Preston, Julieanna. RPM hums [live art performance], Performance Arcade, Wellington waterfront, New Zealand, 1-4 March 2018.
“RPM hums” was a live art work delivered in 16 acts over the course of the second phase of the 2018 Performance Arcade. In each act, I took 1-12 members of the public to the carpark under Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. The enclosed, dark and dank environment is the space for visitors to leave their vehicles but more so, the underbelly of a coveted building bearing out its light and water support systems. It is here air-borne particles of the archives and cultural treasures get deposited, spewed and liberated form the protective security of the museum. All these systems are dependent on motors to drive air and water flow. Each motor emits a distinctive hum and in concert they orchestrate a discordant wave of white noise.
“RPM hums” was a performance that acted with empathy towards another material thing, a mechanical object powered by electricity that, through its own transfer of energy, is geared to induce kinetic movement required to produce air or fluid flow. The misalignment of brushes, the distortion and imbalance of magnets, the expansion/contraction of copper wire or the out-of-phase resonance of fans generates an audible hum, rattle, screech or whine. To remedy these sounds, electrical engineers advise to “critically dampen” the noise using energy absorbing materials, trap sound using acoustic enclosure systems, or use an “anti-noise” approach in which noise is converted to electric signals, synthesised by a processor and played back into the environment as a cancelling wave form. I hear the beauty in these noises as a sign of the mechanical unit’s own vitality. In “RPM hums” I sought to absorb, sound, repeat, mimic and emulate their vibrations. This is a performance of tuning that drew the audience and I into my their life; to quiver, tremble, shudder, shiver and spasm as a counter-humming machine.
Thank you and credit to research assistant Joshua Lewis.
To see a test video of the performance: https://vimeo.com/257304749
This artistic research was reconsidered and performed as “Erratic Refrains”, a collaboration with Joshua Lewis at “Performing Ecologies” hosted by Performance of the Real, a research cluster of Otago University, Dunedin. Presented in Allen Hall Theatre, the performance inverted the role of machine, videographer and sounder whereby:
-Joshua’s pace followed the video footage of RPM hums thrown by a portable data project, a view of the mechanical infrastructure lining the carpark ceiling under Te Papa,
-a speaker amplified audio recordings that tracked the original humming encounter, and
-Julieanna tuned to the vibrations of the projector all the while moving in relation to Joshua and tending to the long electric cord.