Last summer, artist Kevin Beasley was part of Realization is Better than Anticipation at MOCA Cleveland, an exhibit that featured 12 artists connected to Cleveland and the surrounding region, including Pittsburgh, Detroit and areas throughout Ohio. While he was in town, he started to explore the idea of creating a sound environment in the Cozad-Bates House, a historic building that's the only surviving pre-Civil War structure in University Circle.
"I did a couple of site visits," he says via phone from his Queens, New York, home. "Part of those came after I had decided that the project would be a site-specific sound installation in this house. We were talking about doing it in the museum at first, but it grew into something that had to be created specifically for the house. Last summer's show was curated and we were in conversation about how the sound piece would happen."
On that trip to Cleveland and one subsequent trip to town, Beasley recorded sounds at different times of the day. Sometimes, he recorded in the home itself.
"The Cozad-Bates House just seemed like the perfect fit for Kevin, as his work so often deals with history, change and their material weight," says Rose Bouthillier, associate curator at MOCA Cleveland. "It's an incredible environment for sound, and this will also be a rare opportunity for our audience to see inside this house, which adds a very deep layer of history to University Circle."
Beasley even ventured onto the street and the nearby church to get more material.
"All the sounds I'm sourcing come from field recordings in the neighborhood and from the museum and from the Church of the Covenant in the morning before the service," he says, adding that he had close to 20 hours of recordings. "I recorded in the house and at the intersection of Euclid and Mayfield. There're so many different sources the sound is coming from. There are a couple of embellishments with instruments and effects processers. Everything is sourced from that so it's specific to University Circle."
The sounds will be used in a four-part performance spread over the course of the day in segments that are titled to reflect their position: Civil Twilight I; Transit; Civil Twilight II; and Night. Each segment is a unique composition and distinct experience. The four pieces will play at four times throughout the day. Admission to the events is free but reservations must be made in advance (go to MOCA's website for more info).
"They correlate to the time of the day," he says of the four pieces. "I did a lot of night recordings, which is kind of creepy in that house. For me, since I don't live there, there's a mystery to the neighborhood. That's reflected in the music. There's a really profound quietness to the night recordings. I picked up some crazy radio frequencies. There's great stuff."
Creating a sound environment in the building created a set of challenges.
"The first challenge is figuring how the house can be a site where this can happen and involve people engaging and still maintain its integrity," he says. "I don't want to do some crazy visual installation. I want to leave the house intact but bring something in that makes people realize where they are and gives them this experience they couldn't have in any other place. It's difficult to do that. You generally do something subtle or take something over. I wanted to find a middle ground."
For the piece, he plans to install multi-channel speakers in four rooms in the home. He'll mix the music live from a separate location (he says he won't be visible) and slightly alter the sounds he's created. An unmixed version of the music will play continuously at the Museum of Contemporary Art that same day.
"Kevin is an exciting young artist who is really advancing contemporary sound work, both conceptually and technically," says Megan Lykins Reich, director of programs and associate curator. "We are so thrilled to bring him to Cleveland to produce a new piece that engages our environment directly."
Beasley played a few instruments as a child but gravitated toward visual art and earned a BFA from College for Creative Studies in Detroit and then got his MFA from Yale University. In 2011, he started thinking of ways to combine visual arts with sound.
"It's funny because I want to make a differentiation between my interest in music and sound," he says. "I'm interested in working with music. I'm doing sampling and that is made for sonic explorations. It's my interest in making objects that opened up my interest in making sound because of the physicality of sound and frequencies and how we take that in, either mentally or emotionally. It's like listening to a good jam. You gotta move. There's a resonance there. For me, I'm constantly asking how they're related to each other and how these things are experienced."
The performance at the Cozad-Bates House represents the culmination of a week-long residency that involved studio visits and a lecture at Kent State University, a lecture and classroom presentation at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and time with MOCA Cleveland's ACE high school student group. Beasley will also be spending time at Tri-C's Center for Creative Arts, assisted by recording arts and technology students in finalizing and rehearsing the piece.
Kevin Beasley, 6:45 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Saturday, April 12, Cozad-Bates House, 11508 Mayfield Rd., mocacleveland.org.