Seeing Sound: Sound Art, Performance & Music 1978 - 2011

Gordon Monahan Edited by Linda Jansma and Carsten Seiffarth

160 pages, hardcover, full colour, 19.5cm x 25cm
ISBN 978-1-926589-09-1
includes accompanying DVD

Co-published by
Maclaren Art Centre, Doris McCarthy Gallery, Blackwood Gallery, and Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 2011


Cover of the book Seeing Sound

Seeing Sound: sound art, performance and music 1978-2011 is the first comprehensive monograph on Gordon Monahan’s uncompromising and radically innovative artist's multifaceted body of work. This trilingual book—with parallel text in English, French, and German—was published in conjunction with the 2011 multisite retrospective exhibition of Monahan’s work of the same title. This book begins with three texts about Monahan’s body of work, then goes on to detail 45 of his works with descriptions, scores, and documentary images. Video documentation for 14 of these works is included on a DVD that comes with the book. This publication was co-published by the four Ontario galleries that presented the exhibition: Maclaren Art Centre, Barrie; Doris McCarthy Gallery, Scarborough; Blackwood Gallery, Mississauga; and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa.


Seeing Sound is the first comprehensive monograph on the work of sound artist and composer Gordon Monahan, born 1956 in Kingston, Ontario.  This trilingual book is published on the occasion of Monahan’s first retrospective exhibition. Organized by the The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario with six collaborating institutions from across Canada, the exhibition will be shown in eight Canadian venues, as well as at the singhur—hoergalerie in Berlin, Germany, from 2011 to 2013. Seeing Sound presents a richly illustrated, in-depth survey of Gordon Monahan’s installations, and documents his compositions, performances and major special projects within a series of individual chapters. Video documentations of selected works on the accompanying DVD complete the picture.

Gordon Monahan is a sound artist, composer, pianist, musicologist, inventor, club operator, bandleader, DJ and currently also director of the Electric Eclectics festival in Canada. Having taken formal piano lessons as a child, by the age of twelve Monahan had launched his musical career playing keyboard in various rock bands in Ottawa. In 1974 he started a science degree at the University of Ottawa but decided to switch to a degree in music two years later. From 1976 to 1980 he studied music at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick under Dr. Janet Hammock (piano) and Dr. Michael Miller (composition). During this period he also encountered Prof. Thaddeus Holownia who introduced him to contemporary art and theory. In 1981/82 he attended private master classes with John Cage in Toronto and New York. From 1978 onwards Monahan realized multimedia sound installations, compositions and performances, predominantly incorporating loudspeakers, videos, self-designed kinetic machine sculptures and pianos or piano wires. In 1992 Monahan went to Berlin on a DAAD artist-in-residence scholarship and remained there until 2006. The projects realized over the course of the years spent in Berlin were closely related to subcultural developments in the city. More than most artists, Monahan, often in collaboration with Laura Kikauka, took advantage of the many urban possibilities for artistic production arising after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His concepts, works, and projects thus became part of Berlin’s post-reunification history

The Berlin period is the central theme of the introductory conversation with Gordon Monahan, conducted by Matthia Osterwold in November 2010. Yet their conversation also offers an insight into Monahan’s development as an artist shifting from a musical, composition-based practice towards a stronger focus on installation; it sheds light on both sides of his artistic approach, ‘serious’ experimental composition and sound art on the one hand, and his activities in the realm of ‘irritainment,’ a critical entertainment culture influenced by Fluxus and Pop, on the other. The interview is followed by a text by Earl Miller exploring Monahan’s roots in the Toronto art and music scenes and contextualising the works produced during that period. Next Gabriel Knapstein writes about the recurring natural and cultural artefacts in Monahan’s work: the convergence of the elements of water and wind with the hi-tech electronics and low-tech materials as well as the unique compositional links between nature and technology to which this convergence gives rise.

-excerpted from the Foreward by Carsten Seiffarth and Linda Jansma

Table of Contents

Foreword / Carsten Seiffarth & Linda Jansma  vii
Matthias Osterwold and Gordon Monahan : a conversation  p.3
Gordon Monohan--Record, Replay, Reveal / Earl Miller  p.25
Puzzles of Nature and Technology : Gordon Moahan's Water Music / Gabriele Knapstein  p.37

Compositions & Performances –
Jerry Lucas—Winner! (1978)  p.50
Hear and There (1980)  p.52
Five Silent Studies (1981)  p. 54
Piano Mechanics (1981-1986)  p.56
Speaker Swinging (1982)  p.58
I Was Drowned Out By Sound (1983)  p.62
Large Piano Magnified (1985)  p.64
This Piano Thing (1989)  p.66
Sounds and the Machines That Make Them/Muktiple Machine Matrix (1994-1999)  p.68
Tips From Mr. Showmanship (1997)  p.72
New and Used Furniture Music (2003)  p.74
Theremin in the Rain (2003)  p.76
A Foggy Echo (2006)  p. 78
Theremin Radio Interference (2009)  p. 80
Gamelan Klavier (2009)  p. 82
Space Becomes the Instrument (2009)  p.84
Sauerkraut Synthesizer (2010)  p.86

Installations –
Tidal Resonance at 45°N 64°W (1979-1980)  p.90
The Tidal Bore of the Maccan River (1981)  p.92
Long Aeolian Piano (1984)  p.94
A Magnet That Speaks Also Attracts (1986)  p.96
Come on Baby Ride With Me, Just Like You Did One Thousand Times Before (1988)  p.98
Music From Nowhere (1989)  p.100
Aquaeolian Whirlpool (1990)  p.104
Aeolian Silo (1991)  p.106
Aquaelian Music Room (1991)  p.108
Spontaneously Harmonious in Certain Kinds of Weather (1996)  p.110
Silicon Lagoon (2000)  p.112
When it Rains (2000)  p.114
Etheric Theremin Harmonic (2002)  p. 116
Piano Airlift (1988/2006)  p.118
Aeolian Winds Over Claybank, Saskatchewan (2006/2007)  p.120
A Very Large Vinyl LP Constructed in Acoustic Space (2007)  p. 122
Theremin Pendulum (2008)  p.124
Erratum Addendum (2008)  p.126
Syncopated Precipitation (2009-2010)  p.130
The Chimney Effect (2011)  p.132

Special projects and collaborations –
Magnetic Hill Exposed (1979)  p.136
KB Zed ‘The Exotic Trilogy’ (1991-1994)  p.138
The Glowing Pickle (1993-1995)  p.140
Schmalzwald: Irritainment in Berlin/Cluadia Wahjudi  p.150

Bibliography  p.157
Discography  p.158
Biographies  p.159
Colophon  p.160

Gordon Monahan/Video Compilation 1986-2010—
Track 1: Speaker Swinging (1982/1987)
Track 2: A Magnet That Speaks Also Attracts (1986)
Track  3: Long Aeolian Piano (1986)
Track  4: Aquaeolian Whirlpool (1990)
Track  5: Aquaeolian Music Room (1991)
Track  6: Sounds and the Machines That Make Them (1994)
Track  7: Spontaneously Harmonious in Certain Kinds of Weather (1996)
Track  8: When it Rains (2000)
Track  9: New and Used Furniture Music (2003/2005)
Track  10: Aeolian Winds Over Claybank, Saskatchewan (2007)
Track 11: Theremin Pendulum (2008)
Track  12: Syncopated Precipitation (2009)
Track  13: Space Becomes the Instrument (2009)
Track  14: Sauerkraut Synthesizer (2010)

Artists & Writers

Linda Jansma
Gabriele Knapstein
Earl Miller
Gordon Monahan
Matthias Osterwold
Carsten Seiffarth
Claudia Wahjudi


Editors: Linda Jansma and Carsten Seiffarth
Concept: Carsten Seiffarth
Copyediting: David Aurandt, Linda Jansma, Sonya Jones (English), Christof Migone (French), Wilfried Prantner, Carsten Seiffarth (German)
Graphic Design: Robert Tombs
Translation: Denis Lessard, Montreal; Michael Leimer, Berlin; Catherine Nicols, Berlin; Wilfried Prantner, Berlin

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Doris McCarthy Gallery, The Robert McLauglin Gallery, Thames Art Gallery, Mount Allison University, singhur—hoergalerie, Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Kenderdine Art Gallery| University of Saskatchewan


"Seeing Sound (which comes with a DVD) documents the work and the multifaceted mindset that has created behind the work in satisfying detail, and provides a wonderful introduction through insightful essays and a wide-ranging conversation between Monahan and the legendary Berlin curator Matthias Osterwold. There are the monumental installations, such as the Long Aeolian Piano, in which the wind vibrates fifty-metre-long strings that are connected to the sounding board of an upright piano anchored to a tree. Monahan plucks the strings and heightens their tension by tilting the piano ever so slightly, evidently using considerable physical strength. While the wind makes the strings sing and hum with whistling overtones, plucking them sends deep sonorous twangs back and forth along the wires. These aeolian installations create dense pulsating clouds of sound that hover around the installations like intangible otherworldly shells."

-René van Peer, Musicworks, Issue 113, Summer 2012

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