Before the invention of radar, the British military experimented with acoustic mirrors as a means of detecting approaching enemy aircrafts. Rather than displaying blips on a screen, these strategically placed parabolic monoliths simply reflected ambient noise from their concave surfaces, making it easier to discern far-off sounds, like the drone of an airplane’s engine.
After learning about the existence of these curiously primitive and imposing pieces of outdated surveillance equipment, which are still standing along stretches of England’s coast, artist Tim Bruniges recreated these interactive objects in a gallery setting. Earlier this year, in an exhibition called MIRRORS at Brooklyn’s Signal gallery, Bruniges installed a pair of 9 by 9 foot sound mirrors that he constructed from wood and concrete with microphones embedded in their center. The sculptures faced each other to create an interactive sound experience for visitors to the cavernous gallery space.
As sculptural objects, these sound mirrors almost seem like a mashup of the ancient stone statues of Easter Island and a boom box from the 1980s; a visual representation of the tension between tradition and technology in the 20th century. Bruniges also added elements of 21st century technology to the work. Live sound picked up by the microphones mounted in the mirrors were run through a series of digital effects, which were amplified by speakers placed in the space. This modification to the original British military sound mirrors design created an auditory environment where visitors would have difficulty discerning the sounds being reflected by the mirrors from the delayed sounds emanating from the speakers. This situation highlights 21st century tensions between the real and the virtual, which are stuck in an infinite feedback loop.
More than just recreating interesting cultural artifacts, MIRRORS is a poetically succinct diorama of the ambiguous spaces that we live in today, existing between the material and the digital worlds that continually reverberate off of each other. Bruniges, who just earned his MFA from The College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales this month, just built a second version of MIRRORS at Arc at COFA in Sydney. So, if you’re going to be in Sydney or New York in the next few months, be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for his upcoming projects.