Sound Spaces: A Review of Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud’s Holdings & Intervals

Alexandra Irrera

While sound may be the least tangible of artistic mediums, it can also be the most penetrating. It’s a form of expression that slips through and around you. More rarely, it can touch you—its vibrations dancing on skin, causing a delicate physical sensation amidst deafening noise. Invisible and fleeting, it has been an appealing tool for minimalist artist and writer, Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud. Trained as a painter, Houstonian Mccloud has extended her practice into multimedia forms, combining sound, text, and live performance. One such recent work is Holdings & Intervals, debuted on April 20, 2016 at Alabama Song. The final chapter of the School of Experimental Work: Audio Visual Workshop Series (organized by Charisse Pearlina Weston and funded by Art League’s charge 2014 grant), Holdings & Intervals succeeded as a multifaceted, elastic, and captivating installation/performance. Weaving together printed text, live-mixed sounds, and sonorous vocals by the artist, Mccloud explored themes of improvisation, vulnerability, and hollowness/fullness in a work of intoxicating immersion.

Entering into the Holdings & Intervals performance space was like coming into a hive of sound. Artist and audience were seated on floor pillows in a dark room, the air teeming with noise. The “base coat” of Holdings & Intervals was arguably Mccloud’s repertoire of electronic sounds. Suggestive of an enormous computer, these reverberating, cyclical tones could be heard throughout the performance—either alone or in layers. Important auditory elements of the work included gospel music, nature sounds, and the artist’s singing, all of which Mccloud rotated through with alternating focus. The gospel music, for example, often revealed itself as if surfacing from within the pool of electronic noise. At the apex of their songs, the recorded performers clapped together and sang out repetitions of praise to the Lord. Their uplifting, quivering voices functioning effectively to pull the listener away from an electronic meditation and into a conscious reality of elation, pain, and yearning.

When the gospel songs tapered off, the electronic noise asserted itself to reset the tone of the work. In the lull, Mccloud began her vocals. Emitted as moans and wails, Mccloud’s notes were long and sonorous—deep and terribly piercing. As her pitch traveled up and down, her elongated sounds occasionally broke, full of emotion. Despite the inescapable rawness and vulnerability of Mccloud’s live song, bearing witness to it did not feel intrusive. The artist’s contribution was a naked but intentional communication—a remarkably personal and introspective presentation. When Mccloud’s vocals fell away, nature sounds, such as flowing water and birds chirping, came into focus. Alluding to a grander space of existence (beyond one’s own body), the nature sounds provided another pause in the volume and emotion of the performance.

Two textual elements also mirrored the evenly alternating themes that appeared in Holdings & Intervals sounds (delicacy/robustness, joy/pain, quietness/expression, etc.). One component entitled Borders read, “Pretend that this outline does not matter, but the insides only have weight. Hold my liver, hold my heart, hold my tongue, hold my breath…” The other text noted, “When hollowness becomes part of you, Put it in a place, [come back to this]… There’s more in you, Than upon you.” Printed on transparent paper scattered across the installation space’s floor, these scripts directly communicated the artist’s central interest in space—particularly the creation of space and the discovery of what lies within it. Referencing aspects of the human body poetically (rather than realistically), Mccloud also further clarified her interest in abstract mental and emotional spaces, as opposed to physical space.

In varied expressions of rawness and vulnerability, Mccloud’s masterfully woven recordings, vocals, and text tugged at the consciousness of her viewers—moving the audience fluidly between dreamlike meditation and rousing empathy. The triumph of Holdings & Intervals was its seamless duality: its ability to inundate as well as awaken; to be powerful despite its invisibility. With a full artistic toolbox of sound, song, live mixing, and text, Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud seemed both capable and content in her chosen medium of experimentation.