To Norment’s ear, the song’s high-pitched tones sounded like
“a sine wave, but wavering like playing the rim of a wine glass with a finger.” Finding new fodder for her exploration into the psychological effects of sound, she began researching different ways to play glass. This a-ha moment led her to the glass armonica, a curious and historically charged instrument that, in addition to becoming the inspiration for a “new chapter” in her artistic process, is soon to be the centerpiece of Norment’s installation, Rapture
, in the Norwegian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale
A delicate and relatively obscure instrument, the glass armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761 and was played by Mozart and Marie Antoinette; it emits an ethereal, somewhat shrill tone that has been associated throughout history with the divine and the ecstatic. In the late 18th century, it was used by German physicians to “mesmerize” patients into a state of hypnosis, but its capacity as a healing device was quickly overshadowed by fear, and the instrument was banned in Germany—its supernatural sounds were thought to induce madness or, in the case of women, sexual arousal.
For Rapture, the artist has composed new music for the age-old armonica, which includes a performance on the instrument and a new chorus of 12 voices that corresponds to its high-frequency notes. Throughout the Biennale’s six-month run, the artist has also invited collaborators to participate in a series of performances that mirror the themes of the installation, subjects Norment has been interrogating for most of her career: the history of sound; its capacity to create dissonant, uncanny spaces; and the relationship between music and the body.