BY Frances Morgan in Reviews | 10 MAR 10

In Florian Hecker's Sound Works We Create What We Hear

An exhibition comissioned by Chisenhale, London and IKON Gallery, Birmingham invites questions about the spatial qualities of sound

BY Frances Morgan in Reviews | 10 MAR 10

The white-walled gallery with cracked concrete floors is cold, harshly reverberant and empty apart from a number of speakers, emitting high-pitched electronic tones, suspended from the ceiling at angles that call to mind surveillance cameras. Yet there is something very accessible about Florian Hecker's solo exhibition (co-commissioned by Chisenhale and IKON Gallery, Birmingham), which seems designed not to disorientate with sonic extremes – although it occasionally does – but to invite more considered questions about the spatial qualities of sound.

This is perhaps surprising given the nature of much of Hecker's output as a recording or performing electronic musician: releases such as last year's Acid In The Style Of David Tudor can feel exhilaratingly chaotic, their highly processed, alien textures some of the most visceral to occur in purely digital music. However, that's not to say that his work is diluted in this setting, in which the listener is guided through four discrete explorations of different states of auditory perception. In the context of a gallery installation – here even more than in his last UK exhibition, at Sadie Coles HQ in late 2008 – it feels more as if his ideas are given room to unfold and breathe; that, with the extra dimension that the gallery allows, chaos reveals its order.

That said, in each work Hecker deliberately disrupts or distorts the usual order of our listening experiences, constructing a series of events in which fixed points and final decisions about what is heard slip out of reach. This is at its most immediate in Auditory Scene (2010), in which five loudspeakers placed at varying heights play a sequence of fast-paced tones, each starting at different points. At first the blurred, skittering sounds are baffling; further listening patterns them into impossible shapes that become almost compulsively elusive. In Untitled (2010), placed opposite, the loudspeaker shoots a single tone onto a ceramic-tiled section of the wall, creating a forcefield of oscillating sound. If the first of these is introspective, inviting a personal, physical response, and the second more concerned with the properties of the space and the physics of surfaces, Magnitude Estimation (2010) bridges the gap between the two, with synchronized voices projected across the gallery giving readings of numerical values of volume.

2 x 3 Kanal (2009) is exhibition's centrepiece, both literally – three outward-facing speakers are suspended from the middle of the ceiling – and in the success with which it brings together the concerns that are raised by the other works. The 19-minute work feels unlike an experiment or the exposition of a single idea: it is very much a composition. The synthesis of the means of transmission – the two three-channel pieces are played between the three speakers, rotating in different directions – and audio content feels perfectly realized, and visitors appear to fully inhabit the work, forming circles around the speakers, or moving to their own interior logic towards and away from the sound. 2 x 3 Kanal has moments that recall the transformative, psychedelic elements of Hecker's live shows: at one point, towards the middle of the work, the conflicting textures of a high-end hiss and a pulsing throb battle it out for background and foreground status so effectively that I experienced an aural illusion similar to viewing a three-dimensional image; in the latter part of the piece, notions of high and low pitch are thrown into confusion as ascending tones ricochet off the echoing walls. But I imagine that Hecker's mastery of such phenomena is not particularly motivated by the desire to excite thrill-seeking noise fans; instead, we are being asked not only to put ourselves in the service of sound and space, but also to consider our own part in the process – how we, in a sense, create what we hear.