James Richards @ Collective Gallery, Edinburgh

James Richards' work in Collective Gallery is an experimental soundscape that is mysterious and evocative

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 06 Sep 2019
  • James Richards @ Collective Gallery

Coming into the large observatory of Collective Gallery, the space is variously shrunk and expanded by the composition of disparate musical, percussive and ambiguous noises that form James Richards' Migratory Motor Complex. Filled by spitting, hissing, electrical-sounding gusts at one point, the edge of a choral phrase gives way to drops and the sound something like a boat banging against the post to which it’s tied. 

Six speakers are spaced evenly around the stripped-back brick walls of the large rounded room. A grey honeycomb-like seating structure is at the centre, with no prescribed point to listen to the work. Moving around, different elements are louder or quieter dependent on which speaker the listener is nearest to. “Sound system” the voice sings at one point, then “begin again”. This comes after what could be the sound of a journey through an echoey underground tunnel. 

Sounds travel around the room, a plaintive passage is quickly complicated by the noise of clanging metal and tinkling. “All I need” is the next phrase, then what sounds like “Of him” and “all of me”. The audio is finely tuned, and there’s the pleasurably discomfiting sense of being able to hear the timbre of the singer’s throat as she cuts the edges of vowels and consonants. 

Differently furtive noises emerge briefly, repeat, grow in volume or fade, and resist identification or straightforward interpretation. At points, echoey passages lull the seated audience into a coolly ambient environment, then the pace gathers and the space closes in. A corridor to the next soundscape, or vocal fragment; the repetitive and thoughtful strains of the operatic voice evoke a ghostly, thoughtful companion through the work’s sensuous and evocative network of interconnected expanses, abrasive textures, clanging surfaces, leaky subterranean chambers and convulsing tracts. 

Migratory Motor Complex, Collective, Edinburgh, until 13 Oct