Pittsburghers love to creatively reuse their aging architecture, but how many think of turning an old building into avant-garde music? That's what sound artist Robert Weis did with Victoriana, an hour-long composition of manipulated samples derived entirely from his Mexican War Streets house.
"I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2006 into a fixer-upper," Weis explains. "As my partner and I started deconstructing the house, it was impossible not to be aware of the amazing sounds that accumulated over the last 115 years of decay. A lot of these places went through a bad patch before being rescued."
At first, squeaky floorboards and moaning windows intrigued him, but then Weis settled on only four sources to create his latest piece, two years in the making. "The samples that were by far the most interesting were hinges creaking and doors slamming," he says.
The results sound like a message from the '80s downtown New York avant-garde -- a bit Nicolas Collins, a bit Laurie Anderson. That's no surprise, since Weis, a Jeanette native who attended Duquesne in the late '70s, spent that decade in the Manhattan art scene. During the heyday of performance art, Weis skirted the rules of poetry by adding tape pieces he constructed on boomboxes; eventually he concentrated only on the music.
Weis' sound art is especially suited to galleries and dance companies; he has collaborated with photographer Arthur Tress (an installation called "Requiem for a Paperweight") and choreographer Jaime Ortega. "[Jaime and I] did six or seven projects together," recalls Weis, "at P.S. 122, the Judson Church and the Danspace Project."
So far, he's done only one public sound work here, a showcase of old cassette pieces at ArtUp, Downtown, in April 2007. A successor to the musique concréte tradition, he doesn't play a laptop like the IDM kids, preferring to be either integrated into artspaces and museums or on the radio. "The music world still doesn't really get what I'm doing ... I don't like to play live because what I do is like painting with sound, and it's time-consuming."
Since Victoriana uses recordings of a Pittsburgh house, Weis thinks it would be great to debut it in an area institution, such as the Mattress Factory, The Warhol or Wood Street Galleries. "When 'Requiem' was at the Corcoran Gallery, the setting worked great. They played it loudly, and people could come in and listen to as much or all of it as they wanted, [while relaxing] on couches in the gallery."
Weis doesn't have samples of "Victoriana" online yet, but he welcomes requests for the piece via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.