Memory Cycle: Re-Sonified Artifacts

On view now until February 27, 2022
Guelph Civic Museum (Guelph, ON)


Memory Cycle: Re-Sonified Artifacts is a collaboration between Guelph Civic Museum and composer and sound artist Gordon Monahan. This exhibition is a foray into the parlour rooms of Victorian Guelph and an experiment with imagined Victorian­-era piano recordings.

Working with the museum, Monahan selected 19th-century artifacts from the permanent collection. Using furniture, farm equipment, and keyboard instruments, Monahan experimented with period sound by transmitting vibrations through the artifacts.

Visitors to the exhibition will hear sounds that allude to those emitted by the instruments on display. Monahan works with the principle that the human ear perceives vibration as sound. In a process called sonification and re-sonification, the artifacts become sounding objects — transmitters of recorded sound — as well as sound sculptures.

For the exhibition, Monahan performs an experimental version of the classic 1927 George Gershwin song, “The Man I Love,” as well as several original piano compositions. In this work, he has created a sonic “memory cycle.” The recordings are transmitted into the artifacts, then re-captured using contact microphones, and recycled to the historical keyboards and to the ear of the listener.

The sound installation in the midst of a Victorian-era parlour room offers a ghostly rendition of music that may have once vibrated through the displayed artifacts. Like memory, the circulation and re-circulation of sound calls forth the music and history of times past.

On April 21, 2021 Guelph Museums’ Curator Dawn Owen spoke with Gordon Monahan and Jesse Stewart about the exhibition during History Bites: Memory Cycle, Re-Sonified Artifacts.


About the Artist

Gordon Monahan composes for piano, loudspeakers, video, kinetic sculpture, and computer-controlled sound environments. His works span various genres from avant-garde concert music to multi-media installation and sound art.

As a composer and sound artist, Monahan juxtaposes the quantitative and qualitative aspects of natural acoustical phenomena with elements of media technology, environment, architecture, popular culture, and live performance. Since 1978, he has performed and exhibited in numerous performance spaces, museums, galleries, and festivals, in Canada and internationally, including Massey Hall (Toronto), Hamburger Bahnhof (Berlin), the Secession (Vienna), Haus der Kunst (Munich), the Venice Biennale, the Kitchen (New York), and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis).

Early in his career, Monahan specialized as a pianist. He composed extended works for acoustic piano and amplified prepared piano. Monahan won First Prize at the 1984 CBC National Radio Competition for Young Composers. In 1988, he was CBC Radio’s entry to the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. His career accomplishments include many international commissions and artist residencies, including a fellowship with the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1991, the DAAD Berlin in 1992, and the Beethoven Foundation, Bonn in 2016. Monahan received the Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2013.

The renowned composer John Cage once said: “At the piano, Gordon Monahan produces sounds we haven’t heard before.”

Memory Cycle was researched, developed and presented by Gordon Monahan with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.


Contact Information


Guelph Museums
52 Norfolk Street
Guelph, ON N1H 4H8
(519) 836-1221

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Venue Accessibility

Guelph Museums complies with the City of Guelph Accessibility Policy, the Guelph Accessibility Advisory Committee, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Guelph Civic Museum is fully accessible and offers wheelchair accessibility, gender neutral restrooms, free WiFi, free parking as well as accessible programs, services and collections. We strive to ensure that the Museum and its resources are available to everyone.