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Composer Nick Hennies transforms time and space with new sound installation, CLOTS

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The first performance of CLOTS is March 23. Photo by Nari Kerrii
austin photo: news_william_CLOTS_mar 2013
austin photo: news_william_CLOTS_mar 2013
Museum of Human Achievement
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After having our consciousness scattered between buzz bands, branding, and Grumpy Cat, maybe we can pocket our smart phones for a moment and take note of our present aesthetic experience.

Local percussionist and composer Nick Hennies’ new piece is inviting us to do just this, drawing our attention back to the music and the primacy of experience with his upcoming sound installation. The installation piece entitled CLOTS is Hennies’ largest and most expansive piece to date.

While Hennies is nominally a percussionist, the music he is interested in creating eschews the traditional conceptions of what a percussionist is. Hennies explores the uncharted timbres of traditional percussive instruments (woodblocks, vibraphones, snare drums) in daring and often hypnotizing ways, utilizing volume, drones and repetition to create a pleasurably strange listening experience.

“A lot of composers of experimental music are occupied with yielding unconventional experiences out of similarly unconventional sounds; my work (among other things) tries to do the same but through certain conventional sounds, exploring the unnoticed/ unconventional timbres of the familiar,” states Hennies.

Likewise, while some might struggle to parse an intention or meaning out of his compositional work, Hennies prefers to let the ambiguities of the music speak for itself through a space of deep listening.

“I am not interested in communicating any kind of message or meaning,” notes Hennies. “I’m presenting sound as something that’s interesting on its own and opens up a limitless world of listening within a very limited sound space.”

A lot of his work deals with the elements of duration and repetition. CLOTS takes those all too familiar ideas and magnifies them, adopting many pieces of our quotidian lives as the arena for a multi sensory experience of space, sound and time.

“I’m interested in using the act of work/physical labor as the basis for making music. Most of us live in this paradoxical world where we’d happily not do our jobs if we didn’t need to make money, but at the same time, humans are evolved to need work,” he says.

“So, I am taking elements of work (specifically, repetition of the same task over long periods of time) and placing them in an artistic context to form the basis of a kind of 'total experience' that the listener can be fully immersed in.”

If anything, the piece is indeed a “total experience." CLOTS engages with the complete visual, tactile and participatory elements of an art installation, disposing of the passive listening experience, and finite limitations, of the traditional rock concert, even disposing of time itself.

“Because of the size and length of the work, there’s a potentially infinite number of ways to view/listen/interact with it,” adds Hennies. “A performance could go on for as long as the performer (in this case, me) is physically able to keep playing. Once you exceed a certain conventionally acceptable length of a piece of music, then the mind begins to change the way it perceives every aspect of the piece.”

During the performance, audience members have the opportunity to interact and construct their own subjective experience of the piece. Similarly, CLOTS ditches the baggage of performance time and aligns itself closer to a gallery space in which participants are free to come and go on their own caprice.

“While there is a live performer (me), the piece has no set beginning or end and can be entered into by an audience member at any point for any length of time” states Hennies. “There’s no limit to the ways in which it can be viewed and heard.”

Additionally, the design experience of CLOTS is tantamount in contributing to the “total experience” of the piece. Hennies has enlisted architect Clay Odom and sound designer Sean O’Neill to transform the cavernous space of the Museum of Human Achievement into a dynamic reflection of the music.

“Hopefully my idea of the space responds to the idea of the music: through the displacement of the music, using materials, pre-recorded sounds playing in phase and physical areas in which the audience is required to navigate through,” adds Odom.

“I hope audiences have the opportunity to experience the space as a primary element of a music performance. All these elements can be merged together into a singular experience of the music, the lighting and the material qualities of the performance.”

The first performance of CLOTS runs on Saturday March 23 the second will take place on March 30 at the Museum of Human Achievement. Hennies will be playing interim concerts throughout the week with different collaborators at the space. Visit www.nhennies.com for more information.

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