sounds of museums

Investigations in the polysensory museum. Audio recordings made inside exhibitions, museums and art events, presented without extensive editing or manipulation, in order to raise questions that may be of use for better understanding of the relationship between sound and exhibition space.

 

All museums are inevitably sound installations. Even if they contain no intentional sound works, display spaces are full of sounds, which have a particular impact on our experience of the place and the art it contains. Recordings of artspaces can be useful analytical tools, applying the notion of “audiography,” something like “sound photography.” More and more modern and contemporary artworks make sound. But sound seems to disrupt the conventional museum model, revealing some of its anachronistic shortcomings. It can be interesting, in some cases, to listen to an exhibition without seeing it. Or to listen to it first, and then go to see it. We can also notice that different spaces, and even different specific exhibitions, have their own particular tone, even if the works on view are totally silent. The silence of Picasso is different from the silence of Canova. Recording as a way to detect atmospheric influences.

 


1. limiteazero at hublab, via vigevano 43, milan, 8 mar-10 apr 2006. The sounds of computers at work are greatly exaggerated in this recording, by putting the mike very close to the processors. Almost like what you would hear if you were a cat with amazingly sensitive ears. The show is actually almost silent, except for the obsessively repeating “new message” voice. In certain works limiteazero show us visualizations of internet traffic flow… so in this recording we have similarly amplified the sound of the machines. Like zooming in on a detail in a photo.
Hublab is no longer doing shows, unfortunately. But you can check out limiteazero here: http://limiteazero.net/

 

 


2. giulio paolini exhibition at gamec, bergamo, apr-july 2006.
http://www.gamec.it/
A series of disturbingly perfect room installations. We visited at about 3 PM on Friday. I love empty museums. This one is quite heavily sealed, only in certain rooms can you get a muffled sense of the traffic on the cobblestones outside (2011 update: the street has now been paved flat, cutting down on the din of passing cars). Even the birds seem muted. The climate control system covers them up, chattering and wooshing quite cheerfully, almost always avoiding the ominous rumblings of more cavernous art temples.

 

 

mamcoGMC

3. MAMCO Geneva, 2003. This is a museum with lots of sounds in which people are not afraid to talk and enjoy themselves. The creaky doors are part of a great installation by Gordon Matta-Clark, called “Open House”. Here we are getting pretty close, perhaps, to what a contemporary art museum should sound like, an atmosphere that reflects the experimental vocation of the place itself.
http://www.mamco.ch/

 

 

4. Markisches Museum, Berlin. Walter Benjamin wrote about the sound of the Kaiserpanorama in his Berliner Kindheit… Well it’s still there, just as he described it. The bell, the noisy wooden floors, the hovering guards in clunky heels. A beautiful place with a truly unique atmosphere.

 

 

5. Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, Vermont. Cool children’s museum with hands-on exhibits. The recording also goes outside to catch bird and plane sounds, which really bounce around these hills and valleys.
http://www.montshire.org/

 

 

6. Spectrum, Berlin. Another hands-on place for curious kinder, but with a whole floor on early musical electronics. Spontaneous composition. Recordists Steve Piccolo and Gak Sato, mix by Gak Sato for the Hidden Tracks concert at Berlin Jazzfest, Nov. 2005.
http://www.dtmb.de/Spectrum/index.html

 

 

 

7. Martin Creed show, Trussardi, Arengaria, Milan, June 06. Realtime audio visit, no editing. At the entrance a huge fan makes an agreeable low humming noise with shifting overtones. A grand piano with the lid raised stands nearby. A mechanism loudly slams the piano’s score-stand now and then. Leaving the room, you walk down a flight of steps to a long hallway where the light is intermittent. As you proceed the sounds of the first room fade and you hear someone coughing loudly downstairs. You can tell it’s a recording. As you round the landing to the next wide flight of stairs you see that the sound comes from a video of a young woman vomiting in an empty white gallery-type space. A small gentleman, age 55/60 (?), plainly dressed in shirt and slacks, runs quite quickly up the stairs. You realize you saw him running by before, in the long corridor. If you wait a minute or two he’ll run by again. Then back up to the piano-fan room and out.
A brilliant piece that leaves one question in mind: did anyone try keeping the piano’s sustain pedal down? The hum of the fan might have produced interesting sympathetic reactions in the strings, and the slamming lectern would definitely have made the strings vibrate. Too pretty?

 

 

 

8. Museum für Kommunikation, Berlin. Stimulating soundscape inside, but also outside, where someone (not mentioned in the museum literature) has done a very pleasant sound installation. The internal space has a monumental central hall that reverberates a little too much… 20 well-behaved Teutonic kids sound like an entire elementary school at recess. Would benefit from some curtains or soft materials here and there.

 

 

 

9. Wherever We Go exhibition, curated by Hou Hanru and Gabi Scardi 16 Oct 06 – 28 Jan 07, Spazio Oberdan, Milan.

Very interesting show on contemporary nomadism in all its forms. Works by Adel Abdessemed, Nindityo Adipurnomo, Kristine Alskne, Keren Amiran, Carlos Amorales, Maria Thereza Alves, Maja Bajevic & Danica Dakic, Yael Bartana, Banu Cennetoglu, Magali Claude, Latifa Echakhch, Ni Haifeng, Mella Jaarsma, Koo Jeong-A, H.H. Lim, Elena Nemkova, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Adrian Paci, Pascal Marthine Tayou, Nari Ward, Huang Fong Ping, Shen Yuan (also in another space but we recorded just this one). But what about the sound? This show is a good example of what is happening in contemporary museums. At least a dozen works in which sound is an important factor, gathered in a relatively open space and all blasting away at the same time. Some have nice big speakers, others are crackling out of the tiny speakers on the sides of monitors. Some have been equalized in a demented way by their makers, or the technical crew punched the loudness/bass boost button on the amp by mistake. In a situation of limited tech budget, you can tell that someone did take the time to think about how the sounds would interact. But the result is a bit confusing. The cello sound in the great wolf animation piece Manimal by Carlos Amorales seem to blend perfectly with the lamentations of the hired mourner in the video by Adrian Paci, right next door (about 3 minutes into the recording posted here). Did the two works gain something by this intermingling? I doubt it. Both have very carefully made soundtracks. Does this reflect our nomadic condition… if you live in a tent you can always hear your neighbors, or something like that? Maybe. Check out the enticing tones of the voice of Bianka Göbel on what might be our pick of the show (in the picture), What is the Color of a German Rose by Maria Thereza Alves.

 

 

10. MACRO, Rome. Part of a more ambitious complex to be completed in the future. This part consists of a large courtyard and some upstairs galleries with a small permanent collection of Italian 20th-century painting. The place feels and sounds like an empty airport corridor with a noisy heating system. The exhibits are almost all paintings, hung in an orderly fashion on bare walls. Presumably they are intended to be contemplated calmly in a quiet, peaceful situation. But the galleries offer no seating at all, and the youthful security staffers blithely chatter in the background.
The real acoustic surprise here is the courtyard. The big glass roof makes it a powerful reverberation chamber. This recording was made on a very quiet Sunday morning. The sounds in the outdoor part are simply one small van driving slowly down the street, and three kids walking by on the sidewalk outside. The recording has not been modified in any way… this is really what it sounds like. The effect could be utilized…
http://www.macro.roma.museum/


 

 

11. Careof, Milan. When you walk into the courtyard from the very noisy street (auspiciously named for Luigi Nono) you are greeted by a pleasant surprise. You can already hear the sound of one of the works, and it sounds like a group of Arabian strings, very dense bowed patterns, accompanied by an electric saw. Looking for the source of the sound you realize it comes from the gallery’s very cool next-door neighbors, a numerically-controlled instant prototyping workshop called Industreal. Their machinery makes a lovely sound in the courtyard. You open the door to the gallery and the conversations of the visitors blend in. The door clicks shut and suddenly the prototyping and the city are gone, you’re in a not-too-echoey space where voices sound nice and the chaos of rush-hour Milan seems far away. Nice work!
http://www.careof.org/index.html

 

 

 

breitz-aiwa-ok

12. Collateral at Hanger Bicocca, Milan, exhibition curated by Adelina von Fuerstenberg with Anna Daneri and Andrea Lissoni, installation design Arch. Andreas Angelidakis.

All the sounds in the recording come from the works in a show entirely composed of videos. No ambient noises, no crowd sounds as there was no crowd (definitely not peak visiting hour). A valiant attempt was made to tame sound in a cavernous space that threatens to turn everything into sonic soup. Each video is placed in a big box, and the speakers are aimed into the box to try to contain the sound. Volume is kept low, in the hope of creating an almost circumscribed space for each video.
But sound travels and the soundtracks mingle freely, creating interferences that at times make it impossible to understand the words (and lot of the videos have words). The music by Zu at low volume loses all its punch. The “jarred” voice in the video by Mike Kelley almost vanishes (intentionally?). But on the whole the show works pretty well, especially if the artists made very clear soundtracks. In terms of sound you get the sense of a sort of competition, works vying for attention in a problematic space. Our vote goes to Candice Breitz for the cool “Aiwa to Zen”.

 

 

          vaccari

13. Franco Vaccari exhibition, Spazio Oberdan, Milan.
The same space that caused problems on other occasions has been mightily tamed by Vaccari. By limiting the number of works with sound and rearranging the layout of the space, he makes it work perfectly. The most interesting work for our purposes is a room with six projections of still images that seem to be video frames. They show people in an enormous darkened warehouse. The soundtrack to the still shots lasts 45 minutes and sounds like a manipulated recording of what actually happened in the space. Nothing is clear, as it wasn’t clear for the visitors to this happening. The effect is surprising. You can see that the images are not moving, yet the sound makes you think they are. You keep expecting them to move. When I left the room to look at the rest of the show, at a certain point I heard a sort of foghorn on the soundtrack, and my first impulse was to return to the room… I was certain I was missing an interesting part of the “film”. But the images were still there, immobile
The coda is a bit of local color. The security staff of the gallery are watching the run-up to the big night of the San Remo pop song festival on TV. They leave the door to the street open so sounds of motorcycles can even find their way up into the exhibitions.

 

The following three contributions guest recordist Ricciarda Belgiojoso.

 

14. La Gioconda, Louvre, Paris.
The enigmatic smile might fade if she could hear the chatter. You’d imagine some people saved up for this special trip to see perhaps the world’s most famous painting, and would stand in awestruck silence before the masterpiece. Imagine again. The experience is very noisy. An Italian couple bicker as the husband complains about space hogs that won’t let him get close to the work. For an American girl the main reference for the museum experience is the ScoobyDoo cartoons where the eyes in the paintings always move. An English girl analyzes the subtle quirks of the lines around the mouth.

 

 

 

15. Pipilotti Rist light show at the Beaubourg, Paris.
Not much gets said about the people who make the soundtracks to most multimedia work shown in art museums. The Vaccari show (no. 13, above) is a perfect example… full of neat jazz tracks, but who did them? Did Vaccari play all the instruments?
Andreas Guggisberg does the music in collaborations with Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist and gets credited where credit is due. Here are the sounds currently heard at the entrance to Centre Pompidou. They’re played at the right volume, the sound is good and the choice of timbres and frequencies works very well in a big public space. Nice pic borrowed from the Flickr page of photographer Hughes Leglise-Bataille.

 

 

 

16. Peter Coffin, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.
A greenhouse with plants, music for plants, instruments so people can play for plants, and live guest musicians every now and then to show them how. Here are just a few excerpts (sorry, couldn’t tell whose piece was playing when, I think Mr. Coffin does not make the music for these installations). A nice way to bring music into the museum without particular adaptation to the context. But then this is an innovative institution.

 

 

 

The following are two contributions from guest recordist Diego Caglioni.

17. Absolute Beginners, Isola Art Center, Milan (opening, 15.3.07)
Ok, ok, this is like shooting at the Red Cross, but the purpose of this page is just to present different sound situations, the cumulative effect might demonstrate something. So here’s a no-budget all-volunteer occupied factory situation (do some research on the remarkable history of ISOLA ART CENTER) where the soundtracks of the videos are, predictably, a bit muddy. You couldn’t really hear the counting of rice grains in the work by Jakup Ferri because of the high volume of the video of a performance by Armand Lulaj, Diego C reports. But he did appreciate the effect of darkness, the atmosphere of the occupied factory, etc.

 

 

18. Street Art, Sweet Art, PAC, Milan.
Don’t let the cringingly awful title fool you… there’s not much street art in here. A number of artists who really do work in the street have taken advantage of the shelter of the museum space to get more ambitious. Why not? The show unearths unresolved questions about the relationship between urban action and public institutions, issues that didn’t get resolved back in the Times Square Show day and certainly aren’t gonna get solved now. I really do wonder why these artists have ‘collaborated’ with a municipal administration whose policies are too anti-environmental, anti-cultural and anti-communitarian to be believed. Without a whimper of rebellion. Working within the system? Selling out? To add to the tame vibe, instead of sounds that might justifiably accompany this kind of work (some of it is good work, too, though it all seems rather feeble), the show has a jukebox playing poetry. You can’t understand the words unless you get close, and no one stops long enough to hear even one short poem. A self-defeating exercise in futility. Naive?

 

 

 

19. inContemporanea no. 1, Milan Triennale, 11-12-13 May ’07.
The recording speaks for itself. No editing at all, just three minutes walking through the show. People are clearly enjoying themselves, the sounds mingle cheerfully and the pace is stimulating. Why does it work? Probably because there was very little actual “art”; the event was closer to a grouping of situations, interactions, happenings. Rare cases of works that might have required a bit more concentration (a cool video/sound piece by Zimmerfrei, for example, was sacrificed to a point of passage at the entrance) suffered from lack of proper positioning.

 

 

 

 


20. Space Control, AssabOne, Milan.
Another contribution by guest recordist Diego Caglioni. Assab One is a very big, very flexible industrial space that has avoided being standardized into a museum-like box. Its imperfection becomes almost perfect in hands of capable exhibition designers. More info about event at Undo.Net.

 

 

 

 

21. exPulsi, Fondazione Mudima, 16 May 07, Milan.
A disturbance factor is introduced in a nice echoing gallery space, with heavy wooden planks like balance boards that tempt people to walk on them and rock (like a see-saw). The only trouble is that they make a really big bang when they hit the marble floor. People in Milan are alway worried about looking indecorous, so their balancing acts were quite timid. Nevertheless, the injected stimulus changed the spatial experience. Several people complained quite loudly about the noise… maybe they don’t remember that in this same space, years ago, Wolf Vostell destroyed a piano with a jackhammer!

 

 

 

 

22. The Storm and the Harbour, Palazzo Dona’ dalle Rose, Venice, during the Biennale 2007. In certain rare moments in the history of art music, film, painting and all other forms of expression seem to join forces in a shared burst of energy. When it happens nobody cares about categories, they’re too busy enjoying the wave. Leningrad in the late 1980s and early 1990s must have been one of those moments. You can sense the energy at this very cool show… the sounds from lots of original videos blast out of the little speakers on real vintage TVs, and for once the mingling of visitors and the confusion of soundtracks becomes logical, a natural extension in a trip back in time to a not-so-distant but very unfamiliar place (for most of us).This is probably because many of the works were originally shown in private apartments and “underground” spaces.

 

 

 

23. Dum-Dum, Metalbreath, Wadcutter Galleria Emi Fontana presents Tony Oursler’s solo show, an extremely articulated site-specific installation. Projections on sculptures to stretch images, multiple soundtracks that force the viewer to move through the space, focusing the ears on different whispers, whistles, groans. The sounds of gunshots don’t try to scare you with their realism or special effects… but the overall impact is scary anyway, unveiling our by-now deeply rooted paranoia about the potential violence of human nature.

 

 

 

24. Bouge! The artist Florent Mattei dances wildly in his room for hours to all the songs that have formed the soundtrack of his life. He’s on a monitor in the window of the atelier of the MAMAC in Nice, France. There are speakers outside so you can hear him singing along even in the evening, after the museum is closed. Relaxed, funny and actually quite a good use of sound in a museum context, almost as bait to attract people from outside.

 

 

 

25. MACBA chapel Next to Barcelona’s very nice mod and contemp museum they’ve renovated a beautiful chapel for use as a space for special exhibitions and events. When we visited there was a woman making the rounds of the works, wearing a very nice pair of high-heeled shoes. It’s true, you can’t plan for all possibilities, but this recording made me wonder why more museums don’t use some kind of softer flooring… of course real carpet is too hard to keep clean, but what about rubber mats or something? Of course if you keep watching the well-heeled visitor because the sound distracts you, she might notice you too. And if she then actually comes over and gives you a kiss? The recording tells the tale… and the noise was forgotten.

 

 

 

 

26. At the CaixaForum in Barcelona they hold lots of excellent exhibitions (free) of all kinds of art, as well as offering conferences, concerts, workshops. In this recording we’re visiting the show “L’escultura en els temples indis. L’art de la devoció”, an impressive gathering of statues and reliefs from Hindu temples. The museum seems to really be utilized and enjoyed by the city and its tourists. People of all ages, entire families, groups of noisy students invade its spaces and really enjoy themselves. The academic British voice on the documentary film tries to stay aloof, competing with screaming babies…

 

 

 

 


27. Parc Guell, Barcelona. This is a true open-air museum. On a hot summer day it is packed with tourists and the weird stuff they attract, or that is supposed to attract them. How do certain musicians get a chance to pass the hat to this incredible almost captive audience? The richness of the soundscape is quite amazing at the main attractions, but you can always walk away and find a quiet spot.

 

 

28. Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona. Sunny morning, almost empty museum… sounds of painter working, pouring marvelously messy materials onto canvas laid out on the floor… the director of the documentary has done all these very corny alternating cuts, from the artist working (vulcanic! impulsive! inspired!) to a thunderstorm outside… sort of like those old Beethoven education films they showed us in elementary school… the best moments are when you hear the noise of his work in the studio…. which reminds me of a story I read in a nice catalogue published by Galleria Salvatore Ala, to the effect that Emilio Vedova once recorded everything that happened in his studio for a whole day, and then played it back as the soundtrack to a show of paintings… people coming in, conversations, the sounds of work. In both cases the use of sound seems to reflect a desire to insert some of the disorder, some of the dirt of the atelier where art is made, into the pristine order of the museum.

 

 

 

29. Studio Museum Harlem, New York City. Cool museum up on 125th St. In the lobby music is playing, which might seem strange for an art museum, but is part of this place’s approach. The museum is easy to visit, friendly and unimposing. The cool gadgets and souvenirs in the museum shop have very friendly prices, unlike the uncool and absurdly expensive kitsch they sell in most of the big museum outlets. Once inside, we saw an interesting show, Midnight’s Daydream, featuring works by 2006-07 artists-in-residence Titus Kaphar, Wardell Milan II and Demetrius Oliver. The sound standout was by Oliver, who has a thing about teakettles: a witty little sculpture called “Mimic”, or namely a teakettle with the sound of a person imitating its whistle “hidden” inside, as the NY Times’ art critic tellingly put it (how do you hide a sound?). The nice lady guarding the show saw me recording and hustled over to tell me “no photos”. When I told her it was just a sound recording she said that was OK. So it’s forbidden to capture images of art, but recording the sound of a work of sound art is perfectly acceptable. Yet another paradox in the museum of sounds.

 

 

 

30. Paul Noble, Dot to Dot, Gagosian Gallery, October 2007. The dots of the title are also large beads on strings that form very big versions of the bead curtains you see on the doors of shops in warm countries in the almost third world. The curtains make a very pleasant clicking sound. There was also a sound work with an effective installation idea; carpets (also by the artist) at the center of a room on the floor, which can be walked on (if you take off your shoes), which is the only way to position yourself directly under a cupola with speaker the lets you hear recorded sounds only from that spot. The sounds are those of a pleasant female voice doing a kind of cut-up in which words and fractions of words become like d-o-t-s and play with shifts of meaning caused by inflection and context in speech.

 

 

 

31. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
The most interesting sound work in this museum of modern and contemporary art is out in the courtyard: a big sculpture by Alexander Calder that turns slowly in the wind. The imposing cruciform iron base vibrates in a very pleasing way thanks to the friction of the pivot rod inserted at the top. To hear the sculpture singing you have to get quite close to it; this is a big city with lots of traffic, though in this courtyard the noises seem far away (in contrast with the gigantic airportish canopied space by Jean Nouvel on the other side, where the city roars like a jet engine). Two sides of the rectangular court have fountains that help to disguise the rumble of the city. The sculpture vibrates like a bass violin, and if you touch the base it vibrates you.
Inside the museum sound is used only for its documentary content, and in a rather vague way at that. The acoustics make it hard to understand anything. But the recently appointed director Manuel Borja-Villel, previously at the MACBA in Barcelona, promises a new focus on multimedia, performance, etc.

 

 

 

32. Ghost/Transmemoir by Bose Krishnamachari, in the group show “India Arte Oggi”, Spazio Oberdan, Milan, Oct 07 – Feb 08.

Winter 0708 was a moment of great attention, in Milan, regarding Indian art, conforming to a global trend that sees India as an emerging force on the contemporary art market. The promised overview of an evolving culture was definitely missing, but there were some nice pieces. We’ve selected just one here: an installation, a circular construction of aluminium pipes from which more than 100 tin lunch pails were hung, of the type utilized in Mumbai to bring a home-cooked lunch to hungry office wallahs. Many of the tins contained little LCD screens showing video interview clips with Mumbai residents. What you’re hearing in the recording is the sum of all the clips, emitted by the headphones dangling off the little monitors. The overall effect was seductive. Those with some time and willingness could put on the headphones, one set at a time, to listen to the interviews one by one. The discussion focused on the city, in quite general terms. What was a choral effect, the sum of many voices, could thus become a documentary survey, though one that was surprisingly “choral” due to the substantial homogeneity of the views expressed. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people bothered to listen to the interviews. Maybe the overall impact of the sound from the dangling cans was so strong that it discouraged deeper exploration. But in this case I don’t want to find fault with the work… It simply raises the issue of headphones in museums and galleries. Apart from problems of ear hygiene, many people seem not to want to put on headphones, perhaps because they don’t like to feel isolated, prevented from vocally interacting with other visitors. Another problem is that the sound quality of the cheap headphones generally used (for obvious reasons) is often disappointing.

 

 

 


33. Jon Kessler, The Palace at 4 am, ZKM Karlsruhe, in the Paul Thek show (until 30 March 08).
Visit ZKM and you can finally say you’ve seen and heard multimedia and/or interactive art in a suitable setting, without the common shameful neglect of most things technical. The Zentrum also has a great collection of “historical” interactive pieces, nearly all functioning perfectly nearly all of the time (no mean feat with older works that rely on mechanical stuff). This piece by Kessler isn’t old, but it is mechanical… already seen at PS1 but very attractive in this context too. Reminds me of the sounds I once recorded in a CD factory.

 

 

 


34. The Wooster Group, There is Still Time, Brother, ZKM Karlsruhe, until 6 Jan 08.

We also saw/heard a great installation by the Wooster Group, a theater group based in New York. Like a planetarium, the room had low swiveling stools for spectators, at the center of a circular 360-degree panoramic screen. The images were shot by 12 video cameras positioned, as on a clockface, at the center of a table, pointing outward. The actors sat around the table. The sounds were perfect, with 12 speakers, I think, that made you constantly turn to follow the action. Simultaneously very complex and full of overlapping elements, but also very possible to follow for our well-trained (?) multitasking brains.

 

 

 

35. Fischli & Weiss, Fondazione Trussardi, Palazzo Litta, Milano, Jan-Mar 2008

When their works make sounds it always seems like the most natural and logical thing on earth, never forced, never weighed down by pretext. In the famous video “The Way Things Go” the sound is just as seductive as the imagery, so much so that it works just fine on its own, as a piece of musique concrete. At times the sounds are just “necessities”, as in the case of slide projectors that sound like they’ve actually been tuned. The total but always measured occupation of the elegant rooms of Palazzo Litta concluded with a final, empty room where a radio was left on, shakily tuned to just any station, while the light changed color in a gentle goodbye gesture for visitors, before the bang of the exit door.

 

 

36. China XXI century, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome
It’s the period of the first iteration of yet another urban art fair event, “ROMA – The Road to Contemporary Art”, but the most interesting thing for our purposes had nothing to do with the new fair. The recently renovated Palazzo delle Esposizioni had a show of Chinese contemporary art (curators Zhu Qi and Morgan Morris, well worth a visit), and the monumental Palazzo proved that Italians can make good use of technology in museums when they put their minds to it. Like the name of the building says, the atmosphere is almost like a World’s Fair. In spite of the cavernous structure, the rooms sounded great and the shows were installed very intelligently. An intriguing contamination between shows happens on the balcony, where sounds from Chinese videos (in particular the lovely “RMB City. A Second Life City Planning” by Cao Fei’s avatar China Tracy) on the first floor mixed with the sounds of the show downstairs, which at first glance seemed like a huge Ferrari advertisement. The ornery whine of an obsolete technology (the automobile) vs. the light optimism of a thoughtful take on virtual worlds.

 

 

 

 

37. The myth of speed, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome
As it turned out, the show downstairs, below the Chinese, was not just a Ferrari ad, but a fun blend of history, science and art. In a small room I saw a device that looked like part of the building’s old electrical system, before the renovation. What is that doing here, I wondered, in the middle of such a slick, high-tech presentation? Actually it was part of the show… its array of lights would make patterns every so often, emitting a pleasant thump. I found the caption tag on the wall… it was a “cosmic ray sensor”! This discovery encouraged me to explore all the spaces of the show, and my patience was rewarded. In another small space, almost off the itinerary, I found a cache of great kinetic artworks (Gruppo MID, Grazia Varisco, Alberto Biasi, Gabriele De Vecchi, Davide Boriani, Eugenio Carmi). In the recording you can hear, above all, the pieces by De Vecchi and Carmi.

 

 

 

 

38. AES+F The Green Paradise…, Macro Future, Rome
At MACRO Future, the experimental facility of MACRO in the Testaccio neighborhood, the first Italian museum show of the Russian group AES+F. For the moment these new spaces of the MACRO seem problematic. The sound is confused, the video projections are pale due to bad lighting conditions. The show by AES+F is slick and trendy, facile seduction without ethical depth, with a very banal soundtrack. I prefer to get my daily dose of advertising on television.

 

 

 

39. Emilio Isgrò, Pecci Museum, Prato.
Cold gray Sunday afternoon in March, museum utterly deserted, even the staff seems to be missing… We find a door, downstairs there is an installation by Botto & Bruno, familiar, friendly, reassuring, with a drum set seemingly left there for people to play… or maybe the guards are just on a break? We find somebody to sell us tickets for the Emilio Isgrò show upstairs. Here again, musical instruments, and nobody standing guard… this time they are lots of old pianos, with isgrò’s “scores” waiting for performers. The cumulative effect of the show is very engaging… .and the sound in the work “L’ora italiana” (1985), two out-of-phase clocks or timers, seems like a comment on the Italians’ elastic sense of time.

 

 

 

40. Marc Kalinka, Coldon Nowhere Gallery, Long Island City, NY

A real pilgrimage to get to this out-of-the-way and possibly temporary artspace for a chance to finally see and hear the video I.LUV.U with sounds by Steve Piccolo, by the elusive Russian (I think) artist Marc Kalinka. He contacted me about the soundtrack after hearing about me through mutual friends. The installation was perfect: up the stairs into a rather normal looking apartment, ushered into a closet by a lady who looked like a typical housewife: just two chairs, a medium-sized monitor, good speakers. Most museums never manage to provide such good conditions for enjoying video and sound. I’ll have to ask Marc, next time I hear from him, if it was his idea to put the piece in the closet. Our hostess also made us a nice cup of tea. The Obama poster was on the door of the building, downstairs.

 

 

 

41. New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
We couldn’t wait to visit the New Museum on the Bowery, in hopes of finding some cool, innovative new approaches to the display of contemporary art. For the moment what we found, instead, was a soundscape composed of big voids, rather uncomfortable silences composed of a texture of physical plant hums and whistles. People seem to raise their voices in an attempt to push back the looming high-tech stillness. The true sound protagonist is the big elevator, a sort of cavern that seems to also function as a meeting place, to fill with conversation, sighs, greetings, nervous laughter. This soundscape we caught in April is an intriguing mixture of the many noises made by the impressive elevator, the voices of staff and visitors, the mobile phone calls of staff and visitors (in this museum it is quite normal to see solitary viewers chatting away on their mobiles as they make the rounds of a show), and the futile attempts to tune a guitar of a young member of an “art rock” band that was getting ready for a show in the basement performance space.

 

 

 

 

42. Francesco Monico, TAFKAV, Parco d’Arte Vivente, Turin, feb-apr 2010: Monico: “The Vanda Cerulea orchid is connected with sensors to a psychogalvanometer that measures the (very low) voltage of a body; the psychogalvanometer is connected to Arduino, which inputs the electrical impulses to MaxMsp to trigger an array of sounds stored in a computer. Higher notes or faster sounds indicate a higher level of activity in the plant. Then there’s the life support system: the plant is suspended in a structure that contains a 400w sodium bulb and a water nebulization system activated when the computer that monitors the vital signs of the plant emits a signal. The whole technical apparatus has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of two outstanding professionals, Massimo Banzi (the inventor of Arduino) who made the psychogalvanometer, and Steve Piccolo who has done several versions of notes and noises to associate with the impulses output by the plants.” MaxMsp programming by Emanuele Lomello. Quote from interview at www.digicult.it.