Saturday, 20 November 2010

Sound Relay ~ Long Night 2010

Photo from Liverpool Echo - see more on

In recent weeks - perhaps prompted by budget cuts, perhaps by the many wonderful musical and artistic experiences I've enjoyed - I've been thinking about how art and music provide an essential intellectual life.

As much as I'll defend anyone's right to enjoy Eastenders and Don't Tell The Bride (I'm guilty of both), little beats an exhilarating cultural experience.

Bearing these thoughts in mind you would think that music in art galleries would be a heavenly concoction... and indeed, done in the right manner, it is.

On Thursday night. Ensemble 10/10's (yes, I might have a vested interest here) performance of Jennifer Watson's Reflections, set amongst Magdalena Abakanowicz's Embryology, was simply magical. A quirky, vortical cascade of sound led by a delicious sounding soprano saxophone (not a "fat clarinet"), the piece didn't fall into any of the discordant pitfalls of contemporary classical music.

However - proving there are no absolutes - the rest of the Sound Relay at Tate Liverpool was a very different experience.

Self indulgent art and self indulgent music are seldom of the highest quality. While clattering about the streets of Liverpool after a cacophony of musicians is a lot of fun, the same cannot be said about musicians making the same sound scattered about a gallery space.

The joy of an art gallery is that the environment is tightly controlled, curatorially judged, not to make you buy stuff but to encourage reflective gaze and thought or to create atmosphere and evoke feeling. On Thursday night people in the gallery space just did not know what to do with themselves, look at the fine art or cast awkward regard at the buskers, and it was seemingly impossible to do both. The atmosphere was both oppressive and fragmented, simply put a balance had been disrupted.

Yes, there was novelty in having musicians in the gallery, but novelty is not enough! I'm not casting aspersions on the skill of the Sound Relay musicians, but rather the premiss that it was a good idea effectively executed. Perhaps I'm just not a fan of noodling?

In conclusion, live music in art galleries, not a bad idea. Just needs to be as carefully executed as the fine art and as curated as the gallery space.

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