A photograph showing dark sillouttes, backlit in blue, as the figures watch The Conductor by Mishka Henner, in the reverberation chamber at the University of Salford.

Mishka Henner, Performance, 2024. Photography by Sam Parker.

A Sensory Journey Through Sound and Silence: The Conductor by Mishka Henner – Review by Lizzie King

Quiet … giggles…. disorientation… quiet.… Bang. Bang…. boom

Mishka Henner’s The Conductor was a real experience. From sensory overload to sensory deprivation, Henner played with the way we experience thunder and lightning, sound and visuals.  This is not Henner’s first exploration of visual and sound art but is perhaps his most immersive. The performance began with a guided procession by the theatrical ‘Protector’ who declares, ‘Follow me to all the world’s thunder.’

The Protector, dressed in a dark cloak and carying a long staff leads the audience across the University of Salford Campus.
The Protector leading the audience at Sounds From the Other City, 2024. Photography by Breige Cobane.

Every lightning strike in the world is compiled in a click track that is, unbeknown to the audience, playing in the ear of a drummer (Jennifer Walinetski). Led into a pitch-black room the audience experiences a loss of vision which is soon replaced by flashing blue lights illuminating the silhouette of Walinetski who begins to play a set of percussion instruments in response to the undisclosed click track. The sound is overwhelming, all-encompassing, visceral. It fills the space in that all-consuming way that vibrates you to your inner core. It was invasive yet captivating and I could have stayed in there longer. 

A photograph showing dark sillouttes, backlit in blue, as the figures watch The Conductor by Mishka Henner, in the reverberation chamber at the University of Salford.
Mishka Henner, Performance, 2024. Photography by Sam Parker.

We were brought out of that dark room and taken into another. The anechoic chamber is a world-class acoustic research facility at The University of Salford and according to Danny Wong-McSweeny, the facility manager, the second quietest room in the world.  We went into the dark with a click track playing very quietly, the same track that had played in Walinetkski’s ear. Wong-McSweeny turned on a light and gives our group an explanation of the room. Unlike the first room where the large bangs reverberated around and through us, the anechoic chamber is full of foam cubes all over the walls and floors so no sound can reflect. The tiniest whisper from Wong-McSweeny is audible, he demonstrated how as he turned around we could hear his voice less as it had nowhere to bounce off. He turned the light off and again we were in pitch black. The floor is covered in netting, with the bounce of a trampoline and someone in the group asked that no one jump as we stood there in the darkness with the least amount of noise we have ever heard. It was pure silence. It’s pure deprivation of stimuli, bar the slight instability felt standing on the netting. There is no information to take in, but purely experience the lack of.  After hearing such loud sounds the lack really hits you. Again I could have stayed in there longer and hearing Danny’s explanations was fascinating.

A stylised image of procussionist Jennifer Walinetski, in the angular Conductor costume, in a dramatic pose, holding a drum stick in each hand. Behind her are the dramatic and angular foam walls of the Anecoic Chamber at the University of Salford.
Mishka Henner, The Conductor, 2024. © Liz Lock and Mishka Henner

Henner is currently artist in residence at Energy House 2.0. Energy House 2.0 collects data looking for ways to create more energy-efficient homes which can work with and withstand weather. Henner here seems to be playing with the data of weather to examine our relationship and experience with it. Weather is after all for us a sensory experience, we feel it, hear it, see it; we are amongst it. In this way The Conductor hit these points, we were amongst it. I think this piece can ask us to think bigger about how on a global scale with the climate emergency, as that ever-present white noise constantly surrounding us, we relate with weather? Is there that awe and respect there when we consider global weather events like the kind of captivation that happens when experiencing sound in this way? Is it something further away and distant, unlike the local rain on our face? The Conductor brings the far into focus and makes it palpable. It held the audience in awe and respect of the power of sound, and it left us talking and posing questions like all good art should.

Lizzie King, 2024

The Conductor was presented on the 5th of May as part of Sounds From The Other City. The Conductor was conceived and directed by Mishka Henner as part of the Energy House 2.0 Artist’s Residency. Organised by the University of Salford Art Collection in partnership with Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool as part of the LOOK Photo Biennial, and Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, and generously supported by Friends of Energy House Labs.

The Conductor

Lizzie King is an artist based in Salford who works with photographic methods and sound, currently environmental artist in residence for Open Eye Hub and undertaking an MA in Contemporary Fine Art at the University.

Lizzie King