Excerpt from New Works for Eyes, Earts, and Mind
Nicole Miller

Thresholds of Sound

Richard Chartier's sound art is about a different kind of interplay, between sound and silence. His Series requires focused listening, using a headset, to hear the faint clicks, rattles and hums that form the minimalist piece.

Some of the flutters of high-pitched sounds seem like a hearing test. Periods that seem silent, Chartier says, are filled with high or low frequencies that a dog might hear, but not a human ear. But our bodies can perceive what we don't hear.

"People tend to think that there's a lot of silence in my work, but most of the pieces don't have a lot of silence on them," Chartier says.

The Whitney's associate curator of contemporary art, Debra Singer, selected Chartier's "Series" for the sound and performance art component of the biennial. She says she heard about Chartier's work from another sound artist.

Chartier, 30, was born in Alexandria, grew up in Springfield and lives in Arlington. He is also a graphic artist, runs the minimalist sound art label Line, and DJs during "Filler," an evening of electronic music at the Blue Room in Adams Morgan on Sundays.

He recently completed a sound installation called "3_components" for a show next month at Fusebox gallery near Logan Circle. Three CDs of varying lengths and compositions will continuously loop on six different speakers. Chartier describes it as "very audible," compared with "Series," and a "much more physical experience."

"There's this subdivision of sound art that deals with thresholds," Singer says. "Richard's work is the most subtle."

"People aren't really trained to listen," Chartier says. "You hear noise all damned day, and people in their mind say: 'I'm not going to hear that airplane. I'm not going to hear that train going by where I live. I'm not going to hear the crickets.' "

Chartier says the sounds he uses aren't recorded but were "built in the computer." They don't refer to anything identifiable, although a listener could easily be reminded of static, a video game or a tuning fork.

Singer says Chartier caught her ear, because "he's finding these kinds of rich variations within a sonic palette."