Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 39° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

McCann’s latest promises different beat

‘Blank Book for John Cage’ will make some noise at Saranac

Dan McCann’s sound performance tonight will start and end with a tick, tick, tick. The middle could go anywhere.

He demonstrated recently in his art studio, which takes up the bulk of the basement at his house in the South Perry neighborhood.

It started with a metronome on a small table, a microphone angled in to catch the ticks. At another small table, across from the first, McCann started pushing buttons and turning knobs on a looping pedal that recorded and replayed the ticks and another pedal that distorted the noise.

The tick, tick, tick became a clickety-clack, then room-filling squeals and whoomps. McCann stopped. After all that, the tick, tick, tick sounded practically like silence.

“This is pretty much it,” McCann said: his “Blank Book for John Cage.”

For McCann, a self-taught artist who works in a variety of media, tonight’s performance and installation have been a long time coming, as he sought a way to make “noise music,” which for him can lead to “wonderful, deep emotion.” He’ll present his work in gallery space that, by design, makes room for its 20 or so artist members to experiment, with sales as an afterthought.

Saranac Art Projects is a nonprofit artist cooperative, with members paying dues to cover the rent and taking turns showing their work or curating exhibitions.

“We see ourselves as the contemporary art space in Spokane, focusing on what art can be and what is new and innovative,” said sculptor Roger Ralston, who runs the co-op’s social media accounts.

While it may be rare for a show at the Saranac to be so “minimal,” McCann’s piece “won’t be unexpected, because we expect anything,” Ralston said.

For one recent installation, Ralston created a gallery-size “camera obscura,” covering the window and hanging curtains across the entrance to darken the gallery. He made a quarter-inch hole in the covering over the window. The result was a projection of the world outside onto a screen in the gallery.

In another installation, Ralston built a “big cardboard blob” to hang on the wall. Among his goals for that piece: “to articulate the potential about what the wall is. The large blob is the metaphor for potential.”

Sharing the space with McCann starting tonight will be Bradd Skubinna, a fine-arts instructor at Spokane Falls Community College. 

Skubinna will arrange found objects into patterns on the floor. For another piece, he’ll stick hundreds of objects – straws, pieces of foil, plants, plastic spoons, a badminton birdie – into cracks and holes in the brick wall.

“I like to find things that are banal – kind of ignored things – and re-present them in ways that hopefully are visually interesting,” Skubinna said.

Though unintentional, that interest in the mundane – the idea that anything (a plastic spoon, a bit of noise) can be made into art – may be a link between Skubinna’s and McCann’s work.

A music listener but not a musician, McCann said he’d been itching to “do something with sound” for a long time. He’d started making art decades ago, first creating stained-glass pieces, then fused glass, then – drawing inspiration from artist Joseph Cornell – boxed assemblages.

“It’s refreshing and stimulating to keep moving forward,” he said, “to keep moving into new realms.”

He’d been experimenting with sound-making equipment and making little progress. When he started to read about John Cage, he said, he realized he needed to scale back.

Cage was an American composer of avant-garde music who employed electronic instruments, traditional instruments that he altered, and “aleatoric” instruments – those that left part of the composition to chance. Among his most famous works is “4’33.” ” The score instructs performers not to play their instruments, allowing listeners to hear the sounds of the environment for the piece’s duration.

McCann realized “I don’t need huge amounts of equipment or I don’t need to do something that’s fantastic,” he said. “I need to do something that’s simple.”

After his performance tonight, he’ll leave the table in the gallery, with the metronome and a few objects on it. Two books – one about mushrooming and one a copy of the I Ching, an ancient divination text also known as the Book of Changes – reflect Cage’s interests. McCann added an oversize blank book he made, its cover a sheet of lead. 

The book is a “gift” to the famous composer, he said, a gesture of appreciation. 

McCann’s installation has another visual element: a series of wall hangings that riff on Cage’s sometimes “wild-looking” written compositions. 

McCann’s “compositions” are made of cut-apart and reassembled dress patterns, curves and lines adding up to abstraction.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.