Remixing NPR: The Dissonance and Deconstructivism of Patrick Faulk

"Keys," by Patrick Faulk. Photo courtesy of artist.
"Keys" by Patrick Faulk. Photo courtesy of artist.

A wide white room in downtown Santa Ana fills with energy and inquiry. People of various ages crowd around what seems to be a musical performance. The crowd parts, it becomes visible. It's not a musical performance, but instead, it is a piano that spans the entire length of the room, three pianos wide. This isn't an ordinary piano, and the sound emitting from it is extraordinary, too. The keys and levers do not hit the expected strings inside, but instead they strike a long block of plaster, above the black and white triggers, turning this piano inside out, showing its innards for all to see. The end result is an aging sense of purity, tiny dents on a clean, white extra-large instrument of pings; interacting with people, creating a symphony of ping-like noises as the public taps their fingers on the black and white keys of this deconstructed invention of surrealist music. Each ping of the keys hits that block plaster, forever embedding their visit onto this object and experience.

Patrick Faulk's "Keys" is one of many interactive statements on contemporary society and affluence of technology within our everyday lives. Faulk is a San Diego-bred artist who creates provocative and extraordinary sculptures dealing with, among other things, sound, structure, theory, existence and identity in Santa Ana. With a background in design and furniture making, Faulk's brain seems to work as an exploratory machine of dissonance and deconstructivism. Like an inquisitive mad scientist, problems inspire him, as he yearns for a solution found in grandeur and whimsy, desperately looking to innovate by repurposing what already exists.

Patrick Faulk in his grandfather's woodworking studio; Palomar, CA. | Photo: Ryan Skinner.

Fueled by his interest in the science -- and human obsession -- with sound, technology and ingenuity, Faulk's sculptural endeavors often exist as explorations into the theories of philosophers and influential artists. Often compared to John Cage, Faulk refuses to invoke the Cagean way of thinking about sound, and instead reacts to it. As if a rebuttal to John Cage, Faulk deals with similar issues of control and absorption of sound for humans, but Cage's relation to the connectivity of chance operations of sound and atmosphere are inspiration for Faulk to dive deeper into the rabbit hole, searching for a more relevant question to pose to himself. In our "culture of distraction," full of technological insurgence, Faulk evokes ideas of interaction and reaction with technology and human life. "We have multiple forms of existence; we are defining a new existence [for ourselves] with technology," Faulk explains. "Our identities are now put into algorithms. What does it mean to exist? Technology is changing our existence, sound is directly rooted to existence, present-ness and attentiveness."

"Keys," by Patrick Faulk. On view at Grand Central Art Center now. | Photo: Courtesy of artist.

With "Keys," Faulk wanted to create a kind of soundboard that would be visual and interactive. "Plaster is sonorous," he says. "A great material." The plaster helped Faulk create a three-dimensional soundscape that is left in wake of the human interaction with his sculpture; something you could walk into and control with your person, in a space. Always fascinated with the instrument he grew up with as his own first experiences with sound growing up, the piano served as both a learning tool and as a victim to his inquisitive and dissective artistry. "I was interested in representing music in a more tangible form, and by that way relate the presence of sound to the viewer on a one to one ratio," he says. "We change space by the sound we make, and I am attentive to this." Faulk was interested in the relic left behind as well, and often includes some form of a relic from the experience and interaction of his artwork. You are left with a mountain range of the physical and sensory experience from the viewers with "Keys." A kind of 3-D sound archive, adding a physical mark to the sound record, but also removing a chunk of it in the process; the familiar give and take of any relationship.

A light-hearted and hard-working character, Faulk is always interested in helping other artists, engaging in self-provoked "crits," and solving problems. With a strong background in graphic design, Faulk has always been involved in problem-solving and moving forward without a push. Though Faulk is still in his MFA program at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), Faulk's jarring sense of adventure in his practice inspires and enriches his entire cohort and program. A normally rigid and strict program of painting and drawing, Faulk's MFA faculty embraces his wild abandonment and experimentalism within his practice. "The work dictates what it needs to be," Faulk says.

Patrick Faulk working in his studio in Santa Ana. | Photo: Sara Dehghan.

Recent conversations with artists Justin Bower and Kevin Stewart-Magee as well as curator John Spiak have empowered Faulk to get more intimate with his inclinations in sound exploration. In one piece,"You Are Hear," a simple darkly painted wooden panel is bent into an arc enclosure that greets you in space, as you walk up to it. Motion censored with sound clips, "You Are Hear" engages the viewer with prompting noises and questions. Faulk said he was inspired by listening to National Public Radio -- all the noises and natural superfluous sounds that resonate when you are listening to the humanity of an NPR conversation. As you approach the piece, it lives and creates on its own, with a white noise of existence resonating. Move closer to the piece, and it repeats the phrase "You are listening to..." over and over again. However, if you remain in its presence it will adjust and begin to just breathe for you. Using an hour of NPR programming, Faulk dismantled and repurposed the sound file, taking out the words but leaving the breath of the radio speakers. As the listener, we are forced to spend time in a quiet space and focus on the small nuances of human sound, the intonation, the feeling and the expression in breath. Almost like an unspoken conversation, Faulk provokes the viewer to really listen, and imagine the experience of the breathers. "The sounds we think of as superfluous are brought to the foreground and end up expressing as much as words would," he says, "that is where my interest lies; if we listen to something that we don't normally listen to, what does it begin to say?"

Though Patrick Faulk's studio in Grand Central Art Center--Santa Ana's collaboration with CSUF--is small and in a shared space with the other resident artists, he chooses projects that are larger than life. Constantly relating his work to metaphors for larger concerns, Faulk tests his control and technique in many materials and sizes. In his "What Truth Holds" piece, he invokes the bridge as a symbolic truth fashioned from a modernist aesthetic and put it under enormous strain, almost provoking truth to be tested. He uses a mixture of plaster, salt and dictionary pages -- plaster as a reference to the classical period; salt a means for preservation; and dictionary pages as the visual reference to a "truth." Creating dozens of cast bridges and stacking them in a specific yet precarious way, he explores the bridge as a metaphor for thought. He felt he was making truths, and then forcing them to be tested, in this piece. A dehumidifier above the stack, extracts moisture from the air in the space and drips water on to the structure. The repetition of the drip correlates to time--specifically the test of time, to which each bridge will fall at differing rates. "A modernist sense of truth wears; compromising the structure, which creates what I would call hazardous thought zones," Faulk explains. With time this sculpture will become dangerous to approach. "By mixing [those elements] together I felt that I was making truths -- truths I knew might fail, and truths that would eventually have to face the test of time. The form came about by recording the word 'truth,' and then looking at its digital representation in an audio program. So just as each bridge symbolizes an individual truth, the entire construct represents a modernist sense of truth challenged," he says.

"What Truth Holds," by Patrick Faulk. | Photo: Courtesy of artist.
"What Truth Holds," by Patrick Faulk. | Photo: Courtesy of artist.
"What Truth Holds," by Patrick Faulk. | Photo: Courtesy of artist.

Patrick Faulk's deconstructionist tendencies are fueled by modernism and the breakdown of modernism, and its comparison to excess as it stimulates or inundates--that inherent change fascinates him. His fascination with the evolution of culture and our existence in relation to that of our own genius reinforces his contemporary position in art, in history and in practice. "Through art I question the purpose of listening in relation to connection and distraction [in our contemporary society]," Faulk states.

Faulk welcomes creative problem solving and flourishes in one-on-one interactions. With a high level of expectation from his experience in furniture design and graphic design, he has become the resident "answer-man" in Santa Ana's art scene, and absolutely loves helping others and creating. "I get excited by just having ideas. I am just driven by the idea of making or creating," says Faulk. Faulk's artwork has an energetic inquiry into what already exists, and his inspired theories and conceptual explorations provoke a childlike wonder to viewers. The wow factor of Patrick Faulk is palpable in the presence of one of his large-scale works, and his attitude reminds us that art is at its very core -- playful exploration.


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