Imagine an experimental band made entirely of machines—not the animatronic kind that haunts your childhood memories from bad birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese, but something that looks like it came from the basement of a mad scientist. The sculptures in Neil Feather’s exhibition are each exquisite, and nearly ecstatic, contraptions involving multiple moving parts. But each of them is also part of a larger machine that takes over not only Feather’s gallery at the Walters, but, when the volume is right, as it was on a recent visit, the entire museum. ‘The Anaplumb,’ a crazy, weighted string instrument, was turned up “too loud” according to the Walters’ guards, so that it created a Sonic Youth-y screech loud enough to wake the mummies up on the second floor. It was fucking rad. The piece is comprised of string that hangs from a dozen feet up near the ceiling with a small, duckpin-size ball on the bottom. The ball is, evidently, moved by magnets, causing the string to vibrate into guitar pickups. The only problem when the volume was turned up to 11 was that, like a guitar player who is turned up louder than the band, it drowned out the other instruments. Later in the day, it was a bit quieter and everything was working brilliantly together.
For a moment there is still quiet, and then the ‘The Rube Goldberg Variations’—which should at least win “Best Title” for Feather, if not the whole shebang for how well it actually captures the spirit and mechanics of his piece—kicks in as a film reel on a cigar box starts to spin, powering a record player with a stick on top that hits a spring which somehow seems to pump air through a tube which causes pingpong balls in some other contraption to jump, causing further balls on a drum head on top of the contraption to jump, creating a rhythm that thumps under the drone-y sound of ‘Anaplump.’ Another part of it kicks off on the next table as another contraption made of metal pipes of varying lengths start to spin, causing another rhythmic pattern to emerge and . . . there’s another thing like a coffee percolator . . . It’s hard to keep track of how it all works.
Meanwhile, 'Number Five' makes another rhythm. Against a wooden wall piece, a bowling ball hangs from a spring. A smaller rubber(ish) ball, which hangs from the bowling ball, dips down into a coil. As a billiard ball at the top of the contraption starts to spin and the spring bounces, the rubber ball makes a sound inside the coil, out of which it occasionally jumps to smash against a gong on the wall with some force. It is irregular and wild and thrilling.
The sonic and visual effect of the whole is almost overwhelmingly gorgeous, as if the High Zero festival, with which Feather has worked, has invaded the Walters and attempted to put the entire city into an ecstatic fugue state.