Christian Marclay is a collector. For over four decades now, the California native has used his personal collection of damaged junk to bridge the gap between sound art, assemblage, video, and performance. His latest show—opening at the Paula Cooper Gallery next week—may be Marclay’s loudest yet.

The artist is best known for shows in the 1980s where he used broken records and warped turntables to create ritualistic performances that stood at the edge of punk, EDM, and noise, but remained outside each. His 2010 masterpiece, titled The Clock, was a 24-hour compilation of movie clips related to each minute of the day. It won the “best artist” award at the 2011 Venice Bienniale and cemented Marclay’s reputation as major contemporary artist.

Before that, he’d tinkered with custom instruments, including an electric guitar whose normally erect neck fell limply to the ground. He also crafted a tuba, whose mouthpiece had a brass bugle pointing out where the musician would normally blow in. These obviously were not playable, though Marclay’s interest has never really been about the standard methods of sound. Which brings me to his current show.

The gallery sent me still images from Surround Sounds, Marclay’s four synchronized animation videos, using titles like Beeps (above), Crack, Pop, and SSSS Rain. The video content is made of comic book onomatopoeia cut-outs that, whilst audibly silent, evoke a mighty clatter. The first and most obvious reference one thinks of is Roy Lichtenstein, who, in the 1960s, enlarged, close-cropped, and abstracted comics to point out a kind of reductionist zeitgeist embedded within the ephemeral.

The still frame we’ve labeled Beeps shows multiple versions of the word “beep” (also “dee,” “bee,” and “veep”) and places them against a black background, where the words often overlap. The artist organizes them so that the colors balance one another out and create a sense of rhythm. But what does it all mean?

It seems too simple a commentary to reiterate the noisiness of the world around us. Besides, comic books these days are not the everyday media they were when Marclay grew up (in the Sixties). Sure, graphic novels are taught in some college lit classes, but the genre on a whole is largely for adults now, and adult collectors at that. So is Marclay nostalgic for an earlier, bygone form of visual noise? He collects the cut-out words and turns them into patterns; the videos sometimes animate to look like architecture, at other times antique Japanese wood prints. Like The Clock, perhaps this series too is about time.

Indeed, sounds that once stood for defiance—rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelia, punk, hip-hop—over time lose their danger. Words also change. They pick up meaning as they travel, though Marclay’s new show also serves to remind us that every word, whether “beep” or “obsequious,” began life as mere sound. They stabilized and standardized through use and through time. Some got discarded too. They just became unnecessary. (Brian Chidester)

"Crack"

Christian Marclay, still from “Surround Sounds” (2014-15), four silent synchronized projected animations, each 13:40, looped. (© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York)

"Pop"

Christian Marclay, still from “Surround Sounds” (2014-15), four silent synchronized projected animations, each 13:40, looped. (© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York)

"SSSS Rain"

Christian Marclay, still from “Surround Sounds” (2014-15), four silent synchronized projected animations, each 13:40, looped. (© Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York)