L. Peschong

SOIL Gallery has a show whose essence is enchantment. The show, Malfunction: Sentimental Ghost Is Missing, is a collaboration between local artists Brent Watanabe and Jesse Paul Miller. The artists have worked together in the past, in the same capacity—Watanabe focusing on the visuals (drawings, animations, video) and Miller focusing on the music (audio recordings, samples, soft and hard noises). In Malfunction, Watanabe's images blend with Miller's audio sculptures to produce an atmosphere that is haunting, strange, and charming—in the original sense of the word, as in bewitched.

The main piece of the exhibit is a large screen onto which is projected a moving rural landscape. Running by are comically drawn country roads, picket fences, a mining complex, farmhouses, suburban houses, the trunk of a big tree, and things that are too little to determine. The rate of the movement (the running by) is not constant: Now it's slow, the country road gradually coming and gradually going; then, suddenly, all is fast, in a panicked way, like an animal fleeing for its life. With this suddenness of speed comes the suddenness of flying domestic items (beds, chairs, pots), grocery products, and weapons twirling through what feels like summer air.

Though seemingly random, the drawn objects and landscapes are repeated. The big tree returns; the spinning revolver returns; the mining complex returns. The ultimate result of this random repetition is a complex fugue. The images become musical, like Bach's "Contrapunctus XII," an involved rotation of the same things but in a variety of arrangements and speeds. Across the room from this screen is the creepy illusion of a weeping puppy. And seeping in from the adjacent room is a warm mist of sounds.

The sounds stream out of radio-age radios—a Victor Talking Machine, an Anthrophonic High Fidelity made by RCA. The radios are built into curvy furniture, on which there is the dust of years of neglect. This is the ghostly element of the show. The ghost sounds (doors opening, water dripping, footfalls, crushed flowers, musical strains, wind, creaking wood) rise out of ghost radios. (Indeed, Anthrophonic may not be the correct name of the RCA radio—the once-bright silver letters from the golden age of radios are so faded that it's hard to see what they are trying to communicate.)

At one point, John Coltrane appears to you. He comes back to life; he blows into the present: he is warm; he is happy to be here; he wants you to remember this song—but just before you grasp its substance, its name, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. More footfalls, more crackling petals, more water gurgling down the throats of rusty pipes, and then another piece of music appears, but from a different location in the space, from a different era in time. You are enchanted. You are surrounded by the sounds of the past, by the music of those who are long dead, long separated from their bodies and who for now barely exist as flashes, flushes, flows of noises.

To get to the source of the pleasure, the charm of Malfunction: Sentimental Ghost is Missing, one must turn to The Tempest, to these lines by poor Caliban: "Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises/Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not./Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices/That, if then had I waked after long sleep/Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming/The clouds methought would open and show riches/Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked/I cried to dream again."

The music, the sounds, the "thousand twangling instruments" in the exhibit, which are generated randomly by a computer, bring you to the border of dreams, the twilight point between consciousness and unconsciousness. This hypnagogic zone, this "state of intermediate consciousness preceding sleep," an area of hallucinations and magical influence, this is the trick that works in the exhibit. And the images on the moving screen, and the weeping illusion of the creepy puppy (is it laughing as it cries? Is it a mad little puppy? Is it mad because it is trapped in a glass-fronted video?), thickens the effect of this Arielian charm. "Where should this music be? In the air or the earth? It sounds no more: and sure, it waits upon some god o' the island."