San Francisco

Charles Mattox

Quay Gallery

Kinetic showmanship with some buffoonery also held sway at the Quay Gallery, which featured a veritable carnival of bright colored, noisy devices contrived by Charles Mattox. In contrast, however, to Acton’s vaudeville slapstick and burlesque double entendres, the Mattox exhibits were all good clean fun for the kiddies, and the show as a whole exuded the seasonally appropriate atmosphere of a novelty toy shop before Christmas: here was Mattox’s kinetic wizardry in its most jovial and Harlequinesque aspects, together with a few elaborate gadgets resembling the more imaginative sort of stage props employed in dramatizations of science fiction. There was an absence, however, of the most genuinely sophisticated examples of Mattox’s considerable capacities for engineering magical illusion, for while he is known to have constructed machines that can be activated photoelectrically by colors, as well as by sound waves and electromagnetic resonators, the devices in this exhibition were either uncomplicatedly inertial or driven by simple, electrically powered motors activated from pedal-button switches on the gallery floor. Since fun and frolic pervaded—the more so as visiting groups of exuberant youngsters set the tout ensemble of machines into a raucous, whirring, clacking din—expressions of the more sombre, contemplative, and austerely quasi-mathematical modes of Mattox’s overall esthetic mystique were likewise absent.

Gestures of neo-Pythagorean affectation were present, nonetheless, in a few oddly fashioned resonance chambers fitted with prongs, stretched wires, electronic amplification, and the like, in which some too-rigid prongs and flaccid wires produced, respectively, only percussive plunks and toneless whirs, while such distinct tones as were present obviously did not form a rationally ordered series of pitches in terms either of traditional or of microtonal intervals. Even accepted for what they were—purely accidental and non-schematized tone-and-noise clusters—these dull thrummings and jinglings disappointingly belied the imposing visual facade of mock-futurism and pseudo technology of the contraptions producing them, and were, in fact, acoustically and theatrically less interesting and complex than the eerie, pulsating hum of an old-fashioned Aeolian harp. Perhaps the intentions here were tongue-in-cheek, else they were but sufficient for the legerdemain of some Disneyesque amusement arcade. Indeed, the impishly saucy, playfully jeering, Donald Duck “squaarrrk” produced intermittently by one of the machines seems to have sounded the true keynote of the show.

Palmer D. French