At the top of the hour, near the Blue Star Arts Complex, visitors may hear a cosmic, cartoonish boing reverberating from the copper PA horn mounted to the building’s exterior. The source of the noise comes from a peculiar room-sized clock tower found inside Blue Star, made by sound and visual artist Justin Boyd.
The unembellished, simple clock stands twelve feet tall on spindly wooden poles, like a daddy long leg, will be on view in Boyd's newest exhibit, "Going on Going," which runs from March 3 to May 8 at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.
Boyd is a DJ who hosts his own radio show on KRTU, and serves as the Chair of Sculpture and Integrated Media Department at the Southwest School of Art. Boyd possesses an unusually heightened aural sensibility and analytical and conceptual prowess that he brings to his art. His creations always include an understated surrealism, and he manages to surprise the viewer with his installations in "Going on Going."
The numbered gears mounted on the clock’s face convey how time gets marked and measured by this simple, mechanical device. Boyd taped a microphone to its long metal chime, which is connected to an amplifier hidden behind the clock face. The sound of the chime reflects the clock’s design—reality altered ever so slightly to awaken the bizarre.
“I don’t use effects (arbitrarily),” Boyd said. “I love the way it sounds kind of trippy and psychedelic. When something is delayed in time, it literally is a spatial effect – that event is repeated and then it diminishes through time. To me, that’s very much what I think about when I think about time. … The idea of a clock is you hear it spatially, you hear it bounce off of a building.”
Boyd received the honor of being one of Blue Star Contemporary’s Berlin Residents, and spent July through October 2014 in Germany.
"Germans pride themselves on really good sound,” he said. "(Berlin) is the center of electronic music.” Boyd bought a bicycle while abroad so he could ride around the city and listen to its sounds.
In the same way that a visual artist may bring a camera, Boyd brought two digital recorders and smaller version of his modular synthesizer on his trip. At home, he maintains an extensive archive of sounds from all over the globe. While Boyd was in Germany, he took full advantage of adding to the archives, recording everything from ambient street sounds to organ concerts.
“In the old (technique) of field recording you were basically just an audio anthropologist, you were invisible, just in the background," Boyd said. "That’s interesting, but I think coming from a visual artist and a DJ background, you’re supposed to mess with sound-- that’s your role, you’re picking what comes after what and you’re working on frequencies.”
Inspired by Germany’s tolling bells and clock towers, Boyd recreated the sound effects for San Antonio. Along with the clock, Boyd created a series of twelve intaglio prints that continue his theme of time.
“One of the fascinations I have with the clock towers is that they provide you a sense of location within the city,” said Boyd. “If you travel, you know where the center heart of the city is because there’s the clock tower, you know what time it is because there’s a chime that happens every hour or every half hour.
One of the things I love about it is this very public way of telling time; you don’t have to look at your watch or cellphone; it’s just a way that you’re moving through the day that provides a marker: this is where I am and this is what time it is.”
Boyd collects sounds like a traveler collects souvenirs, and sounds brought him to the Black Forest.
“I like this idea that you could take a sonic recipe—a dash of Black Forest,” said Boyd, who discovered a clock museum there during his visit.
“They would run clocks for me and set chimes off so I could record," he said. "They had some very, very old ones that were all cast iron, just metal-on-metal, agricultural, blacksmithing sounds. (There were) also old player pianos and animatronic type devices that would tell time and also play a song. These weird hybrids of clocks, player pianos, organs, really amazing.”
Boyd also recorded the hybrids of man-made and natural sounds at places like the Tiergarten, Berlin’s large civic park, and the Luisenstadt Canal. He is drawn to spaces where the organic and manufactured play off of one another.
He recounted his experiences while recording at the spaces: “I was just sitting there one day recording, and there were people playing badminton, it was still late summer in the evening so birds were starting to sing, evening birds, crickets were starting to come out, people were playing, riding their bikes and there’s a big open pond, right by a bombed-out church….I went back to the studio and I was listening to it and realized, this is really harmonically rich.”
Working with a modular synthesizer, Boyd splits sounds into frequencies and adjusts the frequency or oscillator or play with the harmonics to accentuate certain sounds.
"It’s subtle at best," he said. "But I really like the idea that I can transform them and augment them in some sort of way. So those will stand alone as recordings or I’ve done live performances as well, where something’s happening and I’m processing the sounds live in real time.”
Boyd enlisted the help of his brother, Dillon, while making the clock. Dillon, who is three years younger, works for an organ manufacturer and is also a DJ. The brothers grew up in Dallas, but they were largely influenced by visiting their grandparents’ in West Texas.
“West Texas, in terms of sound, is hugely influential on the way that both of us hear things," Justin said. "We’d just hear these weird aural phenomenon like the Aeolian harp of the high-line, the dust storms, or being inside creaky metal buildings, where everything’s always rustling.”
As DJs, Dillon explained, their ears are trained to “hear simultaneously.”
“You have to be able to split your hearing,” he added. “If you’re a DJ worth your salt, you easily have to listen to something out of your left ear and out of your right ear and make sense of both of those things.”
Justin’s modular synthesizer is eerily similar to the interior of an organ that Dillon repairs. The complex systems are totally different, but each brother exceeds in his ability and knowledge of how to work them.
“It’s very mechanical," Justin said. "Nothing happens until you take one thing and plug it into another thing.”
“You’re using the machine as the instrument,” Dillon said of Justin’s synthesizer use. “Your originality comes out in the way it gets played, not necessarily what gets put into it.” This clock demonstrates how the Boyd brothers relate and understand one another and how their related talents interact.
The brothers joked about the clock's accuracy:“It’s not exactly on the hour. It’s more like west Texas time.”
"Going on Going" is on view from March 3 through May 8 at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum on Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information about the museum or exhibitions, visit www.bluestarart.org/visit.
*Top Image: Brothers Justin and Dillon Boyd with Going on Going, 2016 at Blue Star Contemporary. Photo by Wendy Weil Atwell.