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Snap Crackle and Pop - An installation by Tony Kemplen, Bloc Space, Sheffield

Sound art is currently central to the agenda in Sheffield. Normally conservative gallery spaces as well as the more inventive are currently displaying works involving sound.

As part of an increasingly innovative program, Bloc Space in Sheffield are showing Snap Crackle and Pop, an audiovisual installation by Tony Kemplen.

Tony Kemplen is no stranger to multiple ways of working. His past work has included various installations, remodelled objects, manipulated toys, text and video to mention but a few. This time he has utilised the most irresistible of materials: bubble wrap.

Upon entering the space the viewer is instantly made aware of the delicate and subtle nature of the material itself. The bubble wrap is suspended from a metal grid in the ceiling and draped in veils down to the ground from each side of the above grid. The mesh curtained grid shimmers in the light and changes subtly during the changing daylight or under the evening strip lights.

Passing one curtain of bubble wrap and then another viewers slowly begin to fade into the bubble wrap ether and enter another undefined space. As you lose sense of your surroundings the soundscapes switch you from visual to audio mode and then to audiovisual. The visual device of the bubble wrap successfully aids the viewes change of perception. When immersed in the space you can begin to engage with your own minds visual environment stimulated by the sounds.

At regular intervals you can find the source of the menagerie of sound. Speakers housed in metallic dishes reflect an unfamiliar and distorted image of the viewer. This echoes perfectly the transformation of the original source material for the sound recordings into unusual remodelled soundscapes.

The sounds themselves emanate from eight speakers from four separate stereo sources. Each channel is set on shuffle for random playback. The phases of each track are significantly different creating a wide variety of sounds. One of the most arresting phases sounds like an artificial jungle. The manipulated bubble wrap has become the sound of birds, rain and insects in a metallic amazon. Reminiscent of David Tudor's Rainforest, this is not the first time Kemplen has entered the jungle with his work. 2003's Dawn Chorus‚ was a sound installation transforming concrete sounds into birdsong installed in the glasshouse of the winter gardens in the centre of Sheffield.

Another section slowly creaks along like the floorboards of an empty dishevelled house or the ghostly deck of the Marie Celeste. This creakiness brings to mind elements of some of the finest surrealist soundscapes by Steven Stapleton's Nurse With Wound.

While submerged in the environment a further phase sinks into an aquatic abyss. This phase joyfully oscillates between the sound of blowing bubbles and an active lava swamp. The passage could be straight out of the Radiophonic Workshop. Indeed as you are listening you can begin to wonder and marvel at all the activities carried out to coax and tease each sound from the source material.

The press release states the use of bubble wrap as a low tech aid to stress relief, but any compulsive poppers will be disappointed as viewers are not allowed to burst the bubbles. This may cause anxiety to those who find the lure of bubble wrap irresistible. Be warned!

However there is much to savour in this exhibition. A seemingly simple material has been woven and manipulated in such an intriguing and playful way that you can't help but leave and head for the nearest stationers to buy some bubble wrap. Do try this at home.

Review by Neil Webb
Neil is a sound artist based in Sheffield