This Body is Not That: Sonic Frontiers with Jules Gimbrone | KCET
This Body is Not That: Sonic Frontiers with Jules Gimbrone
Jules Gimbrone, composer and performance artist, makes noise-detectives and sonic snoops, audio trills and booms, seeking out the corner of a room with spatial intent. Gimbrone's sound searches for borders of confinement and pushes through, beyond, under and around, taking up physical space and creating new space as it moves. The work quite literally inhabits places yet to be charted. Sound for Gimbrone is the most radical of mediums. Unlike water, which changes form yet remains a physical element, or earth, which is always solid, sound can mimic, shroud, lull, electrify, frighten and most of all, travel.
Standing in the small cement garage below their hillside Silver Lake apartment, Gimbrone, wearing black shorts a striped 70's business shirt, un-tucked, rumpled, runs a hand through a palette of black hair, cropped short at the sides, and adjusts a pair of wire rim glasses. Possessed of a disheveled, handsome, dark eyed nerdiness, Gimbrone stands among their clutter, a certain mad-scientist feel clinging to the contents of the garage as they step among billowing piles of sheet metal and vintage deconstructed tape recorders. Knobs taken from old fret boards and silver ducked taped buckets filled with trinkets and wire litter the room. "This here," says Gimbrone, motioning to what appears to be a sweating, disintegrating rectangular shape of somewhat solid goo, the size of a boom box, "is a piece from my last show, Sick Building," referring to their performance earlier this year at Cal Arts, where Gimbrone is working toward completing an MFA in composition and sound. "This is Ballistic gelatin, it's called that because it's made to simulate human flesh, for instance you can shoot bullets into it." Inside the large opaque quivering mass, Gimbrone has placed a speaker, a tactile transducer speaker, that physically vibrates the gelatin as a way to generate sound. "It was just a cube, sitting in the gallery, totally solid but now it's been about a week and it's breaking down. Gelatin is body, it's bone, it's basically phlegm at this point." The speaker inside the gelatin block works as a portal of travel. "All the speakers of the room were sent through this block. I'm interested in sound creating space but also how sound can move through space as well and transform its properties."
Systems of construction are a continuing theme for the artist and how these constructions operate and carry unseen significance. "The formal layout of a piece, with its chords, microphones, and speakers are just as important as what is being transmitted through these conduits." None of what is presented during a performance is accidental, each wire, microphone, container has been placed by Gimbrone to illicit a desired effect, be it sound or otherwise. Pulling the performance off the way it has been rehearsed however is of less interest. What constitutes a work of musical composition of course becomes the question, but also our ability to stretch as thin as possible, the predictability of happenstance. "I'm not interested in something being pulled off perfectly. My work is really about the messy, the things that you can't account for. That's what excites me."
"G LOC: Infinite Loop," an ensemble composition performed at ISUUE Project Room, this past January, in New York, is an example of Gimbrone's interest in the unpredictability of structure and how sound can mess with our perception of space. The project worked toward an "exploration of divisions. By dividing performers from each other, their own sensory perceptions, and the room into areas of action and nonaction, I hope to stimulate a third indivisible space." G-LOC, which is an abbreviation for Gravity Induced Lack of Consciousness, a term used by fighter pilots who experience it's symptoms, division of self; out of body experiences, spatial disorientations, while descending at high speeds insinuates the disorienting affect that was trying to be achieved. In the performance Gimbrone used a sound recording of herself, landing and taking off as a passenger on a flight, for the duration of the piece, and used that as a modulation for the other remaining instruments to run through. The effect is a hypnotic symphony of sheet metal, quivering and moaning, rising to off rhythm queasy crescendos without ever folding back into melody. Gimbrone's sounds are off putting in a soothing unfamiliar way. It is their unfamiliarity that makes them such unique structures. They bring to mind how often we are presented with rhythms and ideas that are familiar. It is a moment of recognition, of seeing the indoctrination within ourselves that we were not yet even aware.
Gimbrone doesn't think of themselves as a composer in the traditional sense but from a teen hood and early adulthood of playing in bands and collaborating, understands the mechanics behind traditional musicology. The artist uses that training as the foundation on which to bend the audience ear to the promise of something always lurking on the edge or just beyond the surface, ready to jump off and take you down a melodious segue way. What remains however is, in the case of G LOC: Infinite Loop, a haunting iridescence always creeping out above the fog of theatre that each instrument, traditional and non, emits.
The artist found their community in New York, moving there after graduating from Smith College with a BA in sociology and studio art, and completing one year at Brooklyn College where they studied performance and interactive media arts. Once settled in Brooklyn, Gimbrone fell in with a group of choreographers. An investigation into movement and spatial relation slowly developed over time while watching the tension between human bodies, and ignited a political consciousness that had been lacking in earlier work. Gimbrone felt the work needed to touch other things, it needed to be lifted out of the orchestra pit and put into the open studio where they have been manipulating it's relation to their life, ever since.
"I do believe there is a transcendent nature to art practice and sound but I also believe we are stuck in very certain subjectivities that need to be grappled with and talked about and there are political implications in that."
One of the things that gravitated the artist toward the Cal Arts program was the ability to take courses in other departments, wanting to infuse a philosophical approach to what is usually considered a non-political realm, i.e., sound art. Cal Arts offered an opportunity to get a theory-based foundation while remaining open to experimentation. "We can't be naïve as artists anymore about what we are doing or saying or even not saying, as we once were. You have to think about who is included and who is not. Music is almost this idyllic form, it's open and everyone has their own experience with it, it's a beautiful medium, but in some ways it is also naïve."
The artist is invested not only in the lengths at which sound can be stretched and transformed but also in creating a platform for the work. "Part of my interest in space and what excites me about space is that it can be a structuring container for something that can then also be taken away." Gimbrone makes a plate of snacks, dried mangos, chips, and salsa and carries it to a table near a sun lit window, small table succulents scattered about, fresh air winding in from the green hill across from the building.
They chew a leathery orange mango slice and think, their grey and white and pink nosed tabby, sleeping on a nearby couch. "So much of what I do is about community. The art is just as much about creating a space for the work, as the work itself. That's how my work is queer. I'm creating queer space that is outside of what is available to me." Gimbrone's performances, such as This Body Is Not That Solid are concerned with conduits. "I talk about queerness in my work but it's not as socially apparent, I'm not going to even assume that someone unfamiliar with me or the work would think it's queer, but it's invasive through its medium and therefore in a way is more subliminal." In short, Gimbrone's work is political by virtue of its existence. The fact that it is a sonic powder keg of possibility, the unexpected humming to life from the stir of controlled chaos is just an affirmation of its radical nature. Creating a platform of listeners eager for new frequencies.