Biennale of Sydney

Oliver Beer

Oliver Beer, The Resonance Project, 2014

Oliver Beer, Composition for Mouths (Songs My Mother Taught Me) I, 2018

Oliver Beer

Born 1985 in England
Lives and works in Paris, France and London, England

Oliver Beer performances, Composition for Tuning an Architectural Space
13 March–18 May 2018
Sydney Opera House stairwells, Sydney Opera House
Bookings are essential via Sydney Opera House website

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Oliver Beer’s work explores sound and space through sculpture, film and performance, examining cultural and phenomenological relationships between music, the human voice and architecture. Beer translates his research into performative works in which the spectator becomes a participant by the mere fact of their presence.

Following on from his residency at the Sydney Opera House in 2017, Beer presents a composition from his ‘Resonance Project’, a series of performances and films based on an acoustic phenomenon: that every architectural space has its own unchanging resonant notes, determined by its dimensions, which can be stimulated using the unamplified human voice. Beer was invited to explore the iconic building and listen for the resonant potential of different locations within the structure. He took singers to the building’s farthest extremities; from the confined concrete spaces inside the tips of the roof sails, to a corridor located four stories below sea level, which he describes as having the acoustics of a cathedral. ‘Tuning’ the building as he went, while recording and filming, Beer built up a body of work around the unique acoustic fingerprint of the architecture.

For the Biennale of Sydney, Beer presents a new iteration of his Composition for Tuning an Architectural Space, in which a usually unseen, unremarkable space within the Opera House will be transformed acoustically through a live vocal performance. Revealing the resonant frequencies of the space, the work is an immersive sound composition that exists ‘at the meeting point between the singers and the architecture’. Audiences are invited, in intimate groups, to experience a fleeting revelation of architecture through sound.

Beer’s unprecedented access as an artist-in-residence gave him an insight into the physical and acoustic structures of the Opera House, as well as the human structures that underpin it. At the Art Gallery of New South Wales, he exhibits Composition for Mouths (Songs My Mother Taught Me) I & II, 2018, two films that respond directly to his experiences during the residency. Exploring ideas of cultural memory and ‘inherited music’, Beer asked singers to recall the earliest songs they remembered from their childhood, incorporating the melodies into new compositional forms. In pairs, joining their lips in a tight seal to create a single mouth cavity, the singers explore the resonant frequencies of each other’s faces as well as the architecture. They blend their voices to create rhythmic microtonal harmonic interactions known as ‘beats’, while combining adapted forms of their remembered music. In one film, two sopranos merge an Indian classical raga and a melody by 11th-century composer Hildegard of Bingen; in another, the voice of a tenor singing an Indigenous song learned from his aunts as a child, is juxtaposed with that of a bass drawing on his earliest musical memory, the children’s hymn, ‘Two Little Eyes to Look to God’.