Lee Ranaldo hopes to create poetry with his guitar. This is nothing new for the former guitarist for one of the coolest rock bands in the history of rock bands—that is, Sonic Youth—but don’t expect Kim Gordon or Thurston Moore to come around. Ranaldo has been an artist before Sonic Youth was a twinkle in your stereos, and for the next few weeks, Ranaldo and his partner Leah Singer will be at NSCAD making your eardrums dance in ways you couldn’t even have imagined.
From July 2 to July 13, Ranaldo and Singer will be holed up in Anna Leonowens' Gallery 2 with a guitar hanging from the ceiling, creating what Ranaldo calls “a cycle of sound and image,” with the guitar being activated by non-traditional playing styles, like with a bow, or a hammer or a chainsaw, for example.
Called Contre Jour, the work is inspired by a quote from Brion Gysin, a beat painter, poet and the creator of the dream machine (as seen as the flickering kaleidoscopic coloured lights turning atop your record player), and started out as a performance in the New Museum in New York for a Gysin restrospective. “The name Contre Jour comes from the photographic term meaning against the light,” says Ranaldo. “It was inspired by Gysin’s quote but also by the mystery of silhouettes...I like the democratic connotation of the silhouette. It’s simple and the lack of detail places anyone in that place.”
Transforming over time and through space since its initial exhibition, the work will be a gallery installation, acting doubly as an environment for live music performance. “We feel the live performance activates the space,” says Ranaldo. “But the installation remains as a cycle of sound and image where a participant can come and go without concern for where the beginning or end is.” “The work is not structured to be narrative or linear story telling. It’s closer in structure to poetry and collage.”
If you’re thinking this feels like a disconnect for someone who has been named one of the best guitarists in recent memory, Ranaldo assures that before he was one of the front men for the harbinger of noise wave in New York, he was pursuing the worlds of music, sound, visual art and film with Singer. “These have always been my areas of interest,” he says. “Sometimes the various disciplines interact, and words will appear on drawings, for instance, or language will cross over from poems to lyrics.”
“It mutated more in the public perception than in my private world and work.” Naturally, like Contre Jour itself, Ranaldo obviously benefits from these diverging interests, creating work that is constantly evolving and taking on different forms. The feeling he hopes to inspire in his work remains clear. “It’s how an image and a sound can suddenly summon a memory or conjure an idea… It celebrates the details and broad strokes of each day.”