• The Great Salt (2018)

    The Great Salt is Clayton's exhibition at Harvard Art Museums. The hybrid analog-digital artwork is response, sonic extension, intervention into the complex history of a 17th-century silver vessel, on view in the museums' Lightbox Gallery from October 30, 2018 through February 4, 2019. Museums freeze time. Music melts it. Clayton’s interactive installation flows between these binaries, with surprises lurking throughout.


    In 1638, a work of silver known as The Great Salt arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Owned by John Glover, who died during his passage across the Atlantic, the object transferred to Glover’s widow Elizabeth, who later married the first president of Harvard. The Great Salt (on display in the museums' silver cabinet on Level 2, Gallery 2340) is one of seven pieces of historic Harvard silver. This shape-shifting container, designed to hold salt for the dining table at a time when the mineral was a rare and valuable commodity, is invested with centuries of prestige. Originally the charge of the most important person sitting at the table, The Great Salt continued to be used throughout the 20th century as part of the regalia for inauguration ceremonies of new Harvard presidents.

    This object was selected by Jace Clayton, a visiting artist at the Harvard Art Museums, as the subject for a response — a sonic extension and intervention into The Great Salt’s narrative. . A display vitrine, much like those that protect precious objects elsewhere in the museums, here holds approximately 40 electronic synthesizer modules, connected with multicolored cables. Programmed using techniques such as granular synthesis, a process that breaks a sound into tiny “grains,” this collection of electronic components performs a new work — a composition designed by Clayton to self-modulate, actively generating new sounds and changing as it repeats. Three marímbulas — Afro-Cuban thumb pianos — surround the vitrine and can be played by visitors, affecting the presentation of the electronic sound.

    The year 1638, just as The Great Salt made its way to Massachusetts, was also when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the colony. This installation includes references to both 17th-century European and African musical forms, playing with associations between The Great Salt, the sea, and the Middle Passage. Through sound, the installation responds to The Great Salt with acts of performance, translation, and participation.


    Salt Wood Salt Wire Salt Salt is a new composition by Jace Clayton, visiting artist at the Harvard Art Museums. It serves as a companion piece to his current exhibition. Written expressly for—and performed with—the new music ensemble Bent Duo and featuring Clayton’s live electronics, Salt Wood Salt Wire Salt Salt explores the structural themes of The Great Salt installation: 17th-century British classical song form, West African thumb-piano polyrhythms, granular synthesis, and playful interactivity.