Review: Tyler Adams amplified at Steve Turner Contemporary

After dazzling your eyeballs at LACMA’s James Turrell exhibition across the street, do something similar for your ears at Tyler Adams’ solo debut at Steve Turner Contemporary.

Adams uses sound — low droning tones — and the vibrating skins of audio speakers to generate much of his work, which addresses the eyes, ears and sometimes the body with remarkable elegance. In a gallery context that generally privileges sight, the exhibition asks us to contemplate other facets of experience.

The show begins on the building’s facade, with a row of satellite dishes emitting a constant hum of static that sets a slightly unsettling tone. In the window, wall-mounted speakers covered in aluminum foil tremble like large tins of Jiffy Pop, reflecting projected red and blue light. Animated entirely by sound waves, it’s an unexpected way to make a kinetic, Light and Space-type sculpture.


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The fun is amplified inside. “Rumble” consists of seven speakers hanging from the ceiling, each hovering like a little space ship over an upended metal tube. The tubes are cut to various heights and conceal fans that keep the speakers moving. The speakers all play the same low, humming tone, but as each passes over its respective tube, the sound modulates, forming a Minimalist, self-playing pipe organ.

On an adjacent wall are a series of “studies,” speakers mounted on the wall containing various materials within their cavities, from concrete to paper to ping pong balls. Perhaps the most delightful of these is simply covered with a flat piece of plywood. Through a hole cut in the center, one feels a pulsing rhythm only in gentle puffs of air. It’s a thoroughly refreshing way to experience a “song.”

Physical sensation is also the effect of “Descending,” a 12-foot tall Sonotube with an opening lined with LED lights. As you enter the tube, the lights animate up and down the length of the tube and a throbbing sound plays from above. Channeled and refracted by the tube, it vibrates deep in your chest. It might not be a great experience if you have a heart condition, but it does provide a tactile understanding of the power of sound.

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Other works translate sound into visuals. “Study (string)” is a speaker on the floor facing upwards. Stretching from its center to the ceiling is a black string that vibrates in the shape of a three-dimensional sine wave. It’s literally the shape one expects sound to make, and it’s pleasing to see that expectation confirmed in real life.

Another piece is more allusive. Adams has placed two throbbing speakers face to face in a kind of “kiss” in which their pulsating centers take on more carnal connotations.

The upstairs gallery features a surround-sound video projection in which Adams pops balloons in different environments to record the acoustic properties of various spaces: tunnels, streets, band shells, etc. When each balloon pops, it provides a brief sonic portrait of that particular place.

This technique is actually used by engineers to test the acoustic properties of a space, and Adams’ works can feel a bit like aesthetically pleasing science experiments. But that’s also what makes them exciting: they open up another avenue of experience.

Steve Turner Contemporary, 6026 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 931-3721, through June 29. Closed Sundays and Mondays.