The children's voices are severely slowed down and polluted with well-controlled noise. Mental images multiply as the listener explores the soundscape, a soundscape that holds a strong filiation -- in the choice of treatments and textures -- to some of Duncan's previous works (Phantom Broadcast and Palace of Mind, in particular). Children look down on us from steel towers -- the reversal of positions is a way for Duncan to give abused children a voice, the piece turning into a lament. Don't be surprised if the resulting work is somewhat rough and disturbing. The CD comes in a DVD box with a luxurious 20-page booklet of photographs of the installation by Giuliana Stefani, an edition limited to 300 numbered copies.

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