Brad Moore and I have been photo-acquaintances for several years. We worked on the Allen Street Gallery newsletter together until ASG jumped down the tubes last year.
I knew he made photo-sculptures — often a frenzy of flat photographs or shards of images collaged onto large, simple geometric forms. But I was startled to learn that the piece that I liked best in a recent Texas Sculpture Association show at Trammel Crow Center downtown was his.
Throughout our visit, I wanted to believe that the new piece was a quantum leap beyond his previous work. But contrary evidence surrounded me in his busy home. Few horizontal spaces were free of art, tools or musical instruments. Many were — like his art — made of gleaming wood, glass and metal.
I'd planned to spend time with the long, see-saw-like piece to craft words describing and explaining it. But as my viewing visit transformed into a listening interview, I learned that the 8'4" long by 10" wide and 8" deep woods, glasses and metals box was a logical, but giant step in a direction Moore has been traveling for many years.
He explained that the award-winning piece, Following Fads, was "about dualism-one thing over another-whatever seems to be politically correct this week." To express that dualism, he "used hard maple and mahogany, plate glass versus fused glass, rectangles vs. circles, metal vs. wood, and copper vs. brass."
It took three months and $1,000 worth of materials. "I did the lamination first, then cut sides off the bottom plate. Before I put the sides on, I had to integrate all the spear-like, sharpened dowels. It looked intimidating." Some people said it looked dangerous like punji sticks.
"Once I got it encased in glass, though, people didn't even notice. I wanted it to have plenty of visual access, light and so on. The appendages to go outside the box give the piece a character that's conducive. I probably spent four hours at Elliott's looking for just the right brass nuts, copper fittings, rubber grommets and stoppers. I wanted it to look right."
Why pointed sticks? "Often, when you're trying to achieve a fad, you miss the point of what's going on in that particular fad. The point is, is it really worthwhile? Is that what life's about or are you missing something?"
Brad said there were two types of people who look at this piece. Those who watch someone operate it, and those who actually operate it themselves. Those who operate it are the fad makers. Once I explain it that way," he noted, "more people heft it."
Hefting it by the polished brass handle at each end does more than just rock the piece back and forth. There's a deeply musical, consonantal percussive, yet aurally meditative quality activated by lifting it. The piece is full of bright metal ball bearings that queue at the low end. As the box is tipped, the bearings flow downhill like molten, ray-traced quicksilver. Pinballing down the trough and bumping into the various sizes and densities of dowels of five different types of wood along their slow slide, the bearings create a long, slow noisily, rushing hush.
The sound is intentionally similar to a six-foot-long South American rain stick a friend made of beautifully-polished bamboo, filled with sand and stones. Brad hefted that slow-motion percussion instrument, turned it over gently, and set it down on its other end. And we heard a primitive monotonal shush of deep forest rain.
"There's a lot more expression in my piece than in this I'm not interested in having all the same size balls hitting same-size dowels, making the same sound. Every wood has a different mass and a different density," he explained. "I wanted to make something that's large and would have a sustained period of motion once it was set in action." Brad has a background in music, and he used to build recording studios and sound stages for TV and churches. His best friend, an acoustical engineer, "trained me to have an acute awareness of sound."
Brad went through a lot of different emotions while building this piece. "The reason for using copper instead of wooden dowels [to suspend the glass] is that it provides a different sound. When balls hit copper, it's more of a ping-a high-pitched sound. When it hits wood, it's duller. That's why there are different diameter dowels. That adds to the musical quality of it," he said.
"I wanted the top to be open, so sound would emanate from it. The box itself is a reverberating sounding box, because it is suspended on only two points. The sound emanates from all sides and the bottom. I mounted it on a glass table, so sound can reflect off in all directions. That's also why it's open at either end."
Brad left gaps between levels of glass at either end, "so the person lifting the handle gets the full force of sound. So sound, as well as the ball bearings go back and forth," he said, "There's a narcotic quality that corresponds to the music of the balls going back and forth representing the payoff of following a fad."
Brad has many ideas for future pieces. "I'm going back to do more intuitive kinetic work and less conceptual with more moving parts, and larger. I want to create a modular aspect, so I can plug four or five pieces together to create something 20 feet or long-er. It will not only have dowels but wheels and flappers. I want the balls to do more than sound. They'll put other elements into motion."
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