The Clouds of
Magellan (1976-77) for Computer-Controlled Slides and Quadraphonic Tape
"Clouds" was the first step in a new direction for Dawson, where he moved beyond absolute music and created a series of experimental multidisciplinary pieces in collaboration with artists in the Montreal arts scene. The title itself is symbolic of exploration, with its double reference to Magellan and extraterrestrial nebulae that are named in his honour.
The specific genesis of this work was a spinoff of a graphic sound notations exhibition that Dawson had in Montreal at Vehicule Art gallery in 1976. After seeing and hearing Dawson's work, photographic artist Suzy Lake proposed working together on a collective project.
The final artwork consists of a sequence of computer-controlled slide images of Dawson's face and mouth projected on three screens simultaneously, with the imagery subjected to further physical distortion or transformation through movement or the actual melting and burning of the slides. Dawson compliments this material with a real time improvised recorded performance of breathing sounds in quadraphonic sound.
"Clouds" was first performed at Pollack Hall in Montreal in 1978, then toured across Canada including performances in Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, and Ottawa in 1979. The same year, it was also presented at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Exploring the Object is the first of two pieces conceptually designed as a flexible listening system, where technology (amplification) radically alters the perception of sound. This piece requires two players: a solo instrumentalist on French Horn and a second performer who intuitively explores and manipulates the horn's sound materials through a network of 4 microphones linked to a mixing console.
The musical score to this work is like a construction kit, consisting of several set fragments that can be freely assembled, combined with improvised passages based on text descriptions. In this way, each performance becomes a double exploration in terms of musical form and sound perspective.
Exploring the Object was included as part of Dawson's Cross-Canada tour in 1979 with horn player Jean Letarte, and also performed in Montreal at Musée d'art contemporain in 1981 as part of a festival of contemporary sound works.
Readings from the
Edge of the Troposphere (also entitled Close-up) (1978-82)
"Readings" extends the listening system concept of "Exploring the Object", combining it with physical themes explored earlier in both "Clouds" and "Binaries". The realisation of this project entailed building a custom-built high-gain amplification system in collaboration with Keith Daniel, utilizing medical technology including electrode pickups for EEG (brainwaves), EMG (muscles), and ECG (heart) as well as conventional microphones. The computerized mixer interface was designed in collaboration with Kasi Anantha of McGill's Department of Computer Science.
"Readings" features solo male performer in a theatrical presentation as acoustic subject matter, involving the listener/spectator in a process that begins with the externals of speech and language, ultimately leading to the interior sound world of the body.
"Readings" was part of the travelling repertoire of Dawson's Cross-Canada tour in 1979 and it was also presented at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Joint Actions is a performance art piece that consists of specific "actions" undertaken by a solo female dancer and a male double bass player, with the double bass instrument itself as an exchangable object. Like aspects of the score to "Exploring the Object", the score to Joint Actions is a construction kit - simply a written list of instructions suggesting possible events. The performers are free to combine these spontaneously, and also to play with the flexible domain of the space offered by any given performance venue or context.
Actions undertaken by the bass player relate to gymnastics and muscular physical exercises with his instrument. The double bass becomes possessed by the female dancer and treated as a partner in movement.
Performances of Joint Actions took place in Montreal and Quebec City, and the work was broadcast on Rogers Cable TV in Toronto in the early 1980's.
Failsafe was the last of the experimental multidisciplinary projects that Dawson undertook during his Montreal years. Like the other projects in the series, it involved collaborations with artists in other media, including structural engineer Paul Sorrentino and electronics designer Keith Daniel. However, unlike the other earlier works, it was the first to focus exclusively on technology and visual presentation without a human performance element. There is also no sound component present in this piece.
The "theme" of Failsafe is science/ technology and our society's blind trust in its positive "benefits". The installation, designed for an art gallery space, consists of a custom-designed heated pressure vessel with a viewing port, lava rock (for the interior of the cylinder), a carbon dioxide gas cylinder and input valves, thermocouples for monitoring temperature changes, 3 video monitors with Telidon colour graphic displays, and a slide show. The interior of the cylinder recreates general surface conditions found on the planet Venus, based on data provided by NASA from contemporary planetary expeditions. The work juxtaposes this hostile alien environment with our everyday reality as an enclosed chamber within the gallery's viewing space.
Failsafe was installed in the A.R.C. Gallery in Toronto in 1982.