Musical layers peeled back in Sometimes Always

Hold onto your 8-track: Sometimes Always, a new show at the AGNS, brings outmoded music technology back to life.

The elevator doors to the third floor part, allowing multiple and intermingling sonic currents to rush down the length of the narrow corridor, flooding the carriage.

Against the flow of machine and mouthed sounds, a visitor steps into a gap in the room; a breathing space to pause and get bearings before plunging into Sometimes Always, a group exhibition of eight international artists opening on this night at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, a co-presentation with CFAT. Conceptualized by John Mathews, who curates the show with Robert Zingone, the exhibition is part of Sound Bytes, the citywide festival of audio art continuing in Halifax this month.

The eye goes to several circular forms mounted on the wall at the end of the hall. These are an important part of Craig Leonard's installation "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel." Earlier in the day of the opening, Leonard, who also teaches at NSCAD, discussed his project on the phone.

"Each bike wheel has different sorts of Op-Art patterns using duct tape," he says, adding that the steel circles are "an invitation to interact with the sculptural piece. Like a record collection, you can take the wheels off the wall and you can try them out."

By "try them out," Leonard means playing the bike wheels, with their taped-up spokes in pleasing visual patterns, on a pair of purpose-built plywood turntables---the nominal ones-and-twos, the decks.

The plinths flank a recessed shelf where a small and simple control box sits. Visitors use a small series of buttons and dials to vary pitch, tone and volume. Made from a roasting tray, the controls are connected to a set of four oscillators and another set of APCs, or Atari Punk Circuits.

In lieu of the old needle on the record, each plinth, Leonard explains, houses a photo-resistor cell, which absorbs the direct light shining from above and down through two-inch holes the artist drilled into the wooden tops; each cell powers a tone generator, which produces the basic lithe, wiry sound source.

"When there's no wheel on top, it'll just produce a single tone," Leonard says. "But when you spin the wheel it produces a rhythmic pattern." The duct-taped shapes on the spokes of each wheel pass through, or break, the beam of light to make beats.

"The whole thing is really about exploration," Leonard points out. That's why, he says, he didn't label the controls as he wanted people to just play around. He didn't want to direct the interaction.

Eleanor King's project, "Obso-less-sense," provides a useful contrast to Leonard's "Adventures." For one, she creates a space "with varying sculptures within it that are meant to be read as one piece." Think of a small but crammed repair shop that you make your way through (at the end of the room is Leonard's piece) with a sense of wonder and awe at the amount of stuff that gets created and discarded for the purpose of listening pleasure and edification.

"Like a lot of my work, it comes from an environmental standpoint," says King, also on the phone the day of the opening. "The original inspiration for this shop was that it existed after things could be produced---post-apocalyptic in a way."

According to King, her installation consists of a "cube van's worth" of material she found and sought out by searching websites such as Freecycle and Kijiji, and by going to sales and talking to people---that "social aspect" is a big part of what she does.

Sound is incidental: Sometimes the simple hum from banks of computer monitors plugged into the wall does the trick. Radio tuners emit AM signals and turntables spin with no records, just the scratch of the needle on nothing. Sounds cut and bleed into one another.

Tape decks are stacked, their doors open like tongues hanging out. CD players stick out their tongues, too. A column of record covers traces a graceful line and gradient of colour.

Much of King's material was already on hand, in her studio. "I was holding onto or preserving these objects that are no longer useful, or maybe don't even work, to put them into this new context, as decorative or architectural---giving them a new function in beauty or structure."

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