Random Play by Graham Reid


Now, see hear . . .

I recall being in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence many years ago, a place -- as many of you will know -- stacked with Great And Important Art.

As I stood gazing at length at something -- and I am a person who happily spent half a day with Goya’s “Black Paintings” in Madrid -- a tour group of Japanese following their guide’s flag walked past.

And kept on walking.

They barely broke their stride to glance at the Botticellis or whatever. Two of their party -- an older man and a guy in his 20s -- had their eyes glued to their video recorders and as far as I could tell never once saw the oil on the canvas, other than through the tiny eye-piece.

I’ve always remembered that incident because in general most people -- and I include myself in this also, Goya excepted -- do tend to rush through galleries and museums.

How to slow people down to offer them a more rewarding experience then?

The Auckland War Memorial Museum has an excellent, if not entirely original, solution: provide a soundtrack.

As many of you may know, the Sonic Museum project has involved nine musicians from across a wide spectrum of interests being commissioned to provide an aural experience specific to particular galleries.

This morning I was invited to a preview, and it is exceptional.

It seemed a real shame that museum director Dr Vanda Vitali wasn’t there for we few guests to congratulate her (on her way to Mexico apparently, maybe she doesn’t follow the news?). And that the museum’s Amanda White who steered this project into life should be sidelined by illness.
I would have pumped their hands furiously -- and thanked them for putting on the coffee.

In chatting with Don McGlashan who provides the subtle and almost stately music in the Origins gallery -- repeated piano figures, a sheen of keening guitar - he said something that I could relate to: we travel too quickly through galleries, but music has the effect of slowing us down.

That is certainly the case with this project in which, for $10 you hire a small Sony player and don headphones (or download the music from the Sonic Museum website into your own player), before you go through.

Tiki Taane’s evocative dub and waiata-framed soundscapes in the handsome Maori Court (He Taonga Maori) had me rooted to the spot simply taking in the huge carvings which I guess I had previously walked past.

And the pieces are all so distinctive -- but don’t tell you what to think or feel -- that each is a kind of private, inner-ear installation its own right.

Tim Coster’s Eno-like respect for space and silence is entirely in keeping with the Landmarks gallery (decorative arts); Richard Francis provides sonic rumble and organic sounds for the Land gallery ; Nathan Haines piece sounds like it has been created underwater (like Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic) in the Oceans space . . .

This is terrific stuff. And there is more: Rachel Shearer’s electronic sounds in Volcanoes; Phil Dadson’s collage of rumbled vocals and throat singers with gongs and scraped objects in Ancient Worlds . . .

To be honest I had another appointment so didn’t get to the upper galleries to hear in situ Chris Adams’ poignantly evocative piece for the World War I Sanctuary, nor Rosy Parlane’s composition for the Hall of Memories.

But that is something I intend to rectify when Sonic Museum opens to the public on Thursday May 7.

Incidentally that night the Museum hosts another in its "Late" panel discussion series at 6.30pm in the Atrium.

I’ve been to a couple and they have been interesting if sometimes frustratingly amorphous despite chairman Finlay Macdonald trying to get very different panellists on target. Whatever that target might be. Maybe there really isn’t one? But the talk has always been informed.

Next Thursday the topic is “I Am What I Own” and among the panellists is Nick Bollinger who was the creative consultant for Sonic Museum.

He made a brief and pointed speech this morning in which he noted that we tend to experience music either in our homes or in uncomfortable venues. Sonic Museum, he observed, afforded us all that rare opportunity of listening to music in the environment which actually inspired it -- and that in this instance it was a rather beautiful environment.

He also said that when we go to museums we are often guided by textual matters -- signs, explanatory captions -- but in this case music would be our guide.
And indeed it is.

I commend Sonic Museum to you. It’ll slow you down, you’ll see more -- and you’ll also hear some wonderful music.

By the way: You too might have notice that two nights ago when hyperventilating news readers on television were drowning out the voices of calm and reason that one of the Sky movies was Doomsday, described thusly: “Authorities brutally quarantine a country as it succumbs to fear and chaos when a virus strikes.” I watched it. Scary, but pretty exciting. Hmmm.

Oh and . . . loads of new music with sample tracks and video clips at Elsewhere right now including the new Dylan and Neil Young albums, and two local releases that are going to appear on my Best of Elsewhere list come December. And more.

Have a look and listen. At Elsewhere and the Sonic Museum.

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