Connect with BCNM's Ashley Bellouin and Rare Instruments

03 Feb, 2014

Connect with BCNM's Ashley Bellouin and Rare Instruments

The Berkeley Center for New Media is turning 10! To celebrate, over the next ten months leading up to our birthday party on September 25th, 2014, we’re sharing ten stories of BCNM’s life so far. This month, hear how the 2013 Susan Miller Fellow Ashley Bellouin explores sound by creating rare and unconventional instruments.

Listen to Headspace. The music is otherworldly, haunting, and as unique as the instrument that created it. To achieve this sound, wind vibrates strings of various diameters and length that have been stretched from a suspended wooden hexagonal cylinder, through soundboards, to stakes planted in the ground. This is Ashley Bellouin’s alternative design to the classic aeolian harp.

Ashley merges sound art, electroacoustic composition and instrument building to explore complex and often unusual sounds. She’s assembled a variation on Benjamin Franklin’s 1761 glass harmonica (Glass Armonica), and has created pieces involving two out-of-tune double reeded harmoniums, electric guitars, and aluminum rods (Hummen). Unconventional materials, often recycled or repurposed, attain a new sonic life in her work.

Ashley’s passion for fabricating – for the tactile nature of sound – is not new. She in fact began designing percussion instruments in high school. But it was her degree in Art History and then her MFA in electronic music, both of which she received from Mills College, that influenced her to produce instruments that are rare and unconventional. While pursuing her MFA, Ashley studied a wide variety of non-electronic instruments, and, inspired by the random sound variation inherent in acoustic devices, she began exploring instrument creation, custom-making each object to produce a particular sound.

The impact of Ashley’s critical background is evident in her mindfulness towards the performance space and its elements. She often takes advantage of these concerns, creating apparatuses that rely on wind and other physical forces to produce sound with minimal human interaction. These works have led her across the country to participate in music festivals, including Soundwave ((5)), the 26th Annual SEAMUS National Conference, the San Francisco Tape Music Festival, the 12th Annual Santa Fe International Festival of Electroacoustic Music, and the 10th Annual CSUF New Music Festival. During a residency at the Paul Dresher Ensemble Artist Residency Program, she collaborated with Ben Bracken on building an ensemble of instruments.

In 2012, Ashley was offered the Meyer Sound Fellowship at the Berkeley Center for New Media. Thrilled to have the chance to bolster her studio work with academic research and further critical analysis, she accepted, and became the Center’s first visiting artist. At Berkeley, she had the opportunity to connect with scholars in new media music, and use the vast libraries to investigate acoustics, material composition, and the physics of sound manipulation. Her sojourn culminated in her organization of a performance by Yoshi and Tasha Wada, two fellow sound artists associated with the Fluxus movement, at the Berkeley Art Museum in November 2013. In the summer of 2013 Ashley was selected to be an Artist in Residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Since then she has collaborated with artist Chris Duncan on a performance utilizing one of his room-sized sound sculptures, and is currently working with Bay Area artist John Davis on a series of films and LPs. Next on her agenda – a new instrument comprised of metal rods, which she hopes will play by itself through magnetics.

We thank Helen, John, and Perrin Meyer for supporting the Susan Miller Fellowship.

Interested in creating a new fund for artists or building opportunities for in which the humanities interact with and inform art design? Support BCNM in its mission to bring together the humanities, arts, and sciences to critically analyze and shape developments in new media from cross-disciplinary and global perspectives by donating today. If you have other ideas to help develop the future of BCNM, please contact us as well.