Black Acoustical Tile, a 1976–1977 artwork by Randy Ludacer, recreated for Art in Pop (original version on right)
I thought the original version might still exist. I rifled through the boxes that I euphemistically call my “basement archives” — but to no avail. No matter. I’d been invited to recreate it, if necessary.
I did find some black & white negatives and a contact sheet showing the original version installed on a wall.
I also found a typewritten page with the heading “The Black Acoustical Tile” — a document that I now find a little bit embarrassing. An excerpt:
“… My justification for painting an acoustical tile is that it’s an architectural detail, subject to interior painting. Justifying the selection of a color is as much of a problem as the decision to use paint at all. What basis does a painter have for choosing one color over another? Can an artist “play favorites” or must color be an all or nothing proposition? In the “Black Acoustical Tile” I justify the color by means of an analogy. The color “black” is known to absorb light. What more suitable color to paint an acoustical tile, designed to absorb sound?”
In those days, typewritten pages were often exhibited, alone or alongside objects as part of the (conceptual) art. But not it this case. The tile was just hung on the wall without any annotation.
Which is good, because, looking at it now (37 years later) that typewritten page only tells part of the story. Yes, I was a callow art student, espousing the use of functional objects as a way of making — or avoiding having to make — “artistic” choices. Not my idea, just a trend I was all too happy to follow. But there was also something about acoustical tiles that I just liked.
“Unremarkable objects like sound meters and acoustical tiles have as much to say about the ways that people understood their world as do the paintings of Pablo Picasso…”
–Emily Thompson, “The Soundscape of Modernity”
illustration from Emily Thompson’s book, “The Soundscape of Modernity”
1941 Acousti-Cellotex ad — for sale on eBay; starting bid: $2.97 (shipping: $9.95)
(More about the Black Acoustical Tile, after the fold…)
There were many brands, but two basic types of acoustical tiles: the ones with regular rows of perforated holes and the ones with random holes and crevices that were supposedly more decorative.
One creative choice not abdicated: I definitely wanted the type of tile with the geometrically regular rows of holes. These seem to typify the whole idea of sound-proofing.
Visually there’s something sort of OCD about those rows of holes. There’s quite a bit online about counting them. Out of boredom or to calm oneself during a difficult medical procedure.
Some people have (incorrectly) interpreted the Beatles A Day in the Life lyrics — (about counting potholes in Blackburn, Lancashire) — to be about holes in acoustical tiles. “And though the holes were rather small, they had to count them all.”
I remember in my last year of high school encountering David Shapiro’s 1971 book of poems entitled, “A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel.”
These walls, these acoustical bricks, protect the man holding an acoustic panel against a wave of shock and sound.
Ordinary microphones don’t hear it, only the microphones with “great surface” permit us to – Walls and closets will not stop it – we will take these sounds to our grave.
–an excerpt from David Shapiro’s poem, The Danube Loophole
Can’t say I fully understood his work, but I always liked that title, which I misremembered as “A Man Holding an Acoustical Tile.” Reading about it online, the title is considered to be a reference to the title of a 1930s Wallace Stevens poem: “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”
As to the painting of acoustical tiles, it’s generally ill-advised. Like painting a radiator. It can be done, but it might negate the whole purpose of the item being painted.
“The pastor of parish actually requested that the multi-thousand dollar acoustic tile be painted over, so that his sermons would have a more reverberating effect. That of course made the tile completely worthless…”
re: St. Paul’s church in St. Petersburg, FL (via: Malus Domestic)
On some level, this idea of negation may have also informed my color choice — as if to follow the Rolling Stones exhortation to “Paint It Black.”
In point of fact, black acoustical tiles already exist as a product in their own right.