Mzui is an installation soundtrack by Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis (of Wire) and artist Russell Mills, originally staged at the Waterloo Gallery (London) in August 1981.
etween the 8th and 31st August 1981, from 11.00am to 5.00pm, the Waterloo Gallery at 23 Gray Street, London, SE1 was home to an audio-visual installation entitled MZUIcreated by Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert, both ex-Wire members, and illustrator/artist Russell Mills; by then famous for his multi-media interpretations of Brian Eno's lyrics, and record and book covers.
Bruce and Graham had first met Russell during their Wire days and the possibilities of collaboration manifested themselves when he was invited to perform on their Kluba Cupol 12" single and the Dome Kupol performance on 19th June 1980 at the Notre Dame Hall, London.
With Wire's demise in February 1980, Bruce and Graham collaborated under various guises to record as Dome, Cupol and Lewis/Gilbert. By November 1980, with sessions for the Dome 3 album (with Russell's participation) well under way, ideas for some form of constantly evolving audio-visual performance were also being hatched.
Russell: We started talking about needing something bigger, less two dimensional, less a concert hall. We wanted to make it more of a risk than it had been, and I knew a couple of guys at the Waterloo Gallery. It used to be a large warehouse for meat-packing and preparation. They were paying a peppercorn rent, and had put aside 5000 square feet for themselves to have exhibitions, and secondly to put other people's work on.
With a suitable location to house their ideas, decisions were made as to how to utilise the space. One was to make the visual elements out of what was found in and around the gallery. Another to have recording equipment installed so they could record any public interaction and play that back out through a PA system.
Bruce: We knew there were loads of raw materials, but we had no pre-conceptions about what we'd put in. It was an exploration of the atmosphere, of the area, the building, and ourselves, going in, like a job, and making something that day. Some of the pieces didn't last very long, or had to be modified.
To help create a suitable atmosphere the space was also darkened using a large piece of material that had previously been used to create a rabbit hill for Stevie Wonder's stage show at Wembley. Despite promising to faithfully look after it the material was cut into small pieces so that there no natural light could enter the gallery!
By the opening night very little had been created except two sculptures by Russell, Red Tent (Surrender) and Rache, along with four high-tension wires strung from ceiling to floor. The latter were miked up so that the room became a huge resonating chamber.
Russell: Part of the deal of having the space was that we could have a private view, but you had to wash up the last private views glasses for use at your own.
Apart from the washing up there was a huge pile of old wine bottles left over from previous openings. Instead of simply throwing them away they were smashed and brushed into an area of broken glass.
Bruce: It was a meadow.
Graham: And it remained a meadow until the police came in with the Health and Safety Inspector.
It transpired that local residents had made a complaint because of the noise coming from the gallery. The Inspector declared the 'meadow' dangerous.
Bruce: We said, 'No it's not; unless you jump in it. On it's own it's harmless'.
Despite these protestations they were instructed to put a fence around it to keep potential 'jumpers' out. In due course other areas were cordoned off, making the gallery a kind of maze.
To add to the ambience Graham had begun trying to hide the smell of the gallery by polishing the floor with industrial cleaner, a daily ritual that continued throughout the life of the installation. Also, for the opening night, smoke pellets were released into the gallery and allowed to die down as the evening progressed. Later the same evening the police turned up and asked Graham if this was Kinetic Art?
Graham: I replied,'You may be right, if you join in.' But they wouldn't come in because of the smell.
Alongside the audio, visual and olfactory elements MZUI also contained a psychological one in that visitors were asked, at the entrance, to sign a disclaimer accepting full responsibility for their actions during and after their visit.
Bruce: We knew people were going to turn up with children, and through thinking about that, and the sort of loonies that might turn up, it would be better to cover ourselves with some sort of disclaimer... This piece of paper meant nothing legally, but it set a tone.
As the weeks went on MZUI developed with physical elements being added and removed as seen fit. The four wire cables were painted red; 'Drip Drum' was constructed, along with 'Xylo-Trapeze' and 'Peda-Perc'. Visitor's reaction to these pieces ranged from mild curiosity to the downright destructive.
Graham: There were eighteen people who were beating the shit out of everything in sight. They moved everything about. Dancing in Russell's sculpture… They destroyed everything. It took us the next day to put it all together.
Bruce: Another day two girls came in, and they spent all day carefully and conscientiously trying everything.
By the end of the four-week period the PA and recording equipment had been removed, along with all the visual elements. Discovering the remnants of an air-filtering system on the roof a decision was made to set fire to these wooden spills on the final day.
Bruce: Big mistake: the gallery filled with smoke. Very exciting, but everyone was covered with smoke.
Some time afterwards Cherry Red Records contacted Bruce and Graham for a recording project. Having made a decision to cut back on recording ventures, they proposed the financing for the compiling and mixing of the MZUI tapes that had been made.
Bruce: It had cost an awful lot of money to put on, so we thought it would be interesting to see if it could pay for itself in some way. We knew it would be useless to actually plonk excerpts of each day on a record. It'd be a ten-album set, some of it not very interesting.
To add to the aural experience Russell contributed a fragment of artist Marcel Duchamp saying 'in spite of myself, I'm a meticulous man.'
Russell: A very apt phrase, which I think summed up the whole thing.
The MZUI album (released in 1982) made no attempt to capture the original atmosphere of the installation. What is addressed is the notion of sound as landscape, as articulating a sense of place. There are parallels with Brian Eno's masterful On Land album, released the same year. In his liner notes Eno speaks specifically about the idea of landscape, memory and of psychoacoustic space - the concept of using recording technology to create imaginary landscapes. Whereas Eno creates exterior, rural and perhaps more lyrical spaces, the world of MZUI is distinctly urban and interior. A very limited run of C30 cassettes containing unedited 'fragments of sound' from the exhibition were also sold through Rough Trade.
Graham, Bruce and Russell would continue their productive collaborations on two further projects; MZUI: Australia, a live-to-air recording for the September 1982 Sydney Biennale; and MU:ZE:UM - Traces, another audio-visual installation held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford between December 1982 and January 1983.
Although both projects further explored the use of sound and location MZUI remains one of the landmarks on a journey to a more expanded form of listening, and a more engaged relationship with the soundscape.