Blog / “Digital” music with David McConnell


By Wendy and Andrew

Late last Halloween night, we caught a forlorn little Facebook status update from Raleigh artist David McConnell.
No trick-or-treaters had come to his door.

Those kids really missed out, too, because David had planned to hand out mini music boxes (Beatles tunes!).
I remembered that story when we knocked on David’s door, last week, to see his new series of sculptures involving music boxes. He retrieved them from storage and installed them in his living room, just for us. Andrew and I spent some time with each as the artist moved around, tinkering with the mechanisms of the four sculptures. Our impressions follow:

Wendy: “This is my sarcastic remark to digital music and MP3 players,” David said, by way of introduction. The first sculpture, “Duet,” is a collection of stacked objects: orange soup pot, a thick slab of salvaged wood, a microphone. And it’s also a duet. An old music box housed in a doll house-sized piano plays in concert with an ancient tape cassette player. “But this work is digital!” David said. It’s a play on words: The music box creates sound with digits. The artist altered the tines and drum so the music box would play his own composition.

Andrew: David’s intervention on mechanized processes is indeed a sarcastic remark toward the digital. Not only do these works have a quasi-digital quality, he also humanizes the mechanical by disrupting their mass-produced composition. David’s investment in the history of objects and recovering relics from their individual obscurity reveals an amazing tenderness toward not only his work but also these objects as they preexist his work. In “Environments,” a music box is mounted against a record called Environments, and its whirring and sounds of playing constitute the music as much as the melody does.

Wendy: Andrew’s use of the word “humanizes” is right! David turned on all four sculptures for us, because, he said, that “brings out the human quality even more.” Listen to his recording here. David thinks of the four tinkling, whirring sculptures as different musicians getting together for band rehearsal, but playing alone with their own ideas. The result, he said, is a “beautiful cacophony.” In his work, he draws a lot from his experience as a producer in L.A.’s music world, most notably with the late Elliott Smith.
But most people worry about infighting in a band, I said. The artist is comfortable with the idea.
“Musicians can be very controlling,” David said. “There something nice about chaos in music.”

Andrew: The cumulative effect of these four sculptures is certainly greater than their parts, Wendy. The cacophony and this notion of chaos interestingly contrast with the mathematical precision of music boxes, yet both elements pervade the work. In so many ways, this work is paradoxical: chaotic and controlled, analog but programmable. When we were leaving, David told us so much of his artistic practice has been about undoing his formal education so he could “listen less clinically.” This work demands that of its viewers/listeners.

Wendy: It is fun to hear David’s thinking behind these works; the story behind the art is compelling. But the works stand on their own with no explanation because of the artist’s sensitive use of shape and color.

We could go on and on. But we’ll leave you with a nice summary of this new series in the artist’s own words:

“Each one is a sound sculpture based on the concept of deconstruction/reconstruction of found sonic artifacts,” he said, by email. “The music boxes originally played popular children’s themes and romantic period classics. With the help of a jeweler I manipulated each music box mechanism to play back a unique musical composition which I mathematically wrote by subtracting and replacing the preexisting metal tines with new ones that are melodically, harmonically and dynamically very different. The final product is a new composition that is best heard and seen while all five music boxes are playing simultaneously in the same room or gallery.”

IMAGE: David McConnell, “ipod truffle,” 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Flanders Gallery, Raleigh.

You can see this music box series by appointment at Flanders Gallery, Raleigh. Also, David McConnell’s  beautiful work “Polysymphonic Sun” is part of  the Nasher Museum’s exhibition, The Record, which is traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (opening April 12, 2011).

Recent Posts

Visitor, Not Visitor

Posted By Mika Deshmukh

It’s the first day of my internship with the Nasher Museum’s Marketing and Communications… MORE