2017_03_03_SoundMazeExh

"There is no right or wrong way to play these," said composer Paul Dresher, to the opening night crowd for his Visions & Voices exhibit, "Sound Maze," at the USC Fisher Museum of Art on March 10. Dresher then invited everybody inside for a playground-esque-style, walk-through of his musical instruments, most of which were his pure invention. None looked "normal."

Dresher, a guitarist, who started building his own instruments in high school claimed he started by asking himself the question "what if?" Combining engineering with impressive craftsmanship, he built "The Peacock," a semi- circular instrument made of wood and strings, requiring the use of an electrified ring in order to formulate sound. "What works and what does not work?" he asked himself. It's called "The Peacock" because of the fan of wooden slats that spread out like a male peacock in a highly animated state.

Moving over to a different part of the museum, one stumbled across "Field of Flowers," a series of small wooden blocks inviting one to strike them and unleash noises in different octaves and at different speeds.

"The Octagon," a hula-hoop ring made of steel, produced music whenever a person turned the ring and it fell on a wooden platform, making a soft sound at first, then increasingly louder reverberations as it crashed to a full stop on the platform.

All of Dresher's instruments worked in different ways; some easy to play, others demanding a more complex approach. Some were no bigger than a breadbox, and others were massive enough to climb into and almost disappear. Some produced noises so loud they could be heard on the opposite end of the museum, while others required one to strain your ear to be able to hear their faint breath.

The largest instrument in the collection resembled a pendulum; every moving part stimulated a sound. None the same. One side plucked guitar like strings, while the other favored drum like percussion. Simply prodding and pushing at these instruments released a melodious tune.

At one point during the opening event at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, a child and his mother experimented with "The Octagon" and "The Peacock." Expressions of wonderment accompanied by ripples of delighted laughter joined the cacophony, adding a human dimension. Later on they climbed inside the gigantic pendulum' cubby holes, and struck at whatever they could find, until it seemed that they had found the belly of the beast, revealing what Dresher meant when he said, "there is no right or wrong way to play these."

Dresher's exhibit at the Fisher Museum helped the audience experiment with new instruments without any sense of judgment. The audience was challenged to find new ways to make noises despite how puzzling the instruments may seem. The exhibit stayed up for less than a week, and was designed to be experienced with his concert, on March 7 with percussionist Joel Davel.

"Sound Maze" ran from March 3rd to March 8th, 2017 at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. Admission was free. For more information, visit http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu.

Contact contributor Denise Garcia at garc472@usc.edu