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Super Critical Mass

Moving Collected Ambience  2014

participatory sound work

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the MCA Foundation, 2015


About the Artwork

Moving Collected Ambience is a sound work designed specifically to respond to the collection, galleries and new building of the MCA, Sydney. The work was commissioned by the Performance Space and the MCA as part of the Sonic Social performance season and premiered on the 14th and 15th of June 2014 throughout the level two galleries of the MCA. It was created and directed by Julian Day and Luke Jaaniste as part of their ongoing project Super Critical Mass. 

For this performance-installation a large and diverse group of volunteer participants are brought together to create a field of simple vocal sounds for the duration of one hour. There is no set number of vocalists but generally it includes between 50–100 individuals who are following memorised instructions. Their vocalisations vary between open or closed mouths, high or low notes, individually sung or in unison, depending on the proximity to other singers and also to the artworks. They move throughout the gallery spaces, gathering in specific rooms over this time, moving individually or clustering in groups of two or three. The participants are virtually indistinguishable from other members of the public and adopt the meandering route and unfocused, yet constantly refocusing, gaze typical of gallery visitors.

Super Critical Mass deals with the nature of community building and how groups of unrelated people move towards a common consensus despite their differing identities. Moving Collected Ambience creates a temporary and intangible experience dealing with the overlap between sound, space and social relations within the MCA galleries.

The effect is a performance-installation that toys with the threshold and ambiguity of performativity (who is performing? What sounds are being added? Where are they coming from?) And presents a networked activation of the sonic, spatial and social constructs of the gallery.

Super Critical Mass, Moving Collected Ambience, score provided to the MCA, 2014.

VIDEO: Super Critical Mass, 'Moving Collected Ambience' (2014)

"It's about finding a connection through something you do in the moment.. an interdependent kind of sound-making" Julian Day and Luke Jaaniste's ongoing collaboration is Super Critical Mass, using sound and social connection to frame public places as heightened sites for interaction. In this video Julian explains the work and how it unfolds in the gallery space. See footage of rehearsals for the 2016 iteration of this performance-installation and get an insight into the way this work takes shape. For more about Super Critical Mass and the artwork, visit the MCA Collection online https://www.mca.com.au/collection/work/2015.66/

Super Critical Mass

– About the artist

Julian Day born 1975, Bendigo, Victoria. Lives and works Sydney.
Luke Jaaniste born 1977, Parramatta. Lives and works Brisbane.

Super Critical Mass (SCM) is an ongoing participatory sound project begun in 2007 and directed by Julian Day and Luke Jaaniste. SCM uses sound and social connection to frame public places as heightened sites for interaction. The title is borrowed from a term in nuclear physics, ‘supercritical mass’, in which there is an increasing rate of fission in a mass of fissile material needed for a nuclear chain reaction.

SCM engages large groups of individuals to create acoustic pieces that respond to the architecture and space where they are located. Using the simple components of voices, percussion or masses of one type of instrument, Day and Jaaniste explore the aural and spatial qualities of spaces as diverse as car parks, libraries, cathedrals, shop fronts, canals, laneways and galleries. These performances have included 50 bell ringers enacting waves throughout a public square, 80 flutes activating a former railway shed or 1,500 volunteers articulating pieces of paper within a vast darkened auditorium. They create temporary, participatory, intangible experiences that are explorations of societies, sound and the ‘relational properties of spaces’.

SCM has evolved since 2007 through events in New York, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, The Hague, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. Over 2,000 participants have joined SCM in New York’s Central Park; Old Spitalfields Market, London; Manchester Cathedral; Library of Birmingham, UK; Arts House Meat Market; and Sydney Opera House, among many other spaces.

Open Plans (2015) was shown at the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. It included 200 displayed handbells, 16 in-situ videos, growing window scores and performances that bookend the exhibition at the twin sites (QAG and GOMA).

Julian Day is an artist, composer and broadcaster who lives and works in Sydney. In site-responsive performances, installation, video and text his work treats sound as a vital means of examining the world. He performs as An Infinity Room (AIR) and co-directs Super Critical Mass, a large-scale participatory project. He has presented work at Whitechapel Gallery, London; Cafe Oto, London; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, USA; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Sydney Opera House. He has worked with such musicians as Lisa Moore, TRANSIT, Synergy Percussion and Australian String Quartet.

Luke Jaaniste is a visual, sonic and installation artist, and writer who lives and works in Brisbane. He works with ‘ambient aesthetics’ through a range of minimal, serial and situational strategies, and has been exhibited, broadcast and performed across Australia. He co-directs the large-scale participatory sound project Super Critical Mass. He represented Australia at the International Rostrum of Composers 2006 and was included the Australian contribution to the 12th Prix Marulic Festival 2008. In 2010 he edited the M/C Journal special ‘Ambient’ edition.

Learn more

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