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Listening Without Sound

Response by Hannah Fiske

December 9, 2013

Last week the exhibit “Scaling Sideways” opened at the Smith Gallery on the Grinnell College campus. “Scaling Sideways” shows the work produced by Caleb Neubauer during his Ninth Semester Post-Baccalaureate Fellowship in Studio Art at the college.


Right: Pentatonic Scales (mandolin), two-panel monotype animation 5:00 loop Left: Listening Without Sound (piano), monotypes, ink on mulberry

Neubauer started this semester learning to draw again, he says, aiming to return to visual expression from the sound and music work he was doing last year. He eventually came full circle, the images in the show being visual translations and documentations of music Neubauer performed and wrote. All monotypes, the pieces were produced as he played the mandolin or piano against thin sheets of paper attached to an unmarked, inked surface. As he says, they effectively recorded the music in a visual medium using pressure and movement.

When I first stepped into the gallery, I did not know how the pieces were made. While I knew that they had a connection to music from the titles, as I looked at them, I did not see notes or melodies, but rather landscapes or Asian scripts. Learning the process that led to their creation added a depth I had not originally felt; they immediately challenged my ideas of what music can be.


Listening Without Sound (piano), Monotypes, ink on mulberry

Having heard some of Neubauer’s songs, I can say that the frantic, staccato nature expressed by the marks, does not always relate to how his songs actually sound. But of course, direct translation was not the aim. In Listening Without Sound (piano) however, aspects of the music are clearly expressed on the page. In some, the marks are clustered near the center, the same cords used over and over again, while in others the marks spread across the page, as a song scales many octaves.

And in Nearly Five Foot Song (11.25-12.1.2013) he documents the process of song writing. Each time Neubauer played the song throughout the writing process he recorded it on paper, the development of the melody seen as ones eyes travel down the page.


Nearly Five Foot Song (11.25-12.1.2013), monotypes, ink on mulberry roll

In “Scaling Sideways,” Neubauer asks the audience to question the delineation between looking and listening. As one enters the gallery they are surrounded by musical recordings, yet there is no auditory component at all. Without sound can the marks on the wall still be a melody? Must a song be audible? These are questions one ponders as they experience this work.

You too can have your sensations challenged as “Scaling Sideways” is up through December 13th. There will be a closing reception Thursday, December 12th at 4:15pm. Its web address is

My name is Hannah Fiske, originally from Massachusetts, I am currently in my last year at Grinnell College studying studio art. 

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